Culture is everything we do

Interview by Angel Jaramillo

What is Pablo Corral’s personal concept of culture?

Culture is everything we do and especially how we do it. It’s what we eat – the ingredients and their origins – but it’s particularly the way we combine those ingredients and gather around the table to talk among friends. It’s the way we talk and the way we express our affections or preferences. Is there anything more Quiteño than what I usually call the “ito” of Quito… “lady, don’t be bad, give me a little coffee”? The softness, the sweetness of the diminutive is an integral part of our culture. And of course culture is the music we listen to, the way we dance and celebrate.  There is no aspect of human behavior that is not part of that huge iceberg that is culture. We only see what is most apparent, but below the waterline are all aspects of life.

– What is culture for?

Culture is absolutely useless, but without it we cannot live. It’s like water or oxygen. It is the primary source of our identity, it gives us a sense of belonging, it allows us to know where we come from and what is important, it gives us the coordinates to navigate pain, loss and also love and heartbreak. Surely if we are in a country very different from ours and a tragedy occurs in our lives, we will not understand the way in which solidarity is expressed in that country. We will be left with a feeling of emptiness. I remember once I was visiting Alabama with my parents, and we found out that the person guiding us had lost her husband the day before. We couldn’t understand how she was there, working. Years later I understood that in some places in the United States a week or more can pass between the death, which is handled by professionals who quickly take the body away, and the ceremony in which the deceased is remembered. We human beings have different ways of expressing our grievances and joys.

Culture is not useful in the sense that it is much more valuable, much more important than the economic value we can extract from it. What is the use of poetry? Nothing, but without it we would be infinitely poorer.

– Do you think the people of Quito are interested in culture?

It’s a mistake to think that somehow we are imparting culture to others. In public service, what we can do is amplify the voice of a diversity of cultural manifestations, hopefully as much as possible. But we are not called upon to impart culture, that is a retrograde concept.

People have the right to know not only their own culture but also that of other peoples. That is a fundamental cultural right. Culture is enriched in the exchange with other nations and with other social groups. I believe that we have to get rid of the prejudice that only some things are culture and others are not. I have found it hard to accept, for example, that there are one hundred thousand people who are happy to dance to reggaeton, and that sometimes you can’t get a thousand for a classical music event. But I cannot underestimate those who dance reggaeton just because I like classical music better. Culture is such a wide vessel that everyone can fit in.

There are no simple answers in public cultural management. What I do know for sure is that one thing is to organize the big events of the city – Fiestas de Quito, Fiesta de la Luz, etc – which should be in charge of a public agency in charge of events. And another very different thing is the policy of promoting and managing the theatres, museums and cultural centres. Cultural policy and city events are two different worlds.

– Is culture only for the elites?

That’s a totally wrong view of culture. It’s pretending that one culture is better than another. When I go to a rural district in Quito, to Guayllabamba for example, and eat a locro with fresh avocado in a family home, I am witnessing an ancient and rich gastronomic tradition. The same thing happens when I listen to a village band or see a parcour group practising in a park. I insist, culture is all we are, all we do. I believe that if there is one thing that the public institution can contribute to, it is to build a collective pride in who we are, in the richness and quality of our cultural manifestations. Who is not proud to be Ecuadorian when they listen to the recordings of the Potolo Valencia, of Carlota Jaramillo or of Julio Jaramillo himself? And now, when they hear the international success of Nicola Cruz or Guardarraya? The answer is clear, those who do not know that that music is a constituent element of our musical landscape, are not proud. Our work as public cultural managers, as programmers of municipal spaces, is perhaps to expose the public to different artistic manifestations with the purpose of building pride, a sense of belonging.

– What can be done or what is being done to make people more interested in culture?

There is a misconception that there is not enough cultural activity in Quito. It is enough to visit our site to realize that Quito has a very rich cultural life, and without a doubt the municipal spaces are epicenters of culture at a national level. But more than generating more events from the public, our mission has been to generate processes, dialogues, alliances.

To cite an example, for reasons of public policy we have decided to hold a Summer of the Arts only with national artists. Cultural managers have complained for years that we give free concerts and affect their business, and national artists have expressed their discontent with the sums that have been spent in the past on international artists. Our policy has been to establish alliances with the unions, to negotiate. Our project Quito Has Theater is one of the most successful public-private collaboration processes in the country, all the performances are full because we build a joint program that has the total support of the artists. It is not an imposition from the public but a collaboration in service of the people.

– How do you see the cultural world of Quito?

Quito is much bigger, more diverse and more interesting than we imagine. I was in a very small cultural circle; the Secretary of Culture has allowed me to get a glimpse of that diversity that we are. What most affects culture in Quito are the internal struggles… modern artists despise their contemporaries and vice versa, there are several groups of rockers who detest each other. Since the cake is small when a group comes to power, they exercise it against their rivals. Culture is the space of dialogue and it has to be the space that welcomes everyone.


– What motivated you to do your first book?

I’ve been writing poetry and taking pictures since I was 12 years old. It seemed natural to combine those two inclinations in one book.

– What satisfaction did it give you?

I love books. I often say that my two professions are photojournalism and book publishing. The satisfaction I got from that first book was that I understood that in one way or another that’s what I would do for the rest of my life.

– Did you publish it independently or did you have the support of a publishing house?

It was published by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I was about 19 years old and the University was taking its first steps. A lot of money was spent on that book because Santiago Gangotena was convinced that a book was fundamental to the university’s image.

– How difficult can it be to publish a book in Ecuador?

The publishing business has been transformed in recent years. Before, it was unthinkable for anyone to publish their own books, or in any case it was very frowned upon. A serious publisher still gives us the parameters of quality, the distribution channels, the scope. A great author is almost always backed by a publisher. But there is no longer any justification for not making the book you dream of. For example, my last book I did through micro-patronage. Thousands of people bought it before it went to print. Now is the time to break away from traditional formulas. What I suggest to people who want to publish their own books is that they follow all the steps of the publishing process: impeccable text correction, professional design, professional pre-press work. Even if we print 100 books on a digital press, these books must be professional.

– How many of your books are available on the internet and what was the reason for putting them on the web?

I haven’t put my books on the internet but I have placed practically all of their content on my website  A pdf uploaded to the internet is not very practical nor does it generate an experience similar to reading a book. It cannot be translated from paper to screen directly.

– Do you prefer the printed book or the digital one?

I love paper and the smell of ink. I worked at Impenta Mariscal for a few years and fell in love with printing. I can spend hours in bookstores and libraries. When I was studying my Fellowship at Harvard I used digital books with electronic ink, because they were extremely useful for extracting quotations, but nothing replaces the pleasure of holding a book in your hands. In developed countries the use of paper has increased.

I am determined to make available to the public, through digital books, the enormous bibliographical wealth that exists about Quito. The biggest problem in Ecuador is that wonderful books are sold out and never published again. Given the lack of books on paper, I am a staunch defender of the digital book.

– How many and what are the books you have published of your photographic work?

There are nine, but I could count several more. Tierra Desnuda, Paisajes del Silencio, De la Magia al Espanto, Ecuador, Andes, Tango, Cuba, Descubrir Cataluña, Jardines Silvestres del Ecuador. And dozens of books in which I have acted as editor.

– Are there any new books to be published in your plans?

There is always a new book to be published. I dream in the formats, in the designs, in the content. As soon as I finish my work as a public servant I will return to work on my projects.

We have taken up the municipality’s publishing project again. This year, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Quito’s declaration as a World Heritage Site, we will publish a series of daring and innovative books, small and soft-bound. The very expensive coffee table books feel dated. We need fresh, modern, daring books with unusual themes. We need books that circulate, that don’t get stuck in the cellar of a public institution.