Uruguay Foundation Becoming Model for Arts Development
November 29th, 2004
by Heather Nalbone
Theres never a shortage of activity
among Washingtons foreign embassies and cultural institutions.
Recently, for example, locals could choose from botanical art
at the Embassy of Japan, photography at
the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute, a string quartet
at the Embassy of Austria, as well as dozens of other performances
Then theres Uruguay...
Just a short walking distance from the bustle
of Embassy Row is another smaller cultural venue that is
rapidly gaining status comparable to that of Washingtons
larger embassies and cultural establishments.
The Uruguay Cultural Foundation for the Arts is nestled in
a somewhat unlikely location, sharing a
downtown block with Davids Hair Salon and Pro Photo
Repairs and Sales Shop. But three years after
its introduction, the establishment is drawing a crowd that
seems to grow with each of its monthly
In the words of exhibition coordinator Florencia
Sader, a main part of the foundations mission is to
develop artistic and cultural programs that benefit
the community of Washington. Although the goal is
not all that different from other cross-cultural programs,
the range and quality of artwork springing from
this tiny country is in some ways a marvel.
Uruguay has more painters per square
foot than any other country in the world, Ambassador Hugo
Fernández Faingold said of the nations roughly
3 million residents.
A recent exhibit at the foundations
Salón de las Artes is representative of just how varied
art is. From Roberto Pirizs wood objects to Gustavo
Serras oil paintings and Daniel Batallas
contemporary canvases, the range of skill is broad. Diego
Donners plaster and paint carvings featured
in a collaborative exhibit at the World Bank remind one of
ancient cave drawings.
Some other countries have sports or
music, the ambassador told a recent group of visitors.
In addition to occasional film screenings
and educational sessions, the foundation organizes monthly
presentations that highlight works by two or three artists.
This months exhibit will be the organizations
14th since it became an official nonprofit entity in late
Without the ample cash flow of neighboring
Brazil and other large countries, exposing Americans to
Uruguayan culture has posed a challenge to the embassy for
years. The manpower and gallery halls
needed to run regular exhibits can be costly, especially for
small nations with limited resources.
The foundation was the embassys low-budget
answer to those barriers. As employees of an
independent nonprofit organization, Sader and her colleagues
can collect corporate sponsorship and
sales commission, as well as membership fees gathered in exchange
for discounts on artwork
purchases and other activities.
A handful of volunteers help with daily duties
and Web site maintenance. Marketing techniques involve
long mailing lists and small billboard-like signs to catch
the attention of passersby, as well as free
Uruguayan wine and hors doeuvres served at every opening.
The approach has attracted a diverse group
of Washington residents, among them 24-year-old Jared
Miller and six of his friends. What Miller had to say about
the foundation and its staff echoed the
sentiments of several other visitors. Im interested
in art from a pedestrian standpoint, Miller said.
Thats why I come here. Its accommodating,
and there are people here to explain the art.
Officially, the foundation is independent
of the embassy. In practice, the two are intertwined. The
886-sq.-ft. Salón de las Artes is housed in the same
building as the embassy itself, in a rectangular
room below the busy diplomatic offices. The embassys
cultural counselor joins foundation employees
and volunteers regularly to brainstorm ideas, and they often
work together when introducing the artists
to curators in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Artists
are selected for membership and exhibitions
with help from the foundations curator in Uruguay, and
the ambassador provides room and board when
they travel to Washington to discuss their works.
The system has worked so well, according
to those in charge, that attachés around town are starting
catch on. The organization has received informational inquiries
from the embassies of Israel,
Azerbaijan, Portugal and other Latin American countries interested
in developing similar models.
Employees and volunteers speak proudly of
their accomplishments, including plans to introduce
chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New
York and San Juan. I would stay here to
work through the night if I could, said Viviana Diaz,
a full-time volunteer. This job is so interesting.
But employees arent the only ones who
speak with enthusiasm. Although some guests admit to visiting
primarily for the free wine, others speak of the gallery as
though it were a hidden cache. World Bank
treasurer and art lover Norsiah Sumardi discovered the foundation
during her walk home from work one
evening, when she noticed an exhibit opening sign placed in
front of the entrance. She ended up
purchasing several pieces and has rarely missed an exhibit
[The foundation] seems to have a good
eye, Sumardi said during a recent exhibit. To be
you need to have a good eye for art. But then, she added,
Uruguay has such great art.
The Uruguay Cultural Foundation for the Arts
is located at 1913 I St., NW.
For more information, please call (202) 331-1313
Heather Nalbone is a freelance writer in
Silver Spring, MD.
- top -