Medellin, one time murder capital of Colombia, seeks to bring an end to the city’s rising rates of violence with a program of cultural events, in the hope that art will encourage gang members to turn away from violence.
July sees the start of several internationally renowned cultural events in the Antioquian capital, which include the Flower Festival, Colombiamoda (Medellin’s fashion show) and the International Poetry Festival, all reflecting Mayor Alonso Salazar’s conviction that culture can bring around social transformation.
“Cultural development is the sustenance of democratic life. Well-educated people, self-controlled, with common values, are the seed of a state and of a society where respect for universal values exists,” explained the city’s mayor at the inauguration of the Third Medellin Congress of Ibero-American culture on July 1.
However, despite the mayor’s optimism and the growing importance of Medellin as a cultural center, violence remains a dark backdrop during the festivities, with 65 homicides recorded during last year’s Flower Festival.
In the first three months of 2010, some figures showed a 54.8% increase in the number of homicides within the city of Medellin itself, with 503 reported cases. According to official figures, the number has since risen to 911, as of June 1, with eleven of the city’s seventeen districts seeing a significant increase in murder rates.
This year’s International Poetry Festival also coincides with the Second Week of Disarmament in Medellin, a reminder that the city is the scene of both cutting-edge cultural events and a battle against violence.
Salazar hopes to join this battle, through a “strategy of transformation and generation of competitiveness and productivity.”
The disarmament program therefore uses cultural events, such as concerts, exhibitions and theater shows to inspire the young to give up their weapons. The idea is that they can hand over their arms to the local church, where they will be collected by priests without any questions.
With such a unique conviction in the potential of the arts, it remains to be seen whether Salazar’s “bet” on culture will prove successful in a city still plagued by violence and the memory of its most infamous resident, Pablo Escobar.