In 1996, Jason Gutzmer was traveling with La Caravana Arcoiris para la Paz (which loosely translates into "the rainbow caravan for peace"), when he received an invitation to participate in a conference at a Zapatista stronghold in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. The conference, where attendees numbered 4,000 people from 46 countries, was intended to help put an end to the atrocities the Zapitista's indigenous rebels have seen at the hands of the Mexican military.
En route to this gathering, the group's bus-painted like a rainbow corn cob and carrying people from around the world, a dozen of whom were on the roof singing and playing music-rolled up to a police checkpoint, dumbfounding the officers there. "We told the sergeant we were a group for peace, and he had no idea what to do. We showed him our papers and passports and he finally said, 'OK,' and let us through. As we drove away, the soldiers were smiling and waving," Gutzmer says.
And so went the caravan, which carried this international group to the heart of the rebel territory, where Gutzmer met rebel leaders including a masked man claiming to be the infamous Subcommadante Marcos. Today, Gutzmer says, incidents like that with the police exemplify the caravan's defining vision-to break down stereotypes, create dialogue and weave a web of hope and global peace through mixed-media performance.
"The Zapatistas are addressing some of the most important things in the world, some of the most relevant social issues today. They don't have all the answers, but they have been searching with integrity," Gutzmer says.
The crew, which goes by the name Mixed Media in the States, hopes to continue one aspect of its cultural outreach in upcoming travels through a multi-media event entitled "Tapestry of the Spider." "It's telling the story of a spider who weaves the web of life using dreams and hope," says Gutzmer.
"It's about weaving all societies together. We want to honor all cultures, all people. We want distinctions but we also want sharing," adds Kaila Warner, another artist.
In order to raise funds for its upcoming expedition, Mixed Media hosts a dance and auction benefit this Saturday at the University of Montana's PARTV building at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday at Buck's Club, the Skoidats and others play a fundraiser for the group as well. That show starts at 7 p.m.
Mixed Media begin the "Tapestry" tour, which Gutzmer expects will take them throughout Latin America, at the University of Montana on Wednesday, August 19. For Gutzmer's group, performances can embody just about anything, depending on who's riding in the caravan. The one consistency is that there is always a slide show depicting the places and people experienced in the past. The crew also incorporates dance, live music, storytelling, street theater and magic.
As the bus makes its way south, new aspects of the show will be added, emerging like scenery passing by the bus windows. Later this summer, Gutzmer and six first-time caravanistas plan to begin a two-year tour of South America, visiting every Spanish-speaking country and Brazil. Funded largely by donations, the group hopes to purchase video equipment and repaint the bus before they leave for Caracas, Venezuela, at the end of August.
Arcoiris means rainbow, although Gutzmer is hesitant to go with the English translation, fearing the caravan will suffer the stigma attached to the hippie gatherings of the same name that convene north of the border. Instead he goes with the Latin American definition, which is "arc of the spectrum" and symbolizes the caravanistas' multi-hued mission of ecology, holistic health, ceremony, arts and culture.
"For us it means people coming together from all colors and cultures to be guardians of the planet," Gutzmer says.
What make La Caravana special-besides its ambitious goal of transmitting and receiving information on human rights, cultural harmony, protection of the biosphere, and peace, perhaps the most fundamental and essential global issues-is that in addition to playing prestigious embassies, cultural centers and universities, the bus stops in barrios and jungle communities generally ignored by performers.
"There is curiosity at first. People think, 'Who are these people and why are they here?' Kids run after the bus thinking the circus has come to town," Gutzmer says. "The caravan works to communicate, to establish a universal language. It opens the door for all kinds of other things," adds Warner. Sarah Schmid
Mixed Media, or La Caravana Arcoiris para la Paz, hosts a dance and auction fundraiser on Saturday, July 25, in UM's PARTV Building at 8 p.m. $8. The Skoidats, Humpy, Spanker and others perform a benefit show for the group at Buck's Club on Sunday, July 26, starting at 7 p.m. 21 and older. $5.
The Mixed Media caravan, including Jason Gutzmer (third from left), hopes to raise money this weekend for its travels.