One of my first days in Buenos Aires, after visiting the famous Recoleta Cemetery that houses the tombs of wealthy Argentine families, including Eva Peron, we stumbled into a random building to try to find a bathroom. Since the bathroom on the ground floor was closed off, we headed upstairs. This search for a bathroom led us somewhere unexpected—we had accidentally stumbled into some kind of free art museum. I soon learned that this was the Recoleta Cultural Center, just one of many cultural centers scattered throughout the neighborhoods of the city. Buenos Aires is considered the capital of literature and art in South America, and walking through the city, you can truly feel the influence of “culture” on the city. From the Parisian architecture to graffiti murals, art breathes in the buildings and the pulse of the city. Cultural centers in Buenos Aires pay homage to the importance of art in society. Cultural centers display the artwork of local artists in all forms: physical artwork, markets, performances, films. Best of all, entrance to most cultural centers is free.
The Recoleta Cultural Center is my favorite, as it is a quick subway ride away from me. They organize the art collections and performances around certain themes that change every month. So far, there has been Summer Love, Women Here and Now, and Immigrants. The center is constantly under construction, as new areas open and close every few weeks to make space for new exhibits. This makes every visit exciting, as even in a week’s time, completely new exhibits or undiscovered areas are open. All of the art on display comes from local artists, pieces that often have political and social messages. The Recoleta Cultural Center also features several outdoor patio areas, where people relax when the weather is nice and listen to some performances. In the summer, they featured teen rock bands, and this past month, there has been a series of freestyle hip-hop performances. It’s a popular spot for friends to pass time enjoying the music or sketching in journals, relaxing on a Saturday afternoon. The Cultural Center also features several booths for studying on quieter weekdays. A multipurpose space, the cultural center attracts all age groups to enjoy a free day of art, music, and performance.
The more famous Kirchner Cultural Center, opened recently, has the feel of a traditional museum. The old post office of the city was renovated to house this spectacular cultural center, with a full symphony hall inside. This building with seven floors of exhibits is more impressive than some museums I’ve had to pay entrance fees for. The exhibits rotate, and the art on display represents themes pertinent to current times, relating Argentina’s history and politics to the present. The Argentine National Symphony Orchestra calls the Kirchner Cultural Center home, and the Center’s schedule features an impressive lineup of performers every week from all different genres of music. The main concert hall is called “La Ballena Azul” (The Blue Whale). This concert hall “floats,” so the acoustics are not bothered by vibrations from the subway that runs below it. The Kirchner Center specifically remains free for visitors because the government that built it believed culture is a right of the people.
Nothing like this really exists in the US, but I think it is so important to a community to have a space to gather and foster the arts in an accessible way. The performances and art exhibits involve the local community, promoting art in the neighborhood. They also give a voice to local artists to share their opinions in a public setting, encouraging dialogue about a wide range of issues, from loans from the IMF to the advancement of techno music. Cultural centers truly reflect the value of art and creativity in Argentina, illuminating the vibrancy of the culture.