San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Gallery Director Aims to Democratize Art

The office of Dunia Molina, director of the National Gallery in San José, is a showroom in itself. Large-format paintings by Argentinean and Korean artists decorate the walls, while family photographs and exhibition catalogs are neatly placed on bookshelves and filing cabinets.

Featuring Costa Rican and international art and technology in 12 splendid showrooms on two floors, the country’s largest gallery is part of the Costa Rican Science and Culture Center, better known as the Children’s Museum (see separate story).

“The National Gallery is open to all kinds of art, from painting, ceramics, engraving and installations to photography, video and digitally generated images,” the dynamic director explains. “To democratize art is our mission, and thanks to the excellent contacts with foreign embassies in Costa Rica, we are connected to an international arts community ranging from Asia and Europe to North America.”

The Costa Rican gallery director and renowned watercolorist, whose slim frame, open smile and chestnut hair make her look younger than her 66 years, organizes more than 50 exhibits a year and regularly offers macramé, origami and candle-making workshops in the Children’s Museum.

Though Molina has been in charge of the gallery for 13 years, she says she is not at all tired of her job.

“This place has a lot of positive energy,” she says. “It’s an honor and a task for me being in this position, and after raising four children, I can do what I love to do.”

Molina stresses that 13 years is not a long time for an institution like the Children’s Museum, and that “history is going to tell if we did our job well.” The opinion of the artists and the feedback of the visitors are of great importance to her, she says, while the gallery’s tight budget is a constant concern.

Born into a cultured San José family, Molina was given a paint box and brushes as a young child and, at the age of 4, dreamed of becoming an artist. At 20, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 20 years. She worked as an artist and designer in Illinois and Nebraska, got married and brought up four children.

“I enjoyed living in the United States and never had problems because of my Hispanic background,” the bilingual director recalls.

“But Costa Rica is home to me; it’s the place where I grew up.”

After returning to Costa Rica, she studied painting with acclaimed masters Francisco Amighetti and Margarita Bertheau, receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in 1983.

From 1990 to 1994, she served as administrator for San José-based art school Casa del Artista and coordinated important art and photography competitions.

An award-winning artist and member of the Costa Rican Watercolorist Association, Molina has more than 40 group and solo exhibitions to her credit. Her watercolors have been featured throughout Costa Rica and elsewhere in Latin America, the United States and Hong Kong.

“To me, painting is a pleasure and a responsibility. After work, I relax while I’m immersing myself in it,” says Molina, who names U.S. painter Georgia O’Keeffe as one of her role models.

On weekends,Molina spends time with her children and two grandchildren, with whom she plays darts and tours the countryside. Asked about the realization of equal rights for both sexes,Molina is optimistic.

“Costa Rica is improving every day,” she states.“There are quotas in politics, and many women already occupy important positions. Since we are more efficiency-oriented and used to working harder, I am convinced that one day we will become the majority.”

The National Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.Admission is free. For info, call Molina at 258-4229, ext. 131, or visit


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