APARTADO, Colombia – The northwestern Colombian region of Uraba is reinventing its economy by making culture a business.
This rich agricultural region, the country’s main banana grower, is going through a period of transformation with the launching of a project of partnership and training that has allowed 107 cultural specialists to turn their business ideas into companies.
Among the thousands of bunches of bananas hang the hopes – which are finally beginning to materialize – of many an artist and artisan, thanks to their alliance with the family social fund Confama, the Sura Foundation and the Interactuar Corp, promoters of the project.
“This is a very big bet. It seeks to develop entrepreneurial skills and set the stage for reconciling ourselves with an area that still bears the stigma of violence,” the project director Lenis Agudelo told EFE.
He said the process began with ideas for 280 business ventures, which were pared down to the most attractive ones.
Making this a region “that begins to consume culture” was one of the objectives set by business model advisers in such sectors as musical production, innovation, colorimetry, performing arts, intellectual property and more.
For the executive director of Interactuar, Fabio Andres Montoya, culture provides a “very important” opportunity for generating development, particularly in a region with such “gigantic potential.”
“I’m entirely convinced that through art and culture, Uraba can have a line of social and economic development much bigger than agriculture will ever be,” Montoya said.
An example of that in the Chigorodo municipality is the Son Candela dance group, which transcends mere choreography with artistic interacting with its African-Colombian ancestors and which puts its dancers in a new and different context.
“Nothing is more resilient than art,” said Ana Rosa Castro Maturana, director of this group of 200 people including children and teens, who have seen in the dance a way to “heal themselves” and “set themselves free” from the aftermath of the guerrilla conflict.
Thanks to its geographic location, Uraba, on the Atlantic coast and bordering on Panama, has become a crossroads where armed gangs fight to dominate the arms and drug trafficking.
Ana Rosa, 33, daughter of a teacher and a cop, felt the war most deeply when “the FARC (guerrillas, since disbanded) took over the region” and she had to leave her home in 1995, a memory that led her to concentrate on her artistic leanings in order to take her mind off those evils.
Today, with the counsel of experts, she sees Son Candela as a strong enough project to see it as her mission, and in the long term visualizes it as a company “worthy of any stage and every bit as good as international artists.”
Chilean musician Mauricio Araya shows the same energy with his Palo e’ Mango group, which began on the beaches of Necocli municipality blending ancestral music like the traditional “bullerengue” with modern rhythms.
Araya, a participant in the cultural business ventures project and benefiting from an economic stimulus that will allow him to record a disc, has been caught for five years by the magnetism of Uraba, “where there is so much to do” in the artistic sphere.
“It’s an exotic place with lush natural beauty, amiable folks and so much culture and art, which unfortunately have not been seen anywhere else,” he said.
For Danni Gonzalez from San Pedro de Uraba, learning to crochet with the help of magazines and videos on the Internet let loose her creativity, but training with artisans allowed her to create a company with five employees who make handbags of leather and bathing suits with recycled cloth and thread.
“I never saw crocheting as a potential business idea,” said the creator of the Danni Crochet brand, and who also provides workshops for women who want to “begin to create and make a living with their hands.”