Seven years ago, amid celebrations of five hundred years of discovery between Europe and the Americas, the Cultural Center of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) launched an encounter of its own. Nobody could have imagined the kind of instantaneous success the Center would achieve in Washington, D.C., with its promotion of the arts and culture of Latin America and the Caribbean.
For IDB president Enrique V. Iglesias, the timing of the Center's inauguration at IDB headquarters, a stone's throw from the White House, was perfect. "The new Center will be a permanent cultural showcase," Iglesias said at the opening, "a meeting place and a forum for all who are interested in the artistic and intellectual accomplishments of Latin America and the Caribbean and the Bank's nonregional member countries."
At the close of the 1980s, Latin America had acquired a monochromatic image as the region was racked by economic crisis, notwithstanding the economic and political liberalization that transformed an apparent "lost decade" into a time of change and renewal. Iglesias wanted to introduce balance and currency to the image by promoting the rich and diverse cultural output of the region.
"In opening this Cultural Center," Iglesias continued, "we are helping our member countries to further their economic and social development, an essential element of which is cultural expression. This goal has inspired the IDB from the outset, as summarized in the words of my distinguished predecessors, who described the IDB as `more than just a Bank.'"
The Bank understood that culture, in conjunction with political and social institutions, was part and parcel of integrated development. Such an idea clashed with the reigning creed of the previous decade, which viewed development as a discrete process taking place in stages, with economic development dependent on social development, which rested in turn on political and social institutions. That concept failed to recognize that economics and politics are indeed culture, just as are the many forms and styles of human interaction, architecture, and art. From this perspective, culture encompasses values, rules, and customs that help to maintain the structure and cohesiveness of society. In the new concept of development, these disparate dimensions interact, alternately fueling and impeding one another.
Imbued with this philosophy, the Cultural Center presents a unique voice through a trio of programs: Visual Arts, the Concert and Lecture Series, and the Cultural Promotion in the Field Program. Its professional staff has planned original exhibitions and programs that have sought to provide a balanced perspective of the region.
Director Ana Maria Coronel de Rodriguez and Curator Felix Angel forged ties with the major cultural organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as those in the Washington community, undertaking joint activities with universities, the Organization of American States (OAS), the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Opera, and the Library of Congress.
The Center devoted itself to encouraging dialogue among cultures, preferring to feature individual cultural identities while shunning broad-brush and the facile but artificial construct of unity throughout the arts in Latin America and the region. Thus, with every exhibition of visual arts, the Center has issued a catalog that provides explanations not just of the artistic origins of the styles on display, but of the historic, economic, and social environment in which they developed. Today, these catalogs present significant chapters on the social and cultural history of Latin America. Identidades--the title of the book-length compilation of the first five years of shows, concerts, and lectures--reveals the Center's pluralistic philosophy.
The truth is that Latin American unity has never been more than an ideal. The Spanish empire imposed a radial structure in which many colonies peripheral to the central monarchy answered to it while keeping scant ties with one another. …