The Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias, a literature and arts festival, has established a powerful means for Colombians to discover other cultures, and share their own, through words and stories told, read, and sung.
“I believe that Colombia sees the festival as a bridge for sharing, for exchanging [ideas] with the world,” Festival Director Cristina Fuentes told Colombia Reports.
The late Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes encouraged Hay, which started in Wales in 1988, to choose Cartagena as its site for an annual festival that focuses on Latin America. In 2004, Cartagena hosted its first, but like Director Cristina Fuentes pointed out, “every festival is a different animal.”
“For example, in Mexico the Hay Xalapa festival is a very academic festival. What’s happening in Mexico with its problems…immigration, violence…the festival previews the reality of the moment.”
Hay Cartagena, however, turns the focus away from problems and instead focuses on the vibrancy of Caribbean coastal culture, which possesses a rich storytelling tradition. It lets local children discover other worlds by emphasizing programs for young Colombians to participate in music, stories and dances from other cultures. In this way, Hay Cartagena is a special festival because of its inclusive, intergenerational attitude toward cultural exchange.
“A lot of other festival events are held with a closed door,” explains the Hay Director. “Cartagena is like a theater, like a cinema. It includes the people from Cartagena…it’s more focused on Colombia. It’s a more democratic place [where] the whole world can have access.”
For a country whose history is torn by conflict and for a place historically perceived by foreigners as violent and dangerous, Hay Cartagena is a way for Colombians to express an understated part of their history and culture — a more positive view of their country. Likewise, the exchange lets them access a community of people, from general enthusiasts to greats like Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Franzen, who are willing to share their perspectives in return.
Director Cristina Fuentes said that there is a strong focus on activating relationships among festival-goers. The director said she hopes attendees will walk away from the festival with “a new idea, a great conversation, or a new friend.”
Carlos Fuentes, who was a leading member of Hay Cartagena’s cast up until his death, said that “there isn’t creation without tradition, and there isn’t tradition without creation.”
Indeed it is the layers of tradition hidden within Cartagena’s narrow streets, residing within its grandiose theaters and gardens, alive in the minds of its people, that could serve as the first pieces for sharing Colombia’s stories with those who are willing to listen and for building a stronger bridge with the rest of the world.