Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Sad State of Culture in Honduras

We remind you that Honduras is not a petroleum producing country; that there are deficiencies, limitations, but we are doing all that's possible to resolve the problem because culture is a national priority.

So said the Minister of Culture, Tulio Mariano Gonzalez, when asked on Monday why his office was obstructing the transfer of funds to the National Gallery of Art.

The state of cultural institutions in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, several of which are dependencies of the Secretaria de Cultura, Artes, y Deportes (SCAD), suggests that culture is anything but a national priority.

Start with the budget. The 2012 budget allocates 234 million lempiras ($11.7 million dollars) as budget for the Secretaria de Cultura, Artes, y Deportes. Only 26 million ($1.3 million dollars)  are available for promoting culture in Honduras.  The rest of the money goes to sports promotion, and to paying the salaries of SCAD employees.  The 2012 budget also authorized a 1.5 million lempira ($75,000)  cut of SCAD's budget from the allocated amount to be put into a general fund for government social programs. 

The 2013 budget cut 3.8 million lempiras ($190,000) from the essentially static SCAD budget.

That leaves very little for cultural programming. And it is particularly hard for cultural institutions when the meager funding available is not transferred to them.

The big story in all the Honduran papers recently was that the National Gallery of Art closed for four days last week because the central government had failed to transfer its budget allocation to the entity, which in turn, had not been able to pay its employees for the last six months. 

SCAD has 2.7 million lempiras in its budget for the National Gallery of Art, yet has not given it any support this year.  According to the budget proposal approved by Congress, SCAD owes the National Gallery of Art 900,000 lempiras (about $45,000 dollars) from this year's budget allocation so far.

SCAD acknowledges it owes the Gallery that money, and had done the paperwork to authorize the transfer but then revoked it, leading Tulio Mariano Gonzalez to claim that culture is a national priority, no matter what it actually seems is happening.

On the basis of assurances that it would get its money, the National Gallery of Art reopened on Monday, with volunteers since it still lacks funds to pay the staff. 

But the money transfer didn't come. 

When contacted Monday by El Heraldo to find out why the transfer hadn't happened after all the promises, the National Treasurer, Luis Felipe Garcia, said that Minister Gonzalez had revoked the authorization to transfer the funds.  Gonzalez told El Heraldo it was just a technical problem that he hoped would be fixed in a few hours, but totally failed to explain the revocation of the authorization to pay the Gallery.  Instead he said that technical problems happen nearly daily in the moving of funds between SCAD and the central bank, and he hoped they'd be fixed soon.

And it's not just the National Gallery of Art that's being stiffed to the point of closing. 

The Casa Morazan, a new national museum opened last year, will close its doors to the public on July 31.  The 2012 budget cut 800,000 lempiras from its operating budget of 1.5 million: a 53% budget cut.  So, once the money runs out in July, the museum will close. 

Minister Gonzalez says they should remain open, but offers no more funding.  Instead he said:
Here in SCAD we have the lowest budget in history and the people are witness that we are doing the activities that most resonate in the last few years, which says that with enthusiasm and passion we can do better activities.

You can't keep a museum open with "enthusiasm" for very long.

Want more?

The National Conservatory of Music, homeless since 1998 when Hurricane Mitch destroyed its original home, has moved from rented space to rented space as SCAD seeks to reduce the rent it pays for space for the Conservatory.

The National Arts School lost all government support from this year's budget and was forced to close. 

The National Newspapers Library, another SCAD dependency,  has inadequate storage and space.

The Museo Villa Roy, which has been closed for a seismic retrofit since 2010, is a SCAD-owned museum in Tegucigalpa.  The government has yet to allocate any of the 13 million lempiras needed to do the work, so the building, a former President's home, remains both closed and at risk of collapsing.

The National Library needs significant infrastructure work and pest removal in order to remain open to the public.

It's not just the central government that's abdicating its responsibilities, either. The situation of cultural institutions in San Pedro Sula is also declining, due to defaults by the city government.

Both privately-run museums in San Pedro Sula, the Museo de Antropología e Historia and the Museo de la Naturaleza, have been operating without budgetary support promised by the San Pedro Sula City government, support that should make up about half of each of their budgets.  Both museums may close later this year. 

Marvin Fajardo, director of the Children's Museum in San Pedro said that the government was not interested in supporting these institutions and pointed to the closing of the National Arts School in Tegucigalpa as proof.

The City of San Pedro also backed out of its agreement to fund a visitor's center and the maintenance of the archaeological site of Currusté, effectively closing the site to what had been expected to be visitation by thousands of school kids every year.

So what is the budget of the Secretaria de Cultura Artes y Deportes being spent on, aside from salaries? 

If one views the posts on its Facebook page, one would be forced to conclude the mission of SCAD is to teach chess and host street-fairs featuring performances, sales, and sports in Tegucigalpa. 

This must be what the Minister thinks "resonates" with the Honduran people.

Culture is not a priority under the government of Lobo Sosa and his Minister Tulio Mariano Gonzalez. 

It's more like what Miguel Diaz, a businessman, said:
Here in Honduras, neither art nor culture have value and are not taken into account.

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