Paint the Town Green: The Colorful Story of Santa Catarina Palopó

Photo © Courtesy of Santa Catarina Palopó 

Art and nature have long been the keys to inspiration for many. One can’t help feeling recharged when looking at a picture-perfect view, and studies have shown that art decreases cortisol levels and makes people happy.

Nestled on the banks of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, Santa Catarina Palopó is a small town brimming with vibrant colors and stunning natural views. Despite its natural beauty and cultural heritage, the community struggled with economic development and poverty for years until they had the opportunity to harness the power of art and transform the town.

Led by a group of visionaries, Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó was born out of a desire to bring color and life to the town’s façades while also providing economic opportunities for its inhabitants. The project’s main goal was to paint all 960 buildings with traditional symbols and designs inspired by the huipil (blouses) woven by local women. Through this endeavor, the project aimed to attract cultural tourism, create new jobs, and instill a sense of pride and empowerment in the community.

santa catarina palopo
Photo © Courtesy of Santa Catarina Palopó

Under the leadership of Claudia Bosch and the Casa Palopó hotel, the project took shape with the support of local authorities, volunteers, sponsors, and, most importantly, the community. The project team, including Guatemalan journalist Harris Whitbeck, his niece Melissa Whitbeck, and local designer Diego Olivero, established their headquarters in Santa Catarina Palopó and quickly got to work.

The painting process was structured to ensure efficiency and community involvement. Local families were brought into the process, working with project teams to decide how their homes would be painted. The family would then help sand, clean, and prime the walls before the professional painters joined in to complete the painting process. Throughout the project, the team ensured that no family was left behind, and the professional painters provided guidance and supervision to ensure that every building was exceptional.

“Everything has meaning,” said Bosch, explaining that the paintings symbolize hope and progress—and how harnessing that symbolism can be transformative.

© Courtesy of Santa Catarina Palopó

The impact of Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó goes far beyond just painting buildings.

The project aimed to support children’s education, strengthen family interests, and promote community development, economic development, and cleanliness within the home. With community empowerment projects and cleanup days throughout the community, the project has transformed Santa Catarina Palopó into a cultural destination for local and international visitors to Lake Atitlán.

The project’s efforts have paid off, with over 800 buildings painted and several public spaces, such as the municipality, public school, and health center, among others. The project has increased cultural tourism awareness, created new jobs, and improved the overall quality of life in the community. Bosch shared that alongside this project, the community has worked to champion growing and celebrating local produce, ensuring that each house is equipped with a garden or access to a community garden space.

Now, Santa Catarina Palopó is a town that has harnessed the power of art to transform the lives of residents and visitors alike. The colorful façades have become a symbol of hope and progress, inspiring other communities to embrace the magic of art in their own ways. Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó is proof that color and community can come together to create something truly magical.

© Courtesy of Santa Catarina Palopó
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