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Pucallpa, Peru

Usko Ayar

Art school in the Amazon: Drugs, nature and sustainable agriculture. 

In 1988, shaman and painter Pablo Amaringo opened the Usko Ayar art school. Translated in Quechua as Spiritual Prince, the roots of his work were in his religious experiences with ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogen used by many healers in the Peruvian Amazon. But despite his own works’ connection to the DMT-laden brew, his school was created to provide opportunity for hundreds of youths with no chance to develop their own artistic talent.

After being approached by an anthropologist named Luis Eduardo Luna, Amaringo began transforming his home into an art school. The men hoped to inspire their young students with the nature around them. Bringing in a class of a few dozen children who would otherwise have no opportunity in the often-poverty stricken rainforest regions of Peru, the Usko Ayar school opened.

With the support of donors and art sales, the school grew and incorporated other skills into the education. Besides teaching drawing and painting, the school also taught english and other basic subjects. Each painting that was sold was split between the student artist and the school, providing funding for the project while supplementing the income of families used to relying on slash and burn agriculture along the river.

The success of Usko Ayar has brought in other funding for schools in the Amazon, and the United Nations honored the project in 1992. Since that time, hundreds of promising artists have gotten their start in the school and returned their time and money to their community, working to promote sustainable agriculture and education in the region.

Although Amaringo died recently, the school is still in operation in its original studio and has served over 700 students ranging in age from 8-24. The school can be visited, and much of Amaringo and his students’ art is on display and available for purchase.

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