A classroom without walls

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By:Zoe Lukov – Photos: Rafael Ortiz

The First International Biennial of Contemporary Art is not just another biennial. In addition to the BIACI goal of establishing a foundation for the exhibition and promotion of international contemporary art, the Biennial was started with the express purpose of serving as a pedagogical tool for the people and particularly the youth of Cartagena and all of Colombia.

Constanza Escobar, Director of Public Programs and Education, tells us “we are working around the clock to ensure that there are conferences, talks, guided visits, and diverse activities everyday that are open to the general public—anyone who is interested in learning more about both, national and international, contemporary art or is simply curious to experience something new and discover what the Biennial has to offer is welcome and encouraged to participate… and we are finding, that regardless of ones experience or training, visitors of the Biennial are able to relate to these works and find resonance in their own lives.”

In addition to the free tours that are scheduled every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, over 40 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and universities from around Cartagena have registered to participate in the guided visits tailored especially for school groups. On Wednesdays, buses from over eight municipalities bring children from schools around the Caribbean region to participate in the Biennial and take advantage of the exhibitions, performances, and the film program. Angela Bueno, the Director of School Programs says, “The outpouring of support for these programs is astounding, and we see that schools just keep registering—every week we receive more letters and calls from teachers around the region hoping to join one of the groups or thanking us for the work we are doing. Seeing how these children respond to the artworks with their questions and comments is beautiful— many of them have never seen any international work of art up close and with the Biennial they are being introduced to different cultures in a much more intimate way.”

Recognizing that many of our international artists would be interested in discussing their work and leading workshops with communities around the city, Rafael Ortiz, local artist and BIACI Director and Advisor of Educational Initiatives, has made a point of establishing special visiting artist workshops, as well as offering workshops every Saturday morning in the BIACI Education room at the Palacio de la Inquisición. Rafael leads these contemporary art appreciation workshops and introduces students to new ways of engaging with the Biennial artworks through drawing, painting and sculpture, in addition to exploring larger theories in contemporary art. The special visiting artist workshops offer insight into a particular artist’s career, perspective, creative process and the concepts behind their work. “This is the most fulfilling part of what we do—helping to inspire local young people and professionals to engage with contemporary art—essentially to open up more opportunities and to begin to construct bridges between international and national artists, and between youth of diverse backgrounds and the contemporary art world,” says Rafael Ortiz. “More artists than we could imagined ended up leading workshops in order to become more engaged and connected to the local community here in Cartagena and to give back to the city in a concrete way. Many of these international artists don’t speak Spanish but regardless, a common language and new ways of communicating were established through cross-cultural explorations.”

William Engelen, a Dutch sound artist living in Berlin, led a workshop one Saturday for youth aged fourteen to twenty-one, he told us, “Some of these art students had no prior foundation in experimental sound art or composition, but yet they asked questions, experimented with new techniques, showed me their own artwork and explained to me their own understanding of music and musical composition—I think it is fair to say I learned as much from them that day as they did from me.”

Having established widespread educational initiatives that involve all sectors of the city, the BIACI has demonstrated a strong and long lasting commitment to social engagement that sets this biennial apart. We are exceptionally proud to have been able to assure that all exhibition spaces, performance and film programming, conferences and artists talks, workshops and guided tours, are free and open to the public. This is the first biennial of its kind in Colombia and has already proven to be a transformative event that is sure to have profound effects on the city.