Is poetry only for connoisseurs? Not in Colombia. The Medellín International Poetry Festival has captivated tens of thousands of Colombians. Since 1998, Hivos has been financing the participation of poets from other developing countries and contributes to the organizational costs. Doen Foundation in turn granted a one-time subsidy in 2005 for the festival’s 15th anniversary.
Hivos supports the poetry festival because of its philosophy that artists can make a significant contribution to the debate over the political and cultural development of their society, in this case the constant civil war in Colombia. Culture is a tool for finding new perspectives, asking critical questions and creating a bridge between people. "The impact of the festival is considerable in Colombia," says Paul van Paaschen, program manager Art and Culture. "During the debates, the poets speak about their concern over the situation in their country without mincing words. That appeals to the public, which primarily consists of young people and not, as people frequently think, of grey-haired poetry lovers. The event goes further than just reciting poems. The festival is one way to combat war and violence. The fact that so many Colombians attend, shows that you can reach many people with poetry. For them, it is an escape from the daily cares, a moment of reflection. Moreover, the festival is an important meeting place for poets from all over the whole world. For the poets, it is a sort of spa. They are celebrated as pop stars."
For Hivos, in addition to being a tool, culture is also an objective in itself: the support focuses on expanding the cultural infrastructure, promoting the sustainability of the cultural sector and strengthening the capacities of the partner organizations. These are concepts from the world of Development Collaboration that other culture funds rarely or never mention. "We work in that sector and link our culture program to the values of that sector," Paul van Paaschen relates. "We speak about capacity component, something the Prince Claus Fund, for example, will never mention. In that sense we are developers. For us, it is not about the projects, but about the organization. If you support the organization properly, the projects will take care of themselves. We stimulate financial sustainability. That is difficult within the cultural sector, but it is not impossible. For example, an experimental theatre group can also give courses, with which they generate income."
Hivos also attempts to prevent 'donor dependency' by directing partners to other sources of funds. Because the event has already been held for 15 years, the program of the Medellín Poetry Festival is more extensive - and naturally more expensive - in 2005. Paul van Paaschen: "We could not give any more support. We passed the contact on to Doen Foundation." Doen Foundation supports the poetry festival in Colombia with 30,000 euros, because it contributes to creating a positive image of Colombia; it demonstrates that in addition to violence and drugs, there is also room for culture.