San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Plaza Florencia owner opens space for culture

While the east side of San José, especially around the universities, abounds with courses and workshops in things cultural, artistic and musical, fewer opportunities to stretch one’s creative juices are found in the western neighborhoods. Gabriel Kleiman, architect and owner of Plaza Florencia commercial center in the western suburb of Escazú, is trying to set the balance right with the recently inaugurated Florencia Culture Center.

Occupying a spacious corner in Plaza Florencia, the center is divided into two areas, one for adults and one for children. An airy exhibition gallery showcases national artists such as the currently exhibiting Grace Herrera Amighetti, while three adjacent rooms seating 20 to 30 people can be used for lectures and classes, or cleared for use as exercise areas. Next door, Manos al Arte caters to infants and children with open-plan play spaces, kid-size tables and chairs and even a kitchen for junior cookery classes.

The schedules are still being set up, but the variety of potential topics offers a tempting array for everyone, ranging from practical classes in jewelry making, etching, painting, Thai cuisine, cake decorating, digital photography and qigong, to workshops on opera, cinema and architecture. Typically, these cover four two-hour sessions starting with an informal introduction to the subject accompanied by a glass of wine. The opera workshop, for example, then shows video clips of a certain work with expert guidance to enhance appreciation and understanding, and ends with a celebratory dinner that is created around the opera. So, Puccini and Verdi would see pasta and gelato, while Mozart might encourage Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel.

“These are not university courses, but they are given at the highest standard,” Kleiman says. “We want to create a positive interaction for discussion and

Florencia Culture Center 2

Melanie Cojocaro with a young charge.

Vicky Longland

learning that is free from formality.”

Melanie Cojocaro and Kleiman’s granddaughter, Jessica Schifter, manage the Manos al Arte center, where young clients can enjoy early-development courses, painting, cooking, “art-attack” and creative recycling classes. A “Play ’n’ Lunch” initiative is being set up so moms can lunch in one of the plaza’s eateries while the kids play in the art room. Cojocaro, a certified infant massage instructor, also teaches classes in massaging babies up to 12 months.

Costs vary depending on the number and duration of sessions, but tend to average about ₡50,000 ($100) for four adult classes.

“In the U.S. or Europe, classes of this caliber would cost twice as much. I’m not doing this as a business, but I believe there is a demand for this kind of interactive instruction,” Kleiman says.

For now, most of the classes are in Spanish, but Kleiman says that if enough English-speakers show an interest in a particular subject, he can accommodate them as a separate group. The center can also be hired for private or corporate seminars and conferences.

The Florencia Culture Center is 200 meters north of La Paco commercial center on the road to Guachipelín de Escazú. For information, call 2289-3557, email or visit The center also has a Facebook page at

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