San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

San José gets set for International Arts Festival

Arts junkies, get ready for a huge fix: More than 2,000 artists from 28 countries are set to descend on the Costa Rican capital this month for the 2012 International Arts Festival, or FIA.

The biennial arts-and-culture jubilee has brought high-quality offerings from around the world to San José’s streets, parks and venues since 1989. This year, the public can expect “a splendid festival as usual, but with new installations that will be a complete surprise,” said Berny Abarca, general producer of FIA 2012.

“This festival is made possible through the efforts of a large group of human resources. We offer the best of arts and culture for the enjoyment of everyone,” Abarca said.

Festival highlights will include big names like Calle 13 and Alan Parsons in the concert lineup, as well as a talented troupe of musicians, dancers and artists from South Korea, guest country of honor for FIA 2012.

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France’s La Zouze contemporary dance company brings “Evelyne House of Shame” to La Aduana March 16-18. Courtesy of Cyrille Weiner/FIA

Already under way is the visual-arts component of the festival, the “Museum and Gallery Route,” curated by Xiomara Zúñiga. The route opened March 1 and includes 17 museums, galleries and other venues around San José, as well as Juan Santamaría Museum in Alajuela, northwest of the capital. 

But the real action starts March 16, with the launch of activities in west San José’s La Sabana Park, the festival’s headquarters. The park’s 72 hectares will house concert stages, an art gallery, a movie-projection area, a handicrafts fair, an area for families, a Korean Pavilion offering Korean food and workshops, a Central American Music Market featuring concerts by bands from throughout the region, and lots more.

Parque La Libertad in south San José will also have stages and facilities, while most of FIA’s theatrical offerings will be staged in various San José theaters.

The official inauguration concert on March 16 falls to Puerto Rican reggaeton sensation Calle 13, who will perform at 9 p.m. on the main concert stage at La Sabana. That stage, sponsored by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute’s Kölbi brand, is one of the festival’s novelties this year. Located on the north side of the park, across from the Nissan agency, it replaces the lake stage of previous festivals, which, though visually appealing, presented certain challenges, Abarca said. 

“The lake stage was very beautiful but presented logistical problems in safely housing a growing audience,” he explained. “So we sought a space in the park that would offer comfort and safety and house approximately 25,000 people, much more than the lake stage could support.”

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Tico artist Carlos Aguilar’s paintings are part of the “Forests of Korea” exhibit on display at the National Theater. Courtesy of FIA

More space is a good thing, because taking the Kölbi stage March 25 at 7 p.m. to close the festival will be none other than Alan Parsons, whose cult-like popularity among Ticos is likely to put that 25,000-person capacity to the test. 

The British progressive-rock icon of course made Abarca’s top-five list for the festival, which also included: RCO Brass, the brass section of the Netherlands’ Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the “most important brass ensemble in the world” (March 22-23, 8 p.m., National Theater); “Veles e Vents” (“Wind and Sails”) by Xarxa Teatre of Spain, “a large-format show that requires an investment of resources and logistics you can see only at the FIA” (March 25, 9 p.m., National Stadium esplanade); “Sed” (“Thirst”) by the National Ballet of the Dominican Republic, “a work that involves great staging” (March 16-17, 8 p.m., Teatro de la Danza, National Culture Center); and “María Barilla,” a theater piece that represents “FIA’s first partnership with the Ibero-American Theater Festival of Bogotá, the most important in Latin America” (March 17, 8 p.m., and March 18, 5 p.m., Melico Salazar Theater).

To maximize enjoyment of the festival, Abarca recommends that festivalgoers study the program to organize what shows they want to see. 

“We’re offering 25 days so that people will have time, and no excuse not to head to La Sabana or Parque La Libertad, the public spaces, the theaters, the galleries, and enjoy this national fiesta,” he said.

Most shows will be free, except for a few dance, theater and music performances at various theaters (₡4,000-₡10,000/$8-$20), the Korean film festival at Variedades Theater (₡1,000/$2), and some Museum and Gallery Route exhibits. Prices are minimal considering the artistic quality of the shows, Abarca said. Tickets go on sale March 7 through the National Theater’s box office (2221-5341, 

For more information and to download the festival program, go to FIA’s website at

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