By: Rodrigo de J. García Estrada
Relations between The United States and our country go back to independence days, covering a close to two-hundred-year period in which both nations have shared a common history. Colombians have sold gold, oil, tagua, coffee and flowers to Americans, and they in turn have brought capitals, technology, science and culture. It is within this context and that of political and diplomatic relations between both states that the emergence, during World War II, of cultural exchange programs, such as the Committees for Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), is understood. These committees are the immediate antecedent of the bi-national centers founded in several Colombian cities, the first of which was founded in Bogotá in 1943 followed by the one in Medellín in 1947.
From that time on, the Colombo of Medellín started acquiring its own dynamism and soon became a reference point in the cultural scenario of the city. Through this bi-national center’s mediation and with funds provided by both Nations, writers, artists, scientists, jazz groups and classical music orchestras came to the city; thus contributing to the diffusion of cultural expressions unknown to or seldom experienced by the inhabitants of Medellín. The Colombo worked side by side with the University of Antioquia, the Pontificia Bolivariana, and the National University of Medellín, as well as with the public library- Biblioteca Pública Piloto, and the Medellín Museum of Modern Art. From foundations abroad and Colombian enterprises it managed to get funds in order to carry out these cultural events and English teaching programs to help train English teachers for high schools and universities.
Until 1982, the directors of the Colombo were American citizens, designated by the U.S. State Department, who together with the board of directors have traced its course. U.S. citizens and Antioqueños have had equal representation on the board of directors.
Behind this cultural project there is a group of people who have a true sense of belonging and whose interest in furthering friendship and cultural exchange between both Nations is genuinely sincere. Actually, they are “bi-national”, bilingual citizens who, through existing programs and others emerging out of commitment and creativity, are coming closer to a multicultural, civil, socially inclusive proposal.
Openness to change and the aforementioned proposal are personified in Paul Bardwell, one of the Colombo’s most beloved directors. Paul’s work style was stamped not only on the institution but also on the people working for it. Programs which today are at the cultural vanguard of Medellín and Colombia were strengthened and re-planned during Paul’s directorship. Such is the case of the Art Gallery that bears his name and is acknowledged for its emphasis on social aspects, its contemporariness and commitment to touching and transforming the everyday life of people from all social strata, furthering exchange of knowledge and know how between local-native and foreign-visiting artists.
Something similar can be said about the cinema program, pioneered by movie devotees such as Luís Alberto Álvarez, Alberto Aguirre, and Orlando Mora, among others. The Colombo’s modern cinema theaters, its well-known movie magazine -Kinetoscopio, and international contacts, enable movie fans in Medellín to view and relish cinematography from all over the world.
Programs such as the cinema program and the Art Gallery help provide the best ambience for learning English. Throughout the Colombo’s 60 years of existence, its English teaching program has been acknowledged as the most serious, rigorous, and effective for learning English in Medellín. The English teaching program is complemented by students’ access to the Colombo library and its comprehensive collection of books in English, magazines, newspapers and music. The library, on its way to multiculturalism, now also offers books in French and German. Thus, students need only to cross the Colombo’s threshold to come out into the World.