Ousted culture minister blames subordinates for arts festival woes

May 14, 2015
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Ousted Culture and Youth Minister Elizabeth Fonseca directly blamed two of her subordinates for the failed edition of this year’s International Arts Festival (FIA) — shortly before submitting her resignation on Tuesday under pressure.

In a 15-page report requested by President Luis Guillermo Solís and submitted Monday, Fonseca held FIA director Inti Picado and Vice Minister Alfredo Chavarría responsible for the flop. Fonseca said their mismanagement caused delays in the allocation of resources and in the festival timetable.

She also said organizers’ insistence on boosting the festival budget means there’s not much money left for other cultural activities that rely on the same funding pool.

Costa Rica’s International Arts Festival has had a reputation as one of the country’s top cultural events, bringing together hundreds of national and international musicians, performers, artists and artisans to share their talents with an enthusiastic public. But this year’s edition collapsed dramatically, as contractors and performers pulled out at the last minute citing lack of contracts and terrible administration.

Read all of The Tico Times FIAsco coverage

Picado and Chavarría were both fired from their posts this week, along with Vice Minister Luis Carlos Amador.

Former minister Fonseca said Picado, who was director of the ministry’s Center for Arts and Cultural Production (CPAC), which is in charge of FIA, is principally to blame for the fiasco.

She also said in her report that former Vice Minister Chavarría “shares a direct responsibility with Picado for the series of failures that occurred before and during FIA.”

Chavarría was directly responsible for overseeing the festival planning, the report noted, and he received a salary boost for supervising all of CPAC’s activities. And yet the report notes that Chavarría never informed the minister about his work in helping Picado organize the festival.

Bad planning, bad budget administration

In her conclusions Fonseca said that Picado’s actions and omissions derived from “lack of planning, insufficient supervision, lack of diligence and coordination with the minister’s office.”

These failures also affected proper management and allocation of funds, she wrote. “Picado had enough funding to produce the festival, but he failed to properly administer it.”

Fonseca also blamed Picado and Chavarría for repeatedly missing meetings scheduled to evaluate progress and compliance with the festival’s timetable.

Requests to increase the festival budget also affected CPAC’s annual budget, she wrote. Currently only ₡94 million ($175,000) of CPAC’s ₡821 million ($1.5 millon) yearly budget is available for all other cultural programs for the rest of the year.

Organizers spent more than half of the festival’s budget to pay three event producers responsible for hiring 12 international shows, including Chilean rock band La Ley and Argentine singers León Gieco and Miguel Mateos. All three shows have been rescheduled for later this year, with the government assuming the costs.

Recommended: How Costa Rica’s 2015 International Arts Festival flopped

Fonseca acknowledged “her responsibility” in choosing Picado, a waning national rock star with little experience in major event planning, as CPAC director and FIA organizer. “It was my mistake to appoint him. I accept my responsibility in choosing him,” reads one the report’s conclusions.

In contrast, she defended former Vice Minister Luis Carlos Amador Brenes who she said “fulfilled all of his assigned responsibilities,” consisting mainly of recruiting artists and technical crew. According to Fonseca, all of these contracts suffered “significant delays” due to poor management by CPAC officials.

The first signs of the festival’s impending collapse were evident to the public in its inaugural days. But Fonseca, at the time, blamed the delay and cancellation of several shows on the company chosen to provide sound and lighting services.

The company struck back, saying it was informed of its selection just a few days before the opening of the festival, making it impossible to comply with the contract’s requirements in such a short period of time.

Planning failures are also cited in the report as the main causes for payment delays that caused various conflicts between festival suppliers and the ministry’s finance department.

Fonseca also attributed to Picado a total lack of coordination with other ministry departments and officials, which she said ended up affecting the entire festival’s schedule.

As an example, she said Picado suspended — on three separate occasions — meetings with other ministry officials to coordinate their responsibilities for the festival. But he subsequently asked these officials to assume “emergency” responsibilities within days of the festival’s opening.

The ex-minister’s report does not include any details on which or how many activities were carried out as planned, how many were cancelled or how many artists were actually hired on time to perform at the festival.

Picado was responsible for submitting these reports, but “to date Mr. Picado Ovares has not responded to that information request,” Fonseca wrote. “Without such information, the procedures to compensate artists affected by rescheduling and cancellations is complicated.”

Regarding her responsibility, the former minister said she became actively involved in FIA production ​in February “just as soon as I started perceiving the problems, since I never had clear or accurate information on the magnitude of the problems we were facing.”

Recommendations

Fonseca’s report concludes with six recommendations, the first being the removal from office of those responsible for the festival failures. President Solís last Monday dismissed both vice ministers and asked Fonseca for her resignation.

She proposed appointing an advisory board — to include representatives of the national artistic sector — for the organization of future FIA events.

She also proposed strengthening CPAC’s structure by appointing five new officials, and recommended creating a special public bidding regime specifically for events such as the arts festival.

The future of CPAC’s other cultural programs is unclear given its depleted budget. Programs like “Enamorate de tu ciudad,” (Fall in love with your city), which aims to offer citizens free entertainment, cultural enrichment and educational opportunities in the capital’s public spaces, and the International Book Fair, could be jeopardized.

On Tuesday evening President Solís announced the appointment of actress and professor Sylvie Durán Salvatierra as acting minister and permanent vice minister of culture. Durán’s first responsibility will be to carry out an evaluation of the ministry.

“Sylvie has extensive experience not only in the arts area but also in cultural management,” Solís said in a news release. “Her experience will help strengthen the government’s commitment to culture and will promote a trusting atmosphere that is really important for us to recover from this sector,” the president said.

FIA’s problems are under investigation by the Comptroller General’s Office.

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