By Lázaro I. Rodríguez Oliva
Photos: Courtesy Municipio de Panamá
Panama City is celebrating its upcoming 500th anniversary as the first Spanish Pacific Ocean settlement. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the observances is the value placed on connecting the city’s history –through analysis and narration– with the present, through the experience and imagination of its people and their projections for the next five hundred years. This idea justifies the city’s designation as the 2019 Ibero-American Capital of Culture, drawing the region’s attention to the cultural diversity of a city marked by human migration and many sources of interculturality, which are extremely visible if not always sufficiently valued and empowered.
The city, long convinced of its cultural wealth and creativity, has spent years preparing for the commemoration. In 2017, UNESCO included Panama City in its Network of Creative Cities in Gastronomy and, just a few months ago, the same organization inscribed the ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture on their List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Panama is celebrating this last milestone with musical performances, ritual dances, and community spaces from San Sebastian Day (January 20) through Ash Wednesday (March 6), in what is sure to be an endless party. The closing of the Congo rituals coincides with the opening of the city’s carnivals, which are scheduled from March 1-5.
February: The Celebration Begins
Events celebrating the Congo culture will serve as a warm up for the official launch of the 2019 Ibero-American Capital of Culture festivities scheduled for February 2 in Urracá Park, along the Cinta Costera highway in the downtown area. This amazing show will celebrate the city’s diversity and its intercultural mix of original peoples of Panama, European migrants, African descendants, Asians, and Latin Americans.
Opening on the same date and in the same place, the Intercultural Ibero-American Corridor will bring more than twenty of the city’s international restaurants together to add their own touch of flavor to one of the year’s gastronomic challenges: the compilation of a list of five hundred recipes that define the new Panamanian gastronomy. Gastronomic Corridors –part of the UNESCO Creative City initiative– are unique “pop-up” fairs held in city parks to promote innovation and public access to the best in local cuisine at affordable prices. If you enjoy exploring the ways migrant flavors are reinvented using local ingredients, you won’t want to miss this event that demonstrates how Panama is creating a cuisine of the future with local ingredients and intercultural techniques.
Chinese New Year
5 de Mayo Square will host a smaller version of the Spring Festival from February 15-17. More than 50 circus artists, artisans, and gastronomical experts from the city of Shanghai will be on hand to pay homage to the friendship between the two port cities, both members of the “Water Cities” program. Cultural delegations from other port cities, such as Liverpool, Lisbon, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Havana will visit Panama throughout 2019, further enriching the celebration. Cinco de Mayo Square was recently renovated to make it a more pleasant place for pedestrians. It is located at the top of La Central, Panama City’s oldest commercial street. La Central has been an exclusively pedestrian zone for several years now.
March: Concerts and More Exhibitions
On March 8, at the Anayansi Theater, women will be the stars of the Ibero-American capital’s Divas of the World concert featuring Emeline Michel (Haiti), Lila Downs (México), and Patricia Vlieg (Panama) in honor of International Francophonie Month. The Alliance Française is curating an exhibition titled “Planet Panama, Inside Out,” with portraits of inhabitants of Panama City taken by a collective of professional, amateur, and occasional photographers. This exercise in public art facilitated by new technologies is sponsored by French photographer JR. The project has already engaged more than 260,000 people in 129 countries.
The exhibition “El cielo cubierto de infinitas aves” (“The Sky Covered with Infinite Birds”) will also be on display through March 2019 at the Biomuseo, the only architectural work by Frank Gehry in Latin America, which recently expanded beyond its eight permanent galleries. There you’ll learn how, three million years ago, the isthmus where Panama is located today emerged, changing the planet’s biological diversity forever.
And if you want to enjoy the city’s public spaces, don’t miss the “CiudadMULTIPLEcity500” exhibition, a performance piece designed for public spaces that has featured nine artists over the past 15 years, including Bruguera (Cuba-United States), Lolo & Lauti (Argentina), La Comunidad Dule (Panama), and Jhafis Quintero (Panama-Italy), among others. From March to August, other attractions include decorations and video-mapping in ten city parks as part of the capital’s effort to win a place on the international art map.
April: City, Science, and Ecology
April 10 marks the launch of the Museo de la Ciudad project, a museum with no fixed address aiming to increase appropriation of urban spaces by employing new museographic devices throughout the city. The “¿A la bulla de los cocos?: Urbanismo en la ciudad” exhibition, for example, explores the ways in which the city is experienced from the perspective of the chaos generated in it. The “500 años de historias de la ciudad” (“500 Years of City Stories”) exhibition at the Casa Museo Banco Nacional will give voice to the city’s inhabitants.
April 22 is Earth Day and Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Femmes will offer magical views of the planet from the sky above. Those who have yet to experience the exhibition highlighting the memory and dreams of the fragile planet on which we live will enjoy its “elevated” perspective on beauty and climate change. This treat for scientific tourists can be enjoyed while “living science” at the XVI RedPop Congress, an event dedicated to the popularization of science organized in Panama by the Ciudad del Saber Foundation and the National Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Innovation.
May: Think and Represent the Diverse City
Africa in America —one of the region’s most important festivals featuring Afro-descendent music, art, critical thinking, and gastronomy— is scheduled for May, which is also Black Ethnicity Month. As part of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), the festival focuses on recognizing and empowering black communities in the city. It will include activities such as a Gastronomic Corridor featuring Afro-descendant gastronomic diasporas in Ibero-America. And while this festival is going on, local governments from around the region will meet at the Ibero-American Forum on Cultural Diplomacy, an opportunity to create a road map for cooperation during an era marked by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
According to Alexandra Schjelderup, founder of Africa in America, this year’s festival is sure to outshine all previous years. Thanks to support from international cooperation agencies, figures like 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess, an explorer of the collective memory of slavery and discrimination, and the Colombian dance group Sankofa (“return to roots” in the Twi language of Ghana) will be in attendance, hoping to be heard more than seen. This is exactly how the Ibero-American Capital of Culture hopes to celebrate its 500th anniversary: with the noises, whispers, songs, and shouts of the city’s growing “glocal” population; excavating its conspicuously hybrid DNA; cooking up surprises with the human ingredients in Panama’s cultural diversity in a melting pot of a city preparing for its next five hundred years.
July: The Anniversary Approaches
From July 17 to August 31, 2019, the “Memorias sobre papel” (“Memories on Paper”) exhibit will feature Latin American artists who create with paper (collage, serigraphs, etc.), honoring the 40th anniversary of the Arteconsult gallery, one of the oldest and most outstanding of its kind in Panama. The Fototeca de Panamá also celebrates its first exhibition in August, in time for the city’s birthday, with a selection of photographs by Carlos Endara and a selection from the Centro Cultural de España’s Casa del Soldado. The exhibition will take place on the seafront ramparts along the Las Bóvedas section of the city’s historic Casco Antiguo.
World Music in the House
Part of the very diverse soundtrack for this urban celebration is the América Cantat Choral Festival, the largest of its kind in Latin America, which takes place every three years. It is scheduled from April 6 to 13 this year, bringing regional rhythms to churches, theaters, and parks throughout Panama City. And the following month, from May 30 to June 9, the iconic International Music Festival Alfredo de Saint Malo will offer classical music by outstanding national and international musicians under the direction of the Sinfonía Concertante de Panamá Foundation (FUNSINCOPA). The International Guitar Encounter will celebrate its 30th anniversary from June 29 to July 2, with diverse offerings of educational concerts and master classes, in addition to the traditional guitar contest.
Late March welcomes the MUPA Fest —now in its fifth year— a series of urban music and emerging arts shows organized by the Municipality of Panama. This year’s festival will have its headquarters in Parque Omar, one of the city’s green lungs, a must for those who enjoy walking, running, and breathing fresh air in parks.
That’s not all!
This is just a sprinkling of the commemoration’s most important activities, but there will be many others. For more information on everything that Panama City has scheduled to celebrate this milestone anniversary, go to https://ciudadpanama500.org/