International Projects & the Arts Council’s Mexico Initiative

by Kim Cook

Why am I in Mérida, Mexico instead of working away at my desk this week? I’ve joined a delegation of 35 Louisiana businesspeople from the oil, shipping, health, and construction industries from across the state as they meet with over 65 participants from business and government in Mexico’s states of Yucatan and Campeche. Thanks to the vision and commitment of Mexico’s Consul General for New Orleans, Ramon Gonzalez Jamison, I was invited to attend. Furthermore, last night at the residence of US Consul General in Mérida, Sonya Tsiros, I signed a three-year MOU for cultural exchange between Arts Council New Orleans and Cultura Yucatan, a consortium of business leaders who work to support arts and culture in the state of Yucatan, led by Roberto Abraham Mafud.

Flor Pandal 2

Painting by Flor Pandal. In a collaborative effort with the Mexican Consulate of New Orleans, Pandal’s work will be shown in the Arts Council Gallery June 4-July 27, 2015.

What does it mean to do this… and why do it? There are three answers to that question. The first is immediate and profoundly rewarding. Last night I spoke about how business-to-business is fundamentally people-to-people, and valuing cultural assets from the indigenous Mayan culture here to the history of indigenous populations in the Mississippi delta is important. Additionally, we must celebrate and build an awareness of the existence of emerging contemporary artists of the highest caliber who advance a perception of greatness and innovation for our regions as city leaders pursue entrepreneurs who value quality of life enhanced by a creative community. In these, and many matters, arts and culture has a role to play. Further, artists and designers are a robust source of value-add in most civic arenas, from safe places to exceptional experiences to youth resilience; we bring the benefit.

However, itIMG_0020 IMG_0019isn’t what I said that mattered. It’s that once I had said it, and was gifted with the opportunity to sign the MOU, culture was then messaged in all the speeches that followed. This morning, as the assembled participants in the listened, arts and culture was referenced as a medium of exchange and importance by people such as Michael Olivier of Louisiana’s C100 and the Governor of Yucatan Rolando Zapata Bello. I felt joy that our MOU signing led to this first achievement, we are acknowledged.

What then is the second benefit or purpose for this trip? The possibilities for actual cultural exchange. Maybe some of those things are simple cultural awareness building. For example, Cinco de Mayo is not in fact Mexican Independence Day. And while that may seem silly, mutual respect is meaningful and observing these courtesies of cultural knowledge matter. Perhaps we will be able to go further: as another example, this gathering is about states that share the common bond of bordering the Gulf of Mexico. What if we had artist residency exchanges that centered on this same theme? What if we produced greater awareness of the needs for this precious natural resource? Also in attendance here is Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director of Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, who hosts an art and science program for youth; maybe we can expand on that with her Mexican colleague, Dr. Porfirio Alvarez from Climas-Goc Marine Eco-systems and generate artist partner possibilities.

Finally, potential benefit number three relates to the objectives of our International Projects Initiative: to expand visibility and opportunities for the art and artists of New Orleans. If we build well across the next three years of cooperation with Cultura Yucatan and with the Honorable Ramon Gonzalez Jamison, Consul General of Mexico in New Orleans, we stand a good chance of achieving this while expanding the discourse about the role that culture has to play in the big wide world of business. We hope to do this, simultaneously, to provide benefit to our Mexican colleagues through reciprocal relationships that introduce us to more of what is being created by the artists and cultural communities of Yucatan, Campeche, and the country as a whole.

Kim Cook is President & CEO of the Arts Council New Orleans.