Sunday, November 23, 2008

Foreign Aid Helps Fund Cultural Activities

Foreign Aid Helps Fund Cultural Activities
By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Nov 20 (IPS) - In Cuba, international aid is promoting the
advancement of cultural projects, adopting an approach that enriches the
traditional perspective on development with a dimension closer to the
needs of the human spirit.

With that aim in mind, two European organisations, the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation (COSUDE) and the Dutch Humanist Institute
for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos), have kept up their
aid efforts in this Caribbean island nation, along with other
initiatives by multilateral bodies, in spite of political and diplomatic

"Foreign development aid goes directly to enhance the spirit of the
population," Yoanny Sarmiento, director of the Casa de Cultura cultural
centre of Jamaica, a town located more than 800 kilometres east of
Havana, told IPS.

In Jamaica, the second-biggest town in the province of Guantánamo, a
project that began in 2006 aims to revitalise the community's social and
cultural life, backed by financing from the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), which has supplied technical equipment to cultural

"There has been a huge increase in the number of appreciation workshops
and the quality of artistic products has improved enormously," says
Sarmiento, a 33-year-old music instructor.

"We don't support art for art's sake, but rather for the social and
cultural role it plays," Susana Rochna, coordinator for Central America
and the Caribbean for Hivos's Art and Culture programme, based in San
José, Costa Rica, told IPS.

Hivos, a Dutch non-governmental organisation inspired by humanist
values, is active in 30 countries around the world, working with local
organisations in a range of fields, including culture, where it supports
independent artistic initiatives

"This marriage between cooperation and its concern for development and
art has an interesting effect, because it helps raise social awareness,"
said Rochna. "We support art that is quite avant-garde and
anti-establishment, that stimulates reflection, generates change and
awakens the best in people."

Of the 800 non-governmental organisations that are backed by Hivos's
Culture Fund, 150 are located in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Through its programme "Making Civil Voices Heard", the organisation's
cultural assistance also extends to the use of technology, promoting
access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and the
mainstreaming of ICT tools.

In its Art and Culture programme, Hivos puts a priority on the artistic
quality of the proposals, the search for new "languages," the
dissemination of the products to broad audiences, and the social
commitment of the artists.

In Cuba, Hivos has made a decisive contribution to the development of a
number of cultural institutions, like the Pablo de la Torriente Brau
Cultural Centre, the Retazos dance company, the International Low Budget
Film Festival organised by Humberto Solás, and the Onelio Jorge Cardoso
Centre, a literary workshop.

"Hivos gave us the start-up funds to open the Centre," Ivonne Galeano,
head of the governmental Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre, told IPS. "We had
the approval and the support of the Ministry of Culture, but we didn't
have the money to buy the initial equipment."

In its creative writing courses, the Centre, founded in 1998 by Cuban
short-story writer Eduardo Heras León, has taught more than 500 young
students from cities, towns and remote villages, thus transforming the
island's literary map, which had previously been dominated by the large

Thanks to foreign aid, the Centre was later able to set up a computer
lab, furnish the main office, and establish the publishing house Caja
China, which has released short-story anthologies and puts out the
quarterly "El Cuentero" literary magazine.

In March, the Centre took its work beyond Cuba's borders, with the first
International Young Writers's Festival, which drew more than one hundred
representatives of Latin American and Caribbean literature, and was made
possible through the support of Hivos, COSUDE and Cuba's cultural

The two international aid agencies also organised a Cultural Cooperation
Workshop on Nov. 6-8 in Havana's Neptuno hotel, with the coordination of
the Centre for Exchange and Reference on Community Initiatives (CIERIC),
and the assistance of cultural projects from four provinces.

"I believe financing is key, because it basically allows people to
produce and bring to life their ideas," Rochna said.

According to Rochna, Hivos has a budget of some 100 million euros (118
million dollars), of which approximately five percent go to the Art and
Culture programme.

"We try to maintain our support long enough to ensure that certain
capacities are built and there is an infrastructure in place, providing
the foundation for them to continue working," she said.

"When our support ends, the people are left with greater prestige,
experience and technical resources, as well as a professional team,"
Rochna added.

Since the European Union and Cuba broke off relations in 2003, following
diplomatic sanctions imposed by the EU for mass dissident arrests, Cuba
has received no official aid in the area of culture from the EU as a
bloc or from most of its members, with the exception of Spain and Belgium.

But this situation could change now that the EU and Cuba renewed ties in
late October.

Cultural aid is aimed at stimulating artistic activity throughout the
country, promoting creative production, preserving the cultural
heritage, conducting research and developing human potential.

In late 2007, Cuba received aid from 39 countries, 110 local
governments, 102 non-governmental organisations and 20 private funds.
This year, the projects underway include more than 109 million dollars
in financing. (END/2008)

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