Spotlight On: A Series on Culture & the Arts

“Spotlight On” is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on all things cultural & artistic in Xela and Guatemala. The topic for February 2010 is: What’s Up With Casa No’j Cultural Center?

By Diana Pastor

Last year a journalist here in Xela wrote the following lines in the local newspaper: “It makes my skin prickle to think that today, the space that we all desire for the arts is a dignified place.”  He was referring to Casa No’j, whose building several years earlier suffered from doors falling off the hinges, paintings were falling off the walls and had leaks all over the place.

However thanks to the initiative of a group of citizens, the building had been remodeled to create the first cultural center in Quetzaltenango that would give space to cultural groups that had no home, giving them a venue to present their activities without major challenges.

That was in 2007. Casa No’j opened its doors as a preeminent space for the arts. They offered diverse shows, whereby the groups promoted their activities covering everything from literature to film, from photography to paintings and more. Courses were offered in acting and audiovisual production that, although were not free, began to stir interest among many people – both locals and visitors – as a way delve into the world of the arts.

The name Casa No’j began to become recognized and received funds from international agencies, such as the Cooperación Espanola of Spain and the Dutch development foundation, Hivos.

Nevertheless, Casa No’j’s doors remain shut. So what happened to everything?

In recent months, the Municipality of Quetzaltenango decided to cancel the contracts of Casa No’j’s directors, replacing them with Claudia Mazariegos, the current president of the Municipal Culture Council (Consejo de Cultura). 

The criticisms of the latest actions are diverse, especially on Web-based communities. I found comments by some claiming that the Municipality intends to take over total control of Casa No’j. Others, on the other hand, agree with the changes, arguing that the previous directors were possessive of the space and only grudgingly granted use of the common spaces. Currently the Municipality and the former directors are negotiating in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Whatever happens, I don’t think it is fair that Casa No’j may end up being another valuable project that is cut short by personal ambitions and/or external parties. I don’t know of any other governmental institution that is as uncorrupt in its management of funds, nor one that guarantees access to its services to all that are interested.

Claudia Mazariegos has said that Casa No’j is and always will be for artistic groups who can use the space whenever they want. We hope that this is the case and that it resumes it activities as soon as possible.

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