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Art & Social Space
Centro Cultural Moravia, Medellín: Interview with Carlos Uribe
by Adriana Rios Monsalve

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Adriana Rí­os: Was the Moravia Cultural Development Center included in the development of Medellí­n’s North Zone, or did it arise separately and is now interconnected?

Carlos Uribe: Separately. The Moravia macro project was featured in Sergio Fajardo’s development plan, but it didn’t include a development or a cultural center. City hall was focusing on resettlement, the health-care center and an industrial recycling plant that will ultimately not be built. The cultural development center was accomplished later, thanks to concerted efforts between the macro project and some of the mayor's office, among them the Culture Affairs department. The only cultural center already in existence was the Moravia-El Bosque Music School.

The Culture Secretariat, through the work it was doing with Moravia youth, built a cultural center at the request of the community itself. The model featured in Fajardo’s projects is a “Library Park”, a public space with quality architecture that includes a library, a community auditorium and public green areas in which to relax.

Those projects have created growing zones of improvement in the neighborhoods in which they were built. Fajardo called this phenomenon “cultural acupuncture”, because it served to change the negative memories of the city, as was the case with the jail in the San Javier neighborhood. The great thing about the cultural center is that they commissioned one of Colombia’s top architects, Rogelio Salmona to do it. From that point on, people in other neighborhoods began asking for their own cultural centers. We now appear along with another project, Cape Verde --another cultural center--, as two international examples that are meeting the UNESCO’s Millennium Development Goals due to the dynamics and approaches that are being taken.

AR: What is the Moravia Cultural Development Center’s current mission?

CU: Moravia Cultural Center’s goal is to equip the city. One finds important equipment (educational, libraries) but normally cultural equipment is not taken into account, except for museums. This follows a model that is based on the Parisian cultural centers built during the 1970s and is an important development for community well being.

The Cultural Center is run on the basis of a partnership agreement, whereby the government guarantees a budget for a year’s activities. The Center has led to an activation that creates synergy with the community: if we educate children well, in five or ten years’ time we’ll have better citizens. We can’t change older adults, but we can facilitate their relationship with the community to improve social integration.

Going back to what we were saying, the Parisian cultural-center model focused on training in the arts with a view to improving the communities where they were established. The Center here was also conceived as an arts education center. Unlike a Library Park, the Center has a dance hall, a visual arts workshop, a neighborhood memories center, classrooms, an auditorium (the largest in Medellí­n’s northern zone), public spaces and an exhibition room. We have training in the visual arts, theatre, dance, music, literature and English teaching. This all complements what I would call a “tripod” structure: culture, education, and identity and memory.

AR: You’re an artist of national and international standing; you’ve worked as a curator for Comfenalco; a few years back, you were also a curator of the Regional Artists’ Salon, first in 2004, then in 2009, and you were the art director of the Medellin Encuentro MDE07. How did you end up running the Moravia Cultural Development Center?

CU: In Medellí­n a barrier has been created between a group of specialists and the general public who don’t understand the purpose of art. Art is a fourth-category need, but in terms of the symbolic construction that all human beings have in addition to politics and ethics, aesthetics forms part of all individuals. The Greeks told us that, but we do not fully appreciate its dimension. “Every human being is an artist”, as Beuys said. In that sense there is a need to open up and foster that aesthetic dimension in each person. The question is how we create art: creativity in solving problems, building symbolic works in an increasingly materialistic world.

AR: What is Ex-Situ In-Situ?

CU: “Ex-Situ In-Situ: Community Art Practices” is a project we undertook as a team of curators, which started out with an invitation that I made to Juan Alberto Gaviria, the curator of the Centro Colombo Americano, who has a great deal of time in Medellí­n working with socially conscious artists, and to Fernando Escobar, who’s from Bogotá.

Universities showed an interest in the project, and above all the Culture Secretariat. When I began directing the project, I knew it would be the “Moravia Biennial.” Juan Alberto and I drew up the project, and we invited a curator from Bogotá. We decided we’d change the format, that we wouldn’t make it a hall or biennial format, as had happened with the “Venice Biennial” in Bogotá, since it ran against the dynamics of community-based art. We figured we’d center it on the dynamics of the neighborhood, which had strong resettlement issues.

We managed to ensure that the In-situ proposals were followed. The term is botanical and refers to the resettlement of species from the same environment into another totally different one. Ex-situ refers to the issue of memory and neighborhood identity that was being proposed.

We three curators questioned the exoticism created by the colonialist outlook of the 80s and 90s, which dealt with border spaces within distant cultures. The Istanbul and Havana Biennials created a context that criticized colonialism, that relationship between imperial and subjugated countries. More specifically, we criticized the notion of exoticism: the artist goes and works with a community, has his/her photo taken, and the community’s left with the artist’s work, while the artist adds an interesting entry to his/her bio. We believed community art should be more profound, more consistent and coherent; the artist should be a cultural mediator - we called it a “linking or binding artist”- with a participating, and contingent community. Both parties should shape a creative act on the basis of the dialogue between the artist’s expertise and the community’s spontaneous knowledge. What we want is for the neighborhood to express new language structures in dealing with the city, with the world in general.

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