Trying to Make a Living from Art in Crisis-Torn Nicaragua

Culture struggles to keep a footing in crisis-torn Nicaragua. Artists resort to their own means to keep going. Courtesy photo: Niu

Musicians, writers and painters have to find their own spaces and resources to promote their creations, amid the continuing crisis in Nicaragua. This, they affirm, is their way of resisting.

Por Monica Garcia Peralta (Niu-Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – In a Nicaragua engulfed in crisis, art also suffers. Painters, composers, writers and artists in general try to survive in a country where spaces and organizations for promoting art and culture were already scarce, even before the sociopolitical crisis that the country presently faces.

With their canvases, CDs, books or scripts under their arms, the Nicaraguan artists today resort to their own cultural promotion to be able to express their talent and creations.

Marlen Gutierrez, composer and cultural promotor, defines self-promotion as “doing everything by your own means.” In an era of crisis, he adds, “self-promotion is the only way to showcase yourself, because of the polarization in the cultural environment and the lack of spaces where you can develop cultural projects.”

Marta Leonor Gonzalez, writer and co-founder of the editorial label “400 Elefantes”, [400 Elephants] states: “from the moment that an author tucks a book into their backpack to take to a media outlet, they’re engaged in cultural self-promotion,” a labor that Gonzalez likens to “a rocky road”.

 

Nabucodonosor Ganimides Morales, an actor and theater director, says cultural self-promotion forms “a large part” of his life. “This means holding on to your project: finding spaces, people who believe in what you’re doing and will place their bets on your art,” he specifies.

Painter Daniela Corea has also turned to exhibitions, galleries, live painting events, art fairs and whatever other activity allows her to “get her work out” to places she can hang it. Corea agrees that cultural self-promotion is a permanent job for Nicaraguan artists.

Writers with nowhere to publish

Marta Leoonor Gonzalez is a writer and editor of the 400 Elephants label, who relies on self-promotion of her books to be able to make her work known. Photo: Claudia Tijerino / Niu.

To the Nicaraguan writers, especially the newer talents, finding a publisher has always been difficult. With the closure of the Nicaraguan Writers’ Center, many were left without anywhere that would consider their work. “400 Elephants” has tried to replace some of that space, since today it’s one of the few publishers that supports new writers.

“Obviously, the crisis has left many people discouraged, with few hopes, but there are also many positive things. In the case of the writers, it’s that they continue creating their work in silence. And this crisis has also generated some very beautiful things in the creative sense,” believes Martha Leonor Gonzalez, a writer herself and co-founder of the publishing company.

Recently, Gonzalez published a collection of poems titled “Managua 38°, that centers around another crisis that Nicaragua lived through: that of the 1972 earthquake that devastated the capital. That earthquake, she affirms, is one more of the “unprocessed griefs” that Nicaragua harbors.

Gonzalez admits that books aren’t part of Nicaraguans basic needs, but maintains that authors shouldn’t stop writing. “Time is implacable”, she sentences, and alternatives must be sought to publish, edit and find the means and the spaces to promote reading.

Music confronts a polarized society

Marlen Gutierrez has self-promoted his different disciplines, among them music and writing, in order to make himself known. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio / Niu.

Marlen Gutierrez has also spent years producing culture. He got into the field as a graphic designer, but he also defines himself as a writer. He’s now focused more on music, with his group Cabeza de Gato [“Cat’s Head”], in which he states he practices self-promotion “24 hours a day”.

For Marlen and for other national musicians, this full-time work extends from the composition of his music to the search for places to perform. He recognizes the challenge represented by the polarization that has resulted from the crisis in the country, following the violent repression of the citizen protests during what is called the April Rebellion, and the resulting deaths.

“Now there are two groups of artists, of cultural promotors, and the lack of resources has been accentuated. There are fewer platforms. But music bears up,” the artist declares, while also recognizing the spike in “mostly anti-establishment” musical initiatives.

Gutierrez notes that while promoting spaces for music, he must also take into account the event’s security and the population’s interest in attending concerts. “Right now, we don’t really have that,” he states regretfully, “although since last year there’s been a little more of an opening. Even so, it takes a lot.”

In Gutierrez’ view, “there has to be a change so that the artistic and cultural panorama in Nicaragua develops as it should. Right now, there’s a lot of energy, a lot of interesting and good-quality ideas, but the panorama doesn’t make it feasible to be able to develop it.”

Painting as a way to vent

Daniela Corea feels that her painting changed due to the crisis, just like all of those in her trade. She assures that self-promotion has become the only way that artists can stand out. Courtesy photo: Niu

It was inevitable that there be a change in the cultural panorama after April 2018. And it was even more inevitable that the artistic expressions would change their focus to portraying what they’ve been living through since then: death, violence, and repression. Painting is perhaps one of the least appreciated branches of art in Nicaragua, precisely for the lack of projection. But it’s not enough anymore just to paint.

“Our paintings express on canvas what we feel, to vent, and to give a message. So, many artists spoke about the crisis through their paintings. My painting changed, that of many artists changed,” comments Daniela Corea, who not only changed the images she put on her easels but also the form of exhibiting them.

“Self-promotion of culture means going out to other spaces to introduce our art. And that’s what we’ve done after April 2018. Now, we not only hope that they’ll open the doors for us in a gallery, but we also initiate other activities. We paint live at entertainment centers, we hold fairs with a different concept, or maybe we attend other art activities where we can also show our paintings,” the artist asserts.

Corea notes the important role of the state and private institutions should have in promoting cultural education. “If we began promoting Nicaraguan art in the schools and let them know about the great masters that we’ve had here in Nicaragua, then the kids, the youth, would have more appreciation for art,” Corea affirms.

A life spent in cultural self-promotion

Be it in theater, stand up comedy, or contemporary dance, Nabucodonosor Ganimides believes that self-promotion is a way of life. Photo: Claudia Tijerino / Niu.

To think that an artist isn’t engaged in cultural self-promotion “is to think about something unreal,” declares Nabudoconosor Ganimides, director of the theater group Los Ilustres Desconocidos” [“The Distinguished Unknowns”] and a theater teacher at the Engineering University. “Cultural self-promotion is a large part of my life. It means always maintaining your project, finding spaces, people that believe in what you’re doing and who will place their bets on your art,” declares Ganimides.

For him, being a director and actor in the theater has become more difficult after April 2018. “I believe that the crisis has led us to close ranks and demonstrate that if art is what you like and it’s your profession, you’re going to fight for it.  Like everything in life, cultural self-promotion is difficult, and in any era it’s vital that you fight for what you want. But in an era of crisis, the artist must always develop a sense of critical thinking among the public, which may then even turn around and challenge you as an artist,” comments the director.

Ganimides and other members of his theater group have had to diversify their artistic offering during this period of crisis. They’ve added music, dance, puppets and even a stand-up comic. Nonetheless, he criticizes the fact that many people understand the term “self-promotion” as merely a search for sponsors, when it’s not that way. “It extends from the moment that you begin to administer your time to focus on a certain project,” he warns.

“The important thing about self-promotion is to develop processes and contacts that help you to prolong the project you’re involved in, and obviously, at the beginning you have to invest time and money,” he recommends.

The support of the cultural centers

In Nicaragua, there are still some organizations that promote culture and art and look for ways to procure spaces and opportunities for Nicaraguan artists.  The Cultural Center of Spain in Nicaragua holds workshops every year on cultural self-promotion, so that artists can learn how to become the principal promotors of their work.

“After last year, the cultural panorama was transformed and reinvented in a creative way, and this practice has even been exported to other countries. This demonstrates that, in any context, it’s always possible to develop cultural projects. That’s our capacity for resilience: to find the opportunities amid the chaos,” states Jilma Estrada, the Center’s Cultural Promotor.

Larissa Pavon, manager of Impact Hub Community (“Comunidad de Impact Hub”), a collective that works with topics related to “ventures”, emphasizes that “artists must have specific knowledge about how to do a good job in their own cultural promotion,” including administration, budgeting, investing, staging and costs.

Impact Hub dedicates part of its agenda to promoting the term “the orange economy” which simply means making visible the economic impact that the different artistic expressions have, more so in times of crisis.

“It’s very difficult for any person in this context to receive economic help, and for artists it’s a little more complicated yet. That’s why it’s important that they themselves know how to self-promote,” Pavon indicates. She notes that art and the cultural spaces are a form of expression, protest, and refuge that should be preserved and promoted, even – and perhaps above all – in times of crisis.


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