High-rise condominiums aren’t the only thing cropping up around the central Pacific beach town of Jacó.
Recently, three new art galleries have opened in the area, and they all have something in common: each is investing in the community beyond its gallery walls, looking to be responsible in the way that Costa Rica, and the Jacó area in particular, is changing.
“Jacó could be anywhere,” says Costa Rican artist Lil Mena. “It could be Miami; it has no distinctive Costa Rican flavor.”
Mena opened her Lil Mena Workshop and Studio recently in Quebrada Ganado, about eight kilometers north of Jacó. The artist says it is her first step toward helping to develop a Costa Rican feel to the Jacó area.
Many of the souvenirs sold in Costa Rica are imported, Mena says. Tourists leave the country with African masks and Navajo dream catchers, among other foreign-made crafts.Mena hopes to change this by offering beautifully designed Costa Rican crafts so that foreign visitors may take home more than just impressions of the country’s natural beauty, but cultural artifacts as well.
Mena’s studio is filled with the artist’s brilliantly colored paintings and functional clay pieces, from vases and bowls to lampshades, on which she paints scenes from Costa Rican village life and icons of natural beauty such as morpho butterflies, toucans and others.
Now that her gallery is open, Mena is embarking on her next project: bringing Costa Ricans back into the local economic community. Mena believes locals have been phased out of business in Jacó despite booming development. Working with several companies in the area, the artist is planning a series of training courses to teach locals how to develop small businesses, whether craft stores, sodas or laundry services, to allow them to benefit while adding to Jacó.
As carefully crafted as Mena’s studio is, B. Tortorici is unexpected. At the end of a path that zigzags through a sculpture garden in Playa Herradura, just north of Jacó, sits perhaps the last type of gallery one would think to find around Jacó: a modern art gallery.
Artist Bill Tortorici and his wife Marla came to Costa Rica just over a year ago, ostensibly to retire. But Bill’s creative side wouldn’t let him rest.
“Within three months, I was restless,” he says. “It was only eight months before I had a studio.”
Tortorici began his art career with paints, and though he now works with metal, making sculptures, wall hangings and architectural entrances for hotels and condos, his work is influenced by painting. He cuts thin metal into geometric shapes that seem splashed onto a canvas and then polishes designs and texture onto the shapes, giving the metal a patina that resembles brush strokes.
Prior to Herradura, the Tortoricis’ last stop was Denison, Texas, an artists’ mecca that has come to rival New Mexico’s Santa Fe. Here, the couple hopes to be a catalyst in making Herradura a “real artists’ base” and natural stop for artists, Marla says.
Having relocated several times, the Tortoricis always look to add to the community they live in, working off the belief that “when you go to an area and you have something to contribute … it is your responsibility to contribute.” With this in mind, Marla is working to bring about a program, Percent for Art, which would call on developers to be responsible to the community by donating to area schools to help bring art and artists into schools and students into galleries.
Also in Herradura, Galería Valanti, an offshoot of the well-established gallery in the trendy eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Escalante, has been open since January. Owner Marta Antillón and her son Francisco Castro had been considering opening a gallery in the Jacó area for a while, but waited for just the right location, which they found at the LosSueñosMarinaVillage, an assortment of restaurants, shops and other businesses built around the 200-slip marina.
They decided on Los Sueños for their gallery’s second home because of its “consideration to and conservation of green spaces and consideration to the community” of Herradura, according to Antillón, who believes forethought is everything.
“It is very important to be conscientious of everything you do, to understand the impact of your actions,” she says.
Antillón carries this forethought over to selecting art for Galería Valanti, which houses an ever changing but always arresting collection.
While showcasing Latin American art, Galería Valanti aims to bring Costa Rican artists to the international art community, allowing them to become known and respected and encouraging the international art community to look to Costa Rica for art.
Works range from Leda Astorga’s naughtily playful concrete sculptures to Edgar Zúñiga’s delicately wrought carvings of wooden pillars.
The wall space is filled with paintings of a variety of styles, and each piece is worth taking in.
The arrival of all three of these galleries bodes well for the communities of the central Pacific coast, as they look to develop the heart and soul of the area.
200 meters south of HerraduraPlaza, on the east side of the highway, Playa Herradura Web: www.tortorici.com
Phone: 335-4278, 352-1627
Galería Valanti Los Sueños
Los Sueños Marina Village, Playa Herradura
Phone: 637-8421, 637-8412
Lil Mena Workshop and Studio
300 meters north of Punta Leona, Quebrada Ganado
Phone: 860-7848, 381-7527