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The contribution of creativity to human development in a new nation: a case study of Afalyca community art centre, Timor-Leste

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This article describes the contribution of creativity to human development in the new nation of Timor-Leste, exemplified in a case study of community art centre Afalyca.  By taking a creative approach to the challenges of life in his developing country, the young leader of this enterprise, Marqy da Costa, is realising his own potential more fully and offering enriching experiences to others. The impact of his centre on a range of stakeholders, including staff, participants and the wider community is discussed. 

For participants, the outcomes of their involvement include enjoyable opportunities for creative expression; valued recognition from national and international audiences; the broadening of life experience to encompass new possibilities for self-actualisation; skill development and income from employment and sales.

The factors that have contributed to Afalcya's creative achievements are examined.  These include inspiration and assistance received from organisations and individuals in and outside of Timor, family support, and the age and gender of leaders.  Also significant are founder Marqy's personal characteristics of artistic talent, social and language skills, love of learning, persistence and conciliatory approach to conflict.  Barriers to the realisation of Afalcya's potential include lack of systemic recognition of the value of creativity for sustainable development, unsupportive bureaucracy and gender related restrictions of participation for women. The potential for similar initiatives to contribute to a positive future for Timorese people is explored.


Timor-Leste, creativity, arts participation, human development.


In Timor-Leste, we need a new mentality; people who have initiative,
creativity and innovation, and who apply this with hard work.
Prime Minister of Timor-Leste - Xanana Gusmao
Human Rights Arts and Film Festival Launch, Melbourne, 9 May 2013.


This article discusses the contribution of creativity to human development in the island nation of Timor-Leste, exemplified in a case example of the creative enterprise Afalyca. A brief overview of the literature on human development and creativity frames the argument, followed by an introduction to the history and current context of Timor-Leste.

Marqy-da-Costa in children's art workshopA detailed case study of community art centre Afalyca, based in the regional town of Baucau, Timor-Leste, is presented as an example of creativity in action. The contribution being made by Afalyca's leader Marqy da Costa and his colleagues, in their creative approach to life in their developing country, is described. The impact of this enterprise on a range of stakeholders, including staff, participants and wider community is discussed, drawing from data collected through a range of qualitative methodologies. Situational factors and personal attributes that have contributed to their achievement are outlined. This is followed by a discussion on the current and potential contribution of creativity in this developing country and barriers to the expansion of creative approaches to life and development. The article concludes with recommendations for government and development organisations for their potential contribution to increased creativity.

The task of the human development project

In the field of human development, increasing interest is being paid to ideas about progress that are beyond economic (OECD, 2011). The United Nation's Human Development Programme (HDP) emerges from a paradigm of development that is human-focused (UNDP, 2011a). Drawing from Sen's capability approach (1993, 1999a), the HDP identifies people as the real wealth of nations, and human freedom and well-being as the endpoints of development. This approach advocates the creation of environments in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive lives in accordance with their needs and interests. Development is seen to be ultimately about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. The goal of economic growth that has dominated the development agenda for decades is seen, in this framework, as being only one means of enlarging people's choices.

Efforts to maximise human potential can be impeded by power imbalances between development workers and their stakeholders (Keystone, 2006). The impact of power differential can include reduced sense of agency and capacity to self-initiate from program beneficiaries. This can reduce the achievement of desired outcomes. In response to this challenge, this article argues that development activities encouraging independent creative action can contribute to environments that maximise the potential and freedom of individuals and their communities. Creativity can play a significant role in such change.

Creativity and development

Creativity can be defined in different ways, but this article will take Kaufman and Sternberg's perspective that: 'Creativity involves thinking that is aimed at producing ideas or products that are relatively novel and that are, in some respects, compelling' (Kaufman & Sternberg, 2006, p. 2). Torrance describes the 'essence of creativity' related to individuals as being when one is 'in love with what one is doing (which) makes possible all the other characteristics of the creative person: courage, independence of thought and judgment, honesty, perseverance, curiosity, and willingness to take risks' (Torrance, 1988, p. 43).

A burgeoning of research in recent decades has led to a deeper understanding of the significant contribution of creativity to a range of human endeavours. Creativity can assist the realisation of human potential, as Hawkes posits:

Creativity is our channel to mysterious places larger than ourselves, it is the name we give to our capacity to make something out of nothing, to transform an idea into reality, to 'bring into being', as the Greeks put it, to become fully human (Hawkes, 2002, p. 15).

While creativity is important in many areas of human endeavour, such as education (Cropley and Cropley, 2009) and business (Harvard Business School, 2003), there is a particularly strong relationship between creativity and the arts. Hawkes describes it thus, 'the arts .... are the creative imagination at work (and play)' (Hawkes, 2002, p. 14).

Creativity can also enrich quality of life (Sternberg, 1999), promote empowerment, understanding and social inclusiveness (Matarasso, 1997), contribute to human adaptability (Gauntlett, 2011), assist employability (IBM Corporation, 2010) and enhance the economic prosperity of communities (Florida, 2002).

Sternberg posits that essentially all people of normal intelligence have the potential to be creative, even though few people realise anything close to their potential (Sternberg,1999). While there is dissent about whether creativity can be taught and learned, it is certain that creativity can be fostered (Craft, 2006; Sternberg, 2000). Sternberg and Lubart's investment theory identifies six resources for creativity in a human being: intelligence, knowledge, intellectual styles, personality, motivation, and environment (Sternberg & Lubart,1995). While some of these factors are immalleable, many of them are open to change and growth. Educator Eric Booth's (2009) model of creative habits of mind, that draws on the work of Gardner (2000) and Costa and Kallick (2000), offers sixteen creativity-engendering practices that can be taught and practised. Thus, a marvellous property of creativity is that, unlike almost every other resource in the current resource-conscious times, it is not limited. There is no need to conserve creativity. Rather, it is a self-multiplying supply.

Despite this evidence that creativity is an unlimited resource available to anyone, and an important ingredient for human development and realisation of potential, it seems not to be a strong focus of work in the field of development (Hinchliffe, 2006). Creativity is not, for example, on Nussbaum's (2000) list of the ten capabilities for development. Capacity building is often regarded as a high priority in development projects, with the opportunity for individuals to develop skills and independent activity being a major focus (AusAID, 2011; Kaplan, 2000; Eade, 2007). However, the potential of creativity to assist this process is given only modest, if any, attention. Few development programs prioritise creative development and few funding opportunities encourage people in developing nations to take a creative leap.

While creative thinking can be fostered, it can also be hindered. Many of the practices of government in developing nations can reduce creative thinking and its beneficial outcomes. Slow-moving bureaucracies, for example, diminish the decision-making power of individual workers (Kaufman and Sternberg, 2006; Thompson, 2003). Cultures of lack of trust and trustworthiness in the workplace that beset many developing nations have similar negative outcomes. These issues have significant negative impact in Timor-Leste, (USAID, 2009), where, for example, the government is amongst the worst in the world for facilitating new business initiatives (World Bank, 2013). In contrast, organisations currently leading progress in other parts of the world, for example, in information technology, value flatter structures, reduced bureaucracy and the creative input of employees. In so doing, they achieve enhanced innovation and productivity (Thompson, 2003).

Having introduced the literature on human development and the contribution to this that creativity can make, this article now turns to the location of the case study to be discussed, Timor-Leste.

Creative resistance in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste is a small half-island nation that lies to the east of Indonesia and the north of Australia. It gained its independence in 2002 after centuries of negligent colonisation by Portugal and brutal oppression by Japan and Indonesia. This history of systemic violence and the destruction, displacement and unpredictability caused by conflict and political instability have had significant negative impact (Connelly, 2003; TLAVA, 2009). These challenging legacies have embedded themselves over time into the cultural life and social conventions of Timorese people and have contributed to an underdevelopment of local infrastructure and skills and undermining of traditional culture (La'o Hamutuk, 2011).

Timor is now one of the poorest countries in Asia and most Timorese experience day to day struggle for survival (UNDP, 2011b). Educational opportunities are limited and unemployment is very high; 20% overall and up to 40% of young people in the districts (CIA, 2011). The economy's reliance on oil and gas deposits, (providing 95% of GDP in 2010 (La'o Hamutuk, 2011) is concerning, given the finite nature of these resources and the few employment opportunities they provide. Timor has few independent businesses and the tourist industry is largely patronised by development workers.

Peace-in-Timor Mural BacauAt the same time, the Timorese people have a remarkable story of survival against the odds, largely because of their ingenuity, persistence and creative acts of resistance. During the Indonesian occupation, resistance armies camped in the mountains for generations, supplied and supported by communities suppressed by punitive colonisers. A code of passive resistance became an ingrained cultural attribute after it proved adaptive for centuries (Bertrand, 2004; Hainsworth and McCloskey, 2000). Civil servants resisted by being as ineffective as possible in the workplace (AusAID, 2008), and citizens responded by quietly doing as little as possible to advance the cause of the oppressors. This was highly adaptive given that anyone who came to the attention of the Indonesian militia was likely to experience terrible consequences.

Practices of passive resistance are much less appropriate in the contemporary democracy of Timor-Leste. The nation faces numerous challenges in becoming a fully functioning society with a diverse economy, transparent and effective government and a people who have opportunities and choices. Resistance, to new ideas, new practices, authority or change, or the practice of quietly doing as little as possible, will no longer serve the Timorese people well (Mattoso, n.d).

This article takes the position that creativity needs to be ascribed a more central role in efforts to achieve sustainable development in Timor-Leste. Schools that encourage creative thinking in their students, organisations that inspire their members to be innovative, and opportunities for individuals to explore new ideas are all required. A stronger investment in creative development would be likely to mobilise citizens, especially disenfranchised young people, in a positive direction, potentially reducing the need for the very significant investment in peace-keeping by force. Prime Minister Gusmao's comments about the importance of creativity and new ideas, made in a public discussion about the future of Timor-Leste and quoted at the beginning of this article, support this perspective.

The section to follow describes an example of creativity in action, Afalyca art school in Baucau. While it is an arts initiative, it is not the artwork that will be a focus of this discussion, but the creative approach to life and livelihood that the enterprise engenders.

Data collection

Information on which this article draws was collected as part of a larger research project investigating the role of participatory arts in social change in Timor-Leste (Dunphy, 2013). Data were collected through formal and informal interviews, focus groups and participant observation, video and photographic recordings and use of arts products as examples.

Afalyca - Free art schoolCreativity exemplified: Case study Afalyca Community Arts Centre, Baucau

Despite lack of institutional support for creative developments in Timor-Leste, some organisations are inspiring staff and stakeholders to explore their creative potential. As a consequence, greater freedom is being made available for people to pursue things that they have reason to value, as Sen would advocate.

This case study introduces a relatively new enterprise, Afalyca community art centre of Baucau, Timor's second city. Afalyca's members, I will argue, are realising their potential and experiencing significant life freedoms as a result of their application of creativity. The school's co-founder, young artist Marqy da Costa, will be a particular focus.

29 year old Marqy lives and works in his home village of Kote Baru (Old Town), Baucau. His family subsistence farm that rocky volcanic landscape. Marqy's schooling experience was similar to that of his peers; primary education controlled by the Indonesian government and sporadic access to poor quality high school, given the very turbulent times. He spent some time in Dili as an adolescent, but returned to Baucau during the national crisis in 2006 when he feared for his life. There was very significant social upheaval during this period in Dili, but also Baucau and other regional areas (Department of State, 2007). Deliberate burning of homes and other facilities occurred frequently. Schooling and work were disrupted, tourism and other social and economic options were practically non-existent and life seemed challenging and bleak. While the situation in Baucau is much more stable in more recent times, there are still ongoing episodes of civic unrest, most often involving disaffected young men.

In response to these circumstances, Marqy and colleague Pepe do Ceo established their community art school, Afalyca, (Wild People), in 2007. The young men intended that Afalyca provide a positive outlet for local young people who were bored and frustrated because of unemployment and lack of opportunity. They believed that positive engagement through the arts could contribute to peace and cooperation in their troubled neighbourhood (Afalcya, 2009). They were influenced to an extent by the longer established Arte Moris Art School in Dili. Both artists spent time studying there, and for some years the two organisations were close collaborators. They also sought to realize their own creative potential, as Pepy described: 'My dream for Afalyca.... is that I can make whatever ... I want...... I like being an artist because according to religion, God created me to be a creator'.

Afalyca has developed its own momentum over recent years and it now has two gallery-studios in Baucau. In the old town, Marqy's colleague Luis da Costa manages operations from a rented half-house on the main road. In the new town, Afalyca has a purpose built gallery, office, studio space, and adjoining private quarters. Marqy built this by hand with assistance from friends and visitors, including one passing tourist who stayed for three months to help. The centre also has a modest permaculture-inspired garden that was hewed out of solid rock. Marqy learned about permaculture principles of sustainable gardening from volunteers who had come from Macau to share their expertise.

Afalyca holds regular visual arts and music classes and workshops. These are attended mostly by local young men, but also children and foreigners. One activity I observed was the production of handmade books covered in traditional weavings to be sold to tourists. Outreach programs also occur, such as art classes and a mural project in a disability centre in a neighbouring village. One new initiative in 2010 was a series of workshops for children in the outer suburban area of the new town. This was commissioned by an international social enterprise based there, to offer positive experiences for local children. This group's manager felt that this program would also assist him, and indirectly, his organisation, to develop better relationships with the immediate community.

Tour-de-TimorLead artists and students undertake community projects and commissions. Afalyca painted the winning entry in the Mural for Peace project held with the Tour de Timor bike-riding competition in 2009. The centre's artists have held many exhibitions, several in Australia. Two shows were held in Melbourne in 2011; a sell-out exhibition of senior artists' work Hau Nia Rain (My Country), and their first exhibition of children's work that is now available on-line (Gallery Sunshine, 2011).

The centre hosts many visitors. Tourists regularly stop to view and purchase paintings, sculptures and other artistic products. In one two-week period that I visited, Afalyca hosted German documentary filmmakers; Indigenous Australian tourism students; a busload of tourists and Marqy's sister, a professional singer who was visiting from Dili with her electronic keyboard so that students could practise playing it. One painting sold in my presence for more than a month's salary of a Timorese public servant.

Afalyca also enjoys a range of partnerships and larger contributions from foreign visitors. Marqy's first trip overseas was hosted by a young volunteer who had been working in Baucau. She supported Marqy to visit Australia, where he attended galleries, participated in art classes and met other artists. A young Australian entrepreneur makes regular long visits to work collaboratively with staff on strategic development for Afalyca. This young man has supported senior artists to visit Australia to study and exhibit several times. In 2010, Marqy took up an offer from Portuguese and Timorese artist colleagues to participate in the Fringe Festival in Maucau. Two Australian women who come to Baucau every year to volunteer in a local school also contribute support and ideas. In 2011, they organised an exhibition in a house that became a dedicated artspace for a fortnight. There were opening and closing celebrations and very good sales of the artworks.

Marqy and colleagues' agency in all of these initiatives are significant. For example, they organised a fundraising concert with Timorese musician Ego Lemos for their travel to Australia for an exhibition. Most recently, they have approached government for support for visual art programs in local primary schools that, like all others in Timor, don't have any. These requests have not as yet been successful, but approaches continue. Although the organisation receives much support, including financial, from foreign individuals and organisations, they are adamant that it remain independent and self-directed. They have made some decisions not to take funding to be free of restrictions placed by others. Marqy and team are proud to draw attention to the creative capacity of Timorese young people through their work, and in so doing provide a foil to the deficiency perspective of Timor that they perceive from many locals as well as foreigners in Timor and outside.

Afalyca Co-ordinator - Luis da CostaAfalyca leaders' life experiences are very different from that of the average young person in rural Timor-Leste. As discussed earlier, youth unemployment is high and training options are few. Even those who are employed often experience lack of agency in their work. They have little engagement with people outside their immediate community and limited opportunity to travel, least of all overseas. In contrast, Afalyca staff have positive engagement with local community members and visitors. They create and are offered work that utilises their creative capacity. They set their own goals and continually expand their horizons. They have opportunities to travel and develop new skills and ideas.

One example of this different life experience was provided by another research participant, 'Anunciata', from the same town. Like Afalyca staff, Anunciata is also a self-recognised visual artist. Like Marqy, she is also charming, has good social skills and fluency in four languages. She also has an advantage that he does not - a degree in business from an Indonesian university. However, the realisation of Anunciata's potential is very different from his. She works as a receptionist in a prestigious hotel. Her salary is a pittance even by Timorese standards and this is often reduced when money in the till doesn't add up. Consequently, despite long hours at work, Anunciata experiences significant financial restrictions. She has few opportunities through her employment to enact her creativity and perceives limited life choices beyond that position.

Outcomes for Afalyca participants and visitors

While Marqy and other senior Afalyca artists benefit from their engagement, the enterprise also provides significant positive cultural, social and economic benefits to others, including program participants and visitors. As painting student Nuno proclaimed: 'the school has a positive influence on myself, and also on the greater community'. Most young participants interviewed discussed their pleasure in opportunities for creative expression provided by Afalcya. 19 year old Anto reported that: 'I like to make art, as I feel it's something that I can do well and be successful at'. Afalyca's landlady Cornelia, a single mother of nine, is one of few mature-aged Timorese participants. She also described the pleasure she obtains from exploring her creativity: 'When I'm painting I feel myself. This is very special for me. If I am too busy, or if I feel sad, I just paint and I stop feeling sad or stressed anymore'.

Participants enjoy Afalcya's friendly and welcoming environment, which they feel provides one of the very few alternative diversions to the martial arts gangs that involve many young men of the town. 18 year old Nando commented that: 'I enjoy being here as it is a peaceful place and I can study here well'. Several reported their families' support of their involvement for similar reasons. Afalyca seems to provide a kind of panacea for the impact of trauma that most Timorese people have experienced. As 20 year old Ano described: 'It lets me forget about the conflict, and about my destructive thoughts. For two or three hours we don't think about doing things that aren't good'.

Afalyca also provides opportunities for skill development, which many see as a pathway to a positive future and the realisation of their potential. For example, 19 year old art program member student Rico commented that: 'I came here to find experience...... I am looking for a future as an artist, famous outside Timor'. Parents of young children who participated in art classes also reported their pleasure in their children's learning. They perceived skill development in art and English, but also in broader aspects of personal development. The father of one of the young girls who attended the art class described the outcomes he saw for his daughter: 'It's good for her, to build her self-confidence and mental development. It will help her become brave and courageous'.

There were also some economic outcomes from participation in Afalyca's programs. Senior members derived income from direct employment: in projects; commissions and teaching. Other, even younger students, earned income from sales of artistic products, including paintings, drawings, handmade books and sculptures.

Tourists who visit Afalyca also reported a number of beneficial experiences. These included cultural outcomes through the enjoyment of cultural exchange, social outcomes in the enjoyment of meeting Timorese people running their own successful enterprise, and a welcome opportunity to purchase original artworks. All of these experiences were especially valued because there were so few similar opportunities in Timor-Leste.

These responses indicate that Afalyca provides significant benefits for participants, their families, community and visitors. The section to follow explores the factors that have contributed to Afalyca's achievement and what these suggest for future similar initiatives.

Factors in Afalyca's achievements

The factors that have contributed to the achievements of Afalyca can be construed as situational, cultural and personal, with considerable interrelationship.

Situational factors

Market niche: Afalyca provides a valued service for Baucau and district, particularly because it meets a market niche. There are no other similar enterprises in the region. The centre started when there was a strong need for positive engagement of young people in a community experiencing significant crisis. It continues to offer a unique opportunity in a region where there are no other arts training programs, few formal out- of-school activities, an education system that does not yet integrate arts curricula and virtually no tourist facilities.

Support from foreign governments, organisations and individuals: During the time Afalyca has been operating, there has been much support for development initiatives in Timor from governments, organisations and individuals from overseas. Afalyca has been the beneficiary of funding programs that support local enterprise, as well as much donated labour and goods. One very significant example of this assistance came from similar organisation Arte Moris, which began some years before Afalcya, initiated by foreign artists. Arte Moris has provided training, inspiration, mentoring, a network of peers and connection with visiting artists and tourists over some years.

Afalyca's involvement with international visitors has led to members having opportunities to travel overseas for professional development. This has contributed significantly to expansion of their ideas and vision for themselves and their centre. Marqy described the confidence he developed after his first travel experience which had been very intimidating for him. A colleague of Afalyca's, a young volunteer from Australia, confirmed this contribution, after observing a significant difference in confidence and pro-activity of senior artists after their visit to Australia. Marqy also learned about the tough realities of life as an artist even in a rich country, observing that, 'In Australia .... some (artists) have success and others have to work hard to be successful'.

Family support: Support from families seems an important factor for Afalyca staff and participants. Marqy has received significant assistance from his family over the years. For the first eighteen months of Afalyca's life, his elder brother provided a venue for activities in his home, even though, as Marqy describes it, it was 'hard for him to understand'. His parents provided the land on which Afalyca's second studio was built. Many participants also reported their family's enthusiasm for their involvement. Young artist Thomas, for example, commented that, 'My mother says it's good if you want to go to Afalyca. My parents don't want me to follow martial arts, they prefer me to be here'.

Cultural factors

Gender, age and life stage of leaders are also significant factors in terms of Afalyca's impact. Young men in Timor are often the only members of the society allowed the freedom for creative self-exploration that is the norm for young people in Western cultures. Afalyca staff and senior artists are primarily young men in their 20s who, so far, have few immediate family responsibilities, and whose culture allows them the freedom to explore and experiment through the arts.

Personal factors

There are also significant personal characteristics of leader Marqy that contribute to Afalyca's success. These include his considerable artistic, social and language skills; motivation; love of learning; persistence and conciliatory approach to conflict.

Marqy recognizes his creative talents and versatility across a range of visual and performing art forms, which were present before he had any training. He has strong language competence, in spoken and written English, Tetun (Timorese national language), Bahasa Indonesia and his mother tongue Macassae. He also has very good social skills. He is charming and friendly and seems to find it easy to communicate with others: children, adolescents and adults; Timorese and foreigners; men and women.

Intrinsic motivation is a significant factor. Marqy reports having a vision from a young age that he wanted to make a positive contribution in Baucau through his special skills as an artist: 'From.... my personality.... I can't throw rocks ... I want to create something good'. Then he perceived a particular mission to contribute to the process of reconciliation after the 2006 crisis: 'It was my ambition to do something about a Peace party...'.

He understands the importance of life-long learning and he continues to learn, which shapes his professional approach. As he explains:

Teaching and learning is an ongoing part of life. Education is everywhere, everyone can be a student. ... not just from school, or family, what Mum and Dad said. I learn from everything - good and bad things.

Consequently he is open to new ideas, as he says: 'Now I look forward to do some other things - it's never the end'. He seeks to learn from previous experiences, both positive and negative, and not to dwell on things that haven't worked out. The personal philosophy that underpins his work is the idea that: 'I just keep going like a wave...because everything is going on around me...'. He also benefits from a conciliatory approach to conflict and perseverance through adversity, as this comment about Afalyca operations indicates: 'We had a lot of problems, as any community group has working together. Although there were many problems, there are no problems without solutions'.

Barriers to creativity in Timor-Leste

These same factors that facilitate Afalyca's success indicate some of the barriers to the flourishing of creativity in Timor-Leste. The lack of similar organisations in the district provides Afalyca with a market niche, contributing to the centre's influence and reach. At the same time, it indicates a dearth of opportunities for local people's enactment of creativity through the arts. The absence of programs that stimulate creativity: in schools; out of school hours programs; tertiary education and community programs is detrimental to the community. While Afalyca operates in the district of Baucau, the situation is similar across the country. Arte Moris in Dili is one of very few organisations offering comparable activity, hence its attraction to young men from across Timor-Leste.

While Afalyca receives much support from foreign organisations and individuals, internal support is limited. Timor-Leste's government offers no assistance for such enterprises: no funding programs; no venues and no staff support. Employees of the national government whose remit could potentially include engagement with such community initiatives do not appear to see it as their responsibility. Nor do they operate any similar programs themselves. This is, at least in part, because they are inadequately resourced, but also because they have had few opportunities for professional development and little experience in pro-active work.

A further barrier is that of the tension between the maintenance of valued traditional culture and cultural innovation expressed through the arts. Government staff who have responsibility for culture prioritise the re-establishment of a traditional culture impacted by centuries of colonisation and the influences of globalisation. In some cases, they are antipathetic to new art forms or new ways of engaging with traditional art forms. This poses a challenge for those, like Afalyca, who are exploring innovative arts practice, especially when they seek support from government for the same. This tension also reduces the potential recognition of the contribution of such initiatives, including the stimulation of creativity through the arts.

Afalyca-participant-CeciliaWomen's engagement with Afalyca's activities are limited. Although staff intend that programs are open to all with no gender barriers, the largely male clientele tells a different story. Both girls and boys participate in children's classes, but this changes significantly in programs aimed at older age groups. In a nation where child-bearing happens early and often, Timorese young people, especially women, are generally compelled quickly into caring roles and have little freedom for outside interests. Landlady Cornelia offers insight on this issue:

I think more women don't come because it's not what women are supposed to do; proper women are only in the home, they work and they raise children. Many in the community feel it's not appropriate for women. There are those that are happy for it, but others aren't.

One final challenge concerns Marqy's significant personal attributes, to which much of Afalyca's success is related. This relationship could be considered a barrier, given that not everyone is so gifted. However, the creativity research discussed earlier clearly indicates that many of the skills required for increased creativity can be fostered. Creative habits of mind have been identified, along with strategies for their propagation. Not surprisingly, effort can significantly increase achievement, even in the dimension of creativity. While others may not enjoy Marqy's proliferation of natural talent, they can apply themselves to develop it and in so doing potentially increase their achievement.


This article has posited that creative approaches to development, and life more generally, can engender significant positive outcomes for communities in Timor-Leste. As demonstrated by the case study of Marqy da Costa and colleagues from the community art centre, Afalyca, in Baucau, Timor-Leste, new ways of thinking, relating to others, making a living and being in the world can be provided through such programs. Given the evidence that creativity has a strong connection with positive development and the realisation of human potential, and that it is an unlimited self-generating resource, it would seem highly desirable that it be prioritised in sustainable development processes. Creativity can increase the potential for people to enjoy full and meaningful lives and, as Sen (1999A) advocates, to experience the things they have reason to value. Prime Minister Gusmao's comments, quoted at the beginning of this article, indicate that he shares similar views.

Some of the challenges to the burgeoning of creativity in Timor-Leste include entrenched habits of passive resistance, lethargic bureaucracies, restrictive gender roles and the tension between traditional culture and the exploration of new ideas. However, change is possible. Government, including the education system, civil society, development agencies and individuals can all contribute to positive change, by valuing creativity more highly and acknowledging the benefits it brings. Promoting creative habits of mind can potentially make a significant contribution in this respect.


The author thanks Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia for research and fieldwork support and Dr. Phil Connors for ideas that contributed to this article.


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Kim Dunphy

Kim (BA, Grad Dip. Movement and Dance, M. Ed. Arts) is just about to complete her PhD at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia where she investigated the role of participatory arts in social change in Timor-Leste. She works as the Research Program Manager for the Cultural Development Network, an independent organization that promotes the cultural vitality of communities throughout its home state of Victoria, Australia. She is also Director of Many Hands International, a non-government organisation that seeks to contribute to development in Timor-Leste, particularly through cultural initiatives.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Anne Riggs Saturday, 13 July 2013 05:32 posted by Anne Riggs

    Thank you Kim for your insightful article. The arts and creativity make significant contributions to human and community development and you are right to point out the limited focus given to art and creativity by Governments, NGOs, schools etc. We have made similar observations in our work in Asia.

    Although creativity as an intrinsic human characteristic is well understood and acknowledged, it is paradoxical that it can be so far removed from development policy and practice. However, when someone makes that leap of faith and arts practice is implemented as part of community development - the transformations can be incredible, inspirational and life-changing - as your article notes.

    I was glad to read your reflections of the personal characteristics of the leader Marqy to the success of Afalyca – the passions, talent, experience, creativity and drive of an individual can be instrumental in bringing others on board and making a project work.

    Anne Riggs
    PhD Artist
    Artists in Community International

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