San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Cultural Center Has New Director

“PEOPLE are not that different from culture to culture, and wecreate – ourselves – a lot of stereotypes,” said Karl Schmack fromthe head of a large conference table in his new office at the CostaRican-North American Cultural Center in Barrio Dent, in the easternSan José suburb of San Pedro. The new hand at the helm of thecenter, Schmack took over in April as executive director of an institutionhe says plays the role of bridging the understanding of NorthAmerican and Costa Rican cultures.“The biggest challenge is precisely that – eliminating stereotypesand realizing people are more common than different,”Schmack said.The son of a German father and a Guatemalan mother, born inBelgium and raised and educated in Costa Rica, and with a degreeearned in the United States, Schmack has lived in the context ofcross-cultural understanding his entire life. In his previous positionwith the British American Tobacco Company, he was themarketing director for countries including Spain, England and theUnited States.“Having worked in the corporate business world gives me a differentperspective on how to manage this institution,” Schmack said.Although the institution is a nonprofit organization, it is self-sustainedand is not subsidized by the U.S. government, as is commonlythought, he explained. As the new head of the center’s day today operations, Schmack seeks to develop the business side ofthe institution to earn more income “to do more of the non-profit,social and cultural work that is our responsibility,” he said.“If there’s one thing the cultural center can do more of, or dobetter, it is marketing – making it better known to the general publicwhat the cultural center actually does, and all the services it provides,”Schmack said. “I’ve been amazed by how many interestingprograms the cultural center actually has to offer that the generalpublic is not aware of.”Services offered by the center include English classes, access toits library and the Internet, exchange programs, art exhibits andregular musical and artistic performances in the theater at its originaland main site in Barrio Dent. The center’s sites in Sabana Sur,in western San José, in Cartago, east of San José, and in Liberia,capital of the north-western province of Guanacaste, also offerEnglish classes and libraries.Schmack hopes to see the center as more than just a provider ofentertainment and services.“I would like for North Americans to see the cultural center astheir second home or their meeting place for friendship, cultural,informational and educational needs,” he said. “I also encouragenative English-speakers with teaching, artistic or cultural backgroundsto come and work at the center.”Schmack joins the center as it celebrates its 60th anniversary(TT, March 11).“It gives a special meaning,” the new director said. “It’s not likeany other year. It’s like a celebration year. And I think the 60 yearssay a lot about the institution – it’s longevity and the heritage it hasbuilt over so many years. And also it gives you a stronger sense ofresponsibility… to continue to build so the center can celebrateanother 60 years of success.”

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