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From Cartagena, An Interview with the Music Festival’s Founder

Julia Salvi, a native of Colombia, recalls bringing her Italian husband Victor to Cartagena for the first time, around early 2005: “Of course he loved it right away, and started thinking about what he could do here. When other people were thinking about buying houses, he was thinking about buying a theater,” she chuckles.

It might sound crazy, but the Salvis, who own a harp-making business, were contemplating a new musical venture that would have a philanthropic component. Although their name isn’t on any theater in Cartagena, the changes they have brought to the city are indelible. With the inaugural Festival Internacional de Música in 2007, Julia and Victor Salvi established the Fundación Victor Salvi to promote the music industry and the musical development of youth in Colombia. Julia is now the president of the Salvi Foundation.

At the beginning, the festival was funded entirely by the Salvis. Over the past five years, however, it has grown very quickly, expanding its funding base alongside the growing numbers of participants, concerts and educational activities, This year, it met its budget of $5 million primarily through in-kind and cash support from corporations, private foundations and individual donations. Financial support from the federal and local government is minimal, consisting of a $100,000 donation from the government of the City of Cartagena and a $15,000 grant from the Ministry of Culture. “I wish I could have more,” says Salvi, but she is also quick to point out that the government supports the festival in other ways (for example, helping with publicity and facilitating necessary permits), and that she does not want to depend on politicians—who change frequently and could be a source of financial instability—for money, preferring instead to be self-sustaining.

Salvi says the Festival Internacional de Música plays a significant role in international and cultural tourism. She estimates that 35 percent of paid-ticket holders are foreigners and 25 percent are Colombians who currently live abroad. The festival directors try “not to lose the balance” between international and local audiences to ensure an international perspective. Nonetheless, the festival’s free concerts, which are open to the public and make up about one-third of its programming, do attract a local audience. For example, at the open-air concerts—written about in previous posts from Cartagena this week (here and here)—Salvi estimates that approximately 40 percent of the standing audiences were from Cartagena.

Although the festival is the Fundación Salvi’s largest and most visible initiative, the foundation carries out activities around Colombia. Salvi says her primary goal is to bring high-caliber international artists to Colombia. The reasons: to draw musicians and audiences to the country, and to provide music students with the best educational opportunities possible.

While Salvi strongly believes in promoting music education across Colombia, she is concerned that the quality of teaching available locally to fulfill such an ambitious mission is not up to par. As a result, she says, “I think it is important to bring teachers from other countries, where they have an excess” of high-quality musicians.

For that reason, the foundation dedicates the majority of its social programs in Colombia to bringing this type of education to youth. One such program, called Batuta (Baton), offers master classes with professional musicians (many of whom perform in the festival), teaches students different techniques and enables some to travel overseas. In Medellín, where the mayor’s office already runs a program that gives 4,400 kids in 26 schools the opportunity to study the arts, the foundation will bring 15 musicians to perform with the youth.

Finally, right here in Cartagena, the Fundación Salvi has partnered with a local secondary school, the Colegio Comfenalco, to provide the students in its youth orchestra with a proper rehearsal space, sheet music and instruments. Very little of these were available when the foundation first came to Cartagena. The students are currently participating in a summer boot camp—rehearsing for eight hours per day for nine days as they prepare to give the closing concert. For Salvi, it is imperative that youth from Cartagena participate in this kind of activity. “The kids have to know what the festival is about," she says, "because their generation will be the one to take it over.”

*Nina Agrawal is an associate editor for Americas Quarterly. She is blogging this week from the 2011 Cartagena International Music Festival.

January 11, 2011: "Something for Everyone in Cartagena"
January 10, 2011: "Cartagena Comes Alive at International Music Festival"

Tags: Colombia, Music, Cartagena


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