San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Head of Costa Rican Art Museum Folds Easel

The head of the Costa Rican Art Museum (MAC) resigned recently, claiming the Arias admini s t r a t ion, through the Culture Ministry, attempted  to censor an exhibit celebrating the museum’s 30th anniversary.

Gabriela Sáenz, who was appointed museum director in 2006, resigned on July 4 in protest of what she claimed was pressure from Culture Minister María Elena Carballo to remove a mural-size photo that depicts her father, former culture minister Guido Sáenz, and former president Daniel Oduber (1974-1978) inaugurating the museum three decades ago.

Carballo denied the censorship charge.

“I leave in peace because I have been coherent with my principles,” Sáenz wrote in her resignation letter. “When I accepted this position, I did it intending to serve.

However, service must not be confused with being servile. Confidence in everything must be mutual. I have lost confidence in you (Carballo) and for that reason I effectively resign.”

Sáenz also wrote that she decided to leave the museum because she failed to obey Carballo’s order to remove the photo.

According to Sáenz, Carballo asked her to remove the photo because it constituted “a very delicate matter that could affect the image of President Oscar Arias.” Sáenz accused Carballo of “attempting to silence history.”

Carballo rejected Saenz’s charges of censorship and adamantly denied ever having exerted pressure to remove the controversial photo.

“What I requested was a reduction in the size of the photograph, which was printed in mural format, and that information be added signaling the contributions to the museum during both Arias administrations,” Carballo said. “There was no censorship because the photos are hanging there just like she wanted them.”

The minister said that, upon reading Sáenz’s letter, immediately accepted the resignation because “its content, which was completely removed from the truth,” convinced her that Sáenz lacked the “serenity and maturity” needed to lead the art museum.

Carballo accused Sáenz of making this a personal family issue. Carballo said she did ask Sáenz to reduce the size of the photo because the exhibit already included a lifesize photo of Sáenz’s father. Sáenz was told it would be inappropriate to have that many large photos emphasizing one of the museum director’s relatives.

“The size of the photo should have been adjusted, and other photos should have been displayed,” Carballo said. “We should have recognized the contributions of more people and other administrations, including the first Arias administration.”

Sáenz’s departure is part of a larger trend of resignations in the Costa Rican cultural establishment. In the past 15 months, Carlos Ovares, director of the National Dance Troupe; Ana Carboni, director of the Melico Salazar Theater; Samuel Rovinsky, director of the National Theater; Ernesto Calvo, director of the Contemporary Art and Design Museum; and Aurelia Garrido, culture vice minister, have all resigned.

In accordance with her letter, Sáenz worked her last day July 7. Since then, Graciela Chávez, the museum’s sub-director, has served as interim director. She will continue in this position until a perma- nent director is selected in the coming weeks.

“The institution is operating normally,” Chávez told The Tico Times. “Everything is normal except we don’t have a permanent director. We are waiting for a new one to be announced.”

Chávez confirmed the photo in question was still in place at the museum.


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