Banko foundation and the Eco-Arts Village at Kassi Kunda

Banko Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in 2020 the Gambia with company number C13744. Banko exists to serve underserved communities through the arts, broadly defined to include the visual arts, performing arts, building arts and designs.

On the fringes of environmental issues and the Open-Source concept, they are building an eco-arts village at Kassi Kunda in The Gambia to provide stable places for creative people from the region and other countries to live, work, learn and create. They do this by investigating and incorporating vernacular materials and construction methods to create earth buildings informed by their own design aesthetics. They run community arts projects and organize design-build workshops that invite students and graduates of design, architecture, and other schools to immerse in the local culture and create structures to resolve a local problem.

As an organization that has a focus on the arts for human capital development, Banko Foundation:

  1. Has its membership open to resource members of the arts public and arts and architecture supporting organizations, local or international, and can further the artistic, sustainable humanitarian, and permissible other purposes of its members.
  2. Initiates and promotes artistic, humanitarian and educational projects or activities that build cultural bridges between Africa, the Gambia in particular and the rest of the world.
  3. Stimulates for intellectual freedom and free exercise of the arts in ways that may contribute to the local-global marketplace of ideas.
  4. Leads or engages in skills development and social integration of the disadvantaged members of the society and any other arts activities designed to accomplish rural community ends.

The Eco-Arts Village at Kassi Kunda - A Vocational Skills Centre

The Kantora Eco-Arts Village at Kassi Kunda, Upper River Region of The Gambia, is their pilot project for replication in other parts of The Gambia. They are expanding the site to include a residential vocational training centre for unemployed rural youths aged 18 to 35 years to undergo a 2-year skills development training in the vocational arts and earth architecture. For the locals, it will mean a resolution to the age-old problem for people of artistry- painters, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, designers, and others who require low-cost and expanse of space in which to live and work. For persons in the arts worldwide, it will be a contact point for artist-in-residence for community arts projects, cross-cultural conferences and environmental retreats. The eco-arts village will consist of live-in and work cottages, general studio spaces, a multipurpose arts centre for conferences and community arts missions, as would be recreational facilities such as volleyball. They want the school plan to emphasize sustainable architecture and cost-efficient construction. Thus, they want the buildings to integrate earth architecture and passive solar design fully.

The eco-arts village is conceived as an informal school. This eco-artisanal vocational development centre brings together international workshop participants, local artisans and less privileged youths from the region for skills transfer. The training will be provided by resident teachers and hosting guest projects by international and local practitioners in a self-growing school complex. That means, in the beginning, there are just a few buildings. After the students learned some construction techniques, they will test their acquired knowledge and skills by building the next part of the school or some functional buildings for the community. Thus, the students are challenged to solve real problems, work together, learn, build and create. Upon graduation, the cohort of trainees can work on commissions as a building cooperative or work individually to source and build houses. Some of the graduates will be offered employment as teachers of the next generation who join the eco-arts workshop school.

Specifically, the eco-arts village will be a residential skill learning centre of a self-sustaining type. The construction of the arts village will be carried out in phases to include accommodation for students, staff and international visitors; a multipurpose hall that serves as a kitchen and presentation hall; a commercial centre; fablabs such as metal shop, woodshop, fabric shop and earth construction studio; and a demonstration farm. For example, the demonstration farm would be of the subsistent type to grow fruit trees, crops, and animals such as bees, chicken, and goats.

A two-year vocational training program draws on an apprenticeship with local artisans and learning-by-doing with professional architects and designers, engineers, university students, and volunteers from around the world to participate in Banko Foundation workshops. The program is designed as an informal educational programme that combines literacy training with livelihood skills development to empower educationally disadvantaged people with livelihood and enterprise skills training so that trainees can engage in income-generating vocation. The arts village brings together a cohort of students who come from villages, rural townships and underserved parts of the city in the region to live together and “learn by doing” construction projects involving building with earth, concrete and wood construction. The course includes basic design, entrepreneurial skills, rural house building materials production, various house wall construction methods (cast earth, rammed earth, mud brick, stone masonry and cob construction), roof design and landscaping. The students will also gain introductory knowledge in other areas such as engineering and agroforestry as the school hosts guest projects by both international and local practitioners.

Programmatic areas of the vocational training program include:

  • Fashion Design and Production: Weaving, tire and dye, batiking and sewing for local and international fashion markets.
  • Theatre Performance and Filmmaking
  • Art Studio (painting, sculpture, etc.)
  • Building Arts (mud house design, construction and landscaping).
  • Fabrication lab (wood workshop, metal workshop, recycling shop, fabric shop)
  • They hope to include more sustainable programs as we grow with the community.

There are many ways to contribute to the Foundation’s work which is sustained by charity, membership dues and events. You can make a gift donation of one of the things on their Wishlist (well drilling machine(s), solar panels, sleeping bags, hammocks, solar lanterns, construction equipment and building materials, LCD projectors, laptop computers, gardening tools and machines, carpentry equipment and metal workshop materials, playing kits and materials), volunteer on-site or online or join as member or partner.

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