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Audience Development as a matter of course. How are culture and management connected in Costa Rica?

For this interview, our correspondent Lisa Harborth talked to Alejandra Solórzano, a cultural producer who is working for the Ministry of Culture and Youth in Costa Rica. They spoke about the local arts sector, the unique position of concert bands in this small country and their link to the non-existing army. 

© Batsù Estudio/ Vimeo

Lisa Harborth: How is the arts sector in Costa Rica characterized?

Alejandra Solórzano: I would not call it a “sector”. We all do culture. If you refer to those artists, collectives, promoters, managers, producers, etc. that create and promote art and other manifestations of culture for its traditional or symbolic value, this phenomenon is nothing recent. Before the creation of the Ministry of Culture and Youth, there were individual groups and persons in all Central American countries (Costa Rica is no exception) who devoted their efforts to update, question and enrich the tasks of a creative community, which is extremely diverse and difficult to classify. Since its inception, the Costa Rican Ministry of Culture and Youth financially supports artists and cultural workers, for clearly historical and political-economic reasons. These budgets serve the funding of projects and program support platforms where artists can express and converge together. 

LH: What influence does policy have on cultural productions? 

AS: Every cultural act is political. In institutional terms, the Ministry of Culture and Youth inherited the analysis and updating of public cultural policies from the previous administration. Then they convoked different protagonists to participate, and incorporated the views of artists, managers or depositaries on the question what would be the challenges and changes that cultural policies have to respond to.

LH: What influence does the private sector have on arts and culture? 

AS: The question is very broad. In terms of financing, within the Central American region Costa Rica is the country with the highest budget allocations by the state and with a high amount of financial support for large-scale artistic projects by the private sector. The industry of privately funded public shows has convinced world-class artists, who even summon audiences from Central America, to come to Costa Rica and enjoy those shows. It is still worrisome that, despite ambitious support of the private sector and attractive cultural projects, access is not always feasible for most of the population. This generates questions about the right of access to art and culture. 

LH: Is there a specific arts management education in Costa Rica? 

AS: In academic terms, no. There have been initiatives and projects. Also, diplomas in cultural management and production have been established, but no university-level degrees.

LH: So, if there are no academic degrees, what kind of educational background do the people working in arts management have? 

AS: Many of the cultural managers and producers are primarily artists, correspondents, or professionals from the humanities or social sciences who assumed the management tasks from the groups in which they work. The field of cultural management and production has been established on a self-taught basis and due to systematization of experiences (when they exist). 

LH: Do you feel that those diplomas help to improve the processes in the arts sector? 

AS: Any experience that helps to systematize processes in artistic production and arts management is useful. Offering spaces for professionalization and specialization in this field is one of the challenges that the universities and the Ministry of Culture and Youth have to face. Let us not forget that we are talking about an extremely variable, diverse and plural area. Formal education is a fundamental basis, but it is the execution and the nature of each project in the context of communities and countries that largely define the parameters and criteria.

LH: What do you think, where would a broader formal knowledge be necessary for you as a cultural producer?

AS: I think that there is a general need to strengthen the definition of the specific kinds of arts or cultural projects we have to defend with greater force. In a society in which market dynamics are imposed so vertically, it is necessary to ask ourselves if we are investing efforts in a necessary kind of art or in a successful kind of art, which clearly is not the same. Successful projects do not necessarily respond to a need or have an edifying purpose. This leads us to another questioning: Is art successful in terms of profitability or by being sustainable? For me, sustainable means art that lasts and convenes. I think it is necessary to deepen the knowledge of what we do, and why and for whom we are we doing it. In more philosophical terms, we have to ask how to build up art or a production in an uncertain environment.

LH: What is your job at the Ministry of Culture and Youth?

AS: For nine years, I am working as an indepent cultural producer for the Ministry of Culture and Youth in different programs. Additionally, one year ago, I started as an institutional manager in the Directorate of Concert Bands. Previously, I worked for the International Festival of the Arts, the National Dance Company, the Directorate of Culture, the National Dance Workshop and other similar projects.

LH: The tradition of the Concert Bands is very strong in Costa Rica. What function do they have nowadays?

AS: The concept of Concert Bands is 171 years old. They were established in a military context like all martial bands, but after the abolition of the Costa Rican army (1948) they continued as civil bands until they became part of the Ministry of Culture and Youth. There are seven Concert Bands, each belonging to one province of the country. Their main function is to let the population of Costa Rica even in the most remote and inaccessible areas of the country enjoy music in its diverse manifestations. From February to December, more than 200 of these musicians enhance concerts in their communities or travel to secluded places. They perform in parcs, temples, squares, theaters, schools, colleges, and so on. Hence, the Directorate of Bands is one of the institutions that bring the broadest set of cultural experiences to all communities of the country. They offer music programs from Costa Rican composers ranging from classical or academic music to popular music – a rich and diverse range for all tastes. This year, for example, thinking of the coherence with the public policies of equality and parity, something important happened to the Directorate of Bands. Being of military origin, the first woman had been accepted as member the institution only 1986. This year, the first Costa Rican Women's Band was created. It will occasionally participate in all kind of concerts of the seven Concert Bands. This is an example of the vision and the ductile nature through which our institution has evolved, and with it the cultural life of the whole country.

© All the musicians of Costa Rica's seven Concert Bands with the conductor Juan Francisco Nájera Coto in front of the Teatro Nacional San José

LH: If I recall it right, the entries to the concerts are free? 

AS: The most important reason is that bands can perform almost anywhere. The Concert Bands have a versatile nature. The possibility of performing in different, even most remote places makes them and their music a truly accessible value for everybody. They are a program of the Ministry of Culture and Youth and all musicians are officials. That is their purpose and that’s why their concerts are for free. 

Alejandra Solórzano studied Philosophy at the National University of Costa Rica. Since 2008, she is working for the country’s Ministry of Culture and Youth in different departments and projects. Besides that, she participated in independently produced cultural projects, is a writer and an actress. 

Here you can find the Spanish version of this interview:   http://bit.ly/Interview_ArtsManagement_CostaRica_Spanish 

Related articles of our series on arts management in Central and South America

Submitted by editor-in-chief on Nov 13, 2017