By Stephen Vargha
A city with a university is usually a big cultural arts center for a region. When there are four universities, it makes it easy to become an arts capital. That is what Cuenca is as it has been called by native Ecuadorians and expats, “The Arts Capital of Ecuador.”
Kris Daniel of northern Missouri thinks Cuenca is a culturally rich city. For the last five years, the American snowbird has made the pilgrimage to Cuenca because of the arts. “This is the Arts Capital of Ecuador,” Kris said. “Maybe even the whole world. I just love it here!”
Here are three reasons for Kris’ enthusiasm.
It has been said that Cuenca is the “Rising Arts Capital of Latin America.” A good reason could be the incredibly talented ceramic artists in the city. Maybe the most celebrated is Eduardo Segovia. He is a master at his craft. Working with clay comes naturally to this man. Even at an old age, Segovia is full of energy and excitement, and shows no signs of slowing down. It is apparent that ceramics are not only his profession, but also his passion.
His casa and galeria is filled with rooms of his work. No two pieces are exactly alike. There are hundreds of pieces of his work, and your eyes will glaze over at all the shapes, colors, and designs. It is overwhelmingly beautiful.
Master artists can account for every detail in their art pieces. They do not depend on the set rules of doing art pieces, and it is evident that Segovia is not following any artistic mandates. Segovia has a credible and great explanation for the hundreds of pieces he has created. Many pieces done by master artists may be controversial or not understood by many, but Segovia can account for his stunning work in ways that enhance artistic credibility.
Some of Segovia’s work is now on display at Antigua Escuela Central. A celebration for the grand opening was held last Friday.
They say every canvas is a journey all its own. That is why people like Kris Daniel has idiomArt on her calendar.
“This is my special place; I love to come here,” said Kris. “There are things going on constantly here, whether its garden sessions, informative programs, or exhibit openings, it’s just a place I feel very comfortable.”
idiomArt has been around for four decades, attracting Americans, Canadians, and Cuencanos with its art and arts programs. Sarah HB (Hanenbauer) took over operations of idiomArt from founder Sara Coppler in August 2021 and is now the organization’s director.
“idiomArt has become an important place for people in the arts and is a meeting place for people to get together to experience art,” said Sarah. “We do all sorts of things. One of our goals is to create a space where people feel comfortable to come to know one another and be part of creativity.”
Kris totally agrees. “Sarah HB has taken the founder’s vision and expanded it, making it a wonderful and exceptional place,” said Kris.
The American painter, art instructor, and television host Bob Ross once said, “All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.”
This could be why painting classes are very popular at idiomArt, especially when it is conducted in a tranquil setting in the heart of El Centro. Budding painters like Kris find it to be a great way to discover their hidden artistic talents.
Numerous classes and workshops are available, including textile collages, papermaking and bookbinding, a marbling class, and a study group to learn about contemporary art in a fun way using visuals and exercises that as idiomArt says, “will help you immerse yourself in the art itself and understand contemporary art of today.”
Sarah wants idiomArt to represent everything there is about art. That is why Sarah brought in the talented local painter, Catalina Carrasco, for a half-month art exhibition. Prior to that, ceramic artists Eduardo Segovia and Juan Guillermo Vega had their artwork displayed.
“We have studio space where artists rent the space. We do concerts. We have lecture series on anything that has to do with the arts and culture. We have Spanish classes,” said Sarah. Those classes are called, CCC Spanish: Conversation, Culture, and Context (the three Cs of learning a language).
idiomArt is much more than a gallery or musical events in their relaxing outdoor courtyard. It is a place for artists and art lovers to mingle, to learn, and to appreciate the arts in Cuenca and the surrounding areas.
“We are starting to do road trips, where we go out of Cuenca and kind of get off the beaten path to get to know a little bit more about this incredible country that we live in,” says Sarah. “The idea for these road trips is to know the people directly with the money going directly to these people. It is community tourism.”
Jazz Society Café Restaurant
“They’re shocked,” said James Gala, the founder of the Jazz Society Café Restaurant. “This is the only jazz club in the entire country. There isn’t one in Guayaquil or Quito.”
Jim founded the jazz club nearly a decade ago in El Centro. It has moved to the west side of the city from El Centro. “Jazz has its own audience. I thought that since Cuenca is rich in cultural assets, I thought I would add jazz to it,” said Jim.
The founder puts Cuenca right up there with the largest cities in Europe and the Big Apple. “When someone goes on vacation to Europe, there are a lot of wonderful cities… Amsterdam, London, and Paris,” said Jim. “Thousands of people go to New York City just because it has jazz. They associate New York City with that.”
Jazz is not as popular as it once was, but Jim is making sure it has a home in Cuenca. “Jazz is much more personal. There’s quite a differential dichotomy between live music at a rock concert and live music at a jazz club,” said Jim. “Jazz clubs are historically small, making it an environment for critical listening. I think they are more romantic. To me, jazz is music for grownups.”
This intimacy has drawn new people to the musical genre. “I think that a lot of people who come to this jazz club we own have never really been in a jazz club before,” said Jim.
He thinks jazz is more accessible to them than they might have thought, leading to the success of the Jazz Society Café Restaurant.
Kris understands what Jim is saying about jazz and vast cultural richness of Cuenca. “The arts are so special. Art is one of the things and one of the main reasons I come here,” says Kris. “On my way to idiomArt, everywhere you look there’s art. I passed street musicians; I passed beautiful architecture; I ate a meal that was artistically presented. Everything is art here.”
Eduardo Segovia Exhibit, Antigua Escuela Central, Gran Colombia y Benigno Malo; Facebook.
idiomArt, 5-92 Manuel Vega y Juan Jaramillo, Facebook.
Catalina Carrasco, https://catalinacarrasco.com
Jazz Society Café Restaurant, Los Cedros y Los Cavales 293, Facebook.
Photos by Stephen Vargha