Debate opens over law to promote culture and the arts

February 26, 2010

Just as industries across the board scramble for bits of the government´s shrunken public coffers, artists are fighting for their slice of the pie, too. Their struggle could gather momentum this month as representatives from the cultural sector open up the floor for a national dialogue on a proposed Ley General de Cultura (General Culture Law), which its advocates hope will send a lifeline to one of the country´s most overlooked sectors.

The cultural contribution to Costa Rica and its economy of culture and the arts is hugely undervalued, according to Elizabeth Fonseca, who is making her final push as legislator to get the bill into congressional debate. Fonseca, of the Citizen Action Party, will lose her seat when new lawmakers take office on May 8.

But organizations such as the alternative theater association Teatro Giratablas and performing arts network Red Costarricense de las Artes Escénicas have pledged to carry on the torch and continue lobbying for the new legal framework for culture and the arts. Fonseca and leaders of these groups spoke to the press on Tuesday at the Spanish Cultural Center in San José´s Barrio Escalante, announcing a public consultation on their bid for a new culture law.

State spending once hovered above 1 percent of the national budget but, by 2007, the government had slashed it down to a dismal 0.3 percent, according to Fonseca. A likely pillar of the law would be to improve national arts funding through measures such as offering attractive tax incentives to corporations that want to chip in.

Fonseca´s proposal also intends to chip away at what she described as a highly “centralized” administration in the Culture Ministry in San José, advocating greater autonomy for the arts in Costa Rica´s seven provinces.

Not everyone´s in favor of the legislation. Virginia Pérez Ratón, director and curator at the gallery Teorética who recently won the nation´s top culture prize, the Premio Magón, criticized the proposed law last year in an article in the daily La Nación, claiming it would pose a threat to independent cultural expression and could lead to a degree of state ownership of the arts and self-censorship among artists.

During Tuesday´s conference, Fonseca fired back and accused Pérez of having an “elitist” idea of what culture is.

To find out what the rest of the diverse sector thinks, the arts associations have been carrying out focus groups to assess the ideas and needs of industry members, from actors to painters to filmmakers, according to Giratablas director Giancarlo Protti.

From May 11 through 13, he said, he will participate in forums at the Spanish Cultural Center on the issue with university students, artists and academics to seek further input.

Anyone interested in information about these activities can write to culturacr@gmail.com.

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