Medellín, Art and Development

· Culture, Economics, Latin America, Violence
Fragment of the work "Horizontes" of Francisco A. Cano, a homage to the Antioquian colonization of the west of Colombia.

Fragment of the work "Horizontes" of Francisco A. Cano, a homage to the Antioquian colonization of the west of Colombia.

Medellín is ready for great challenges again, this time different to those of violence that made its name internationally infamous. The city of Juanes, Fernando Botero and Camilo Villegas is showing its face as a model of development. At least it is recognized by the Inter American Development Bank that decided to have Medellín as its headquarters in the 50th Anniversary of that organization.

It is not just promoting the city as a safe and touristic area, although its problems of violence are not fully solved, but more than that is showing Medellín as a model in achieving social and economic conditions for its people. Luis Alberto Moreno, president of IDB says in the introduction to the exposition “Medellín, Art and Development” (14th Feb – 24th April):

Few cities in the Americas have made more progress in overcoming the obstacles
of poverty, violence and inequality than Medellín. Over the past half century this city has
transformed itself, often with financial and technical support from the IDB. Today Medellín
is a model of creative urban renewal and high-quality services for all income levels.

In studying Medellín as a model of development for a region like Latin America and even for countries of the so called Third World, it is necessary to put the city in a historical context and trying to understand the identity of its people. It is not just seeing that the city could overcome the tragic events of the drug trafficking war of the 1990s, but more than that the city came from a quick development progress that started at the middle of the 19th century with the “Antioquian colonization.” The crisis of the 1990s meant actually the suspension of a project of development and the recovery of the city must be understood under the continuity of such project.

There are several evidences that show the long way of progress of what is known in Colombia as the “Paisa Culture”, actually a Colombian sub-culture that settle the states of Antioquia, Risaralda, Quindío, Caldas and some areas of Valle del Cauca and Tolima. A region where coffee, mines and cattle are their first elements of production like tradition, but the region that experimented the first Colombian industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century.

Between 1960 and 1972 the American economical scholar Charles H. Savages did a research on the ways of production in the region in what he called the “Culture of Work.” It was the time when Colombia was still not contaminated by the growing of drug mafias. The native industries were opening the way to a serious development and Medellín was one of the first leaders of its nation. The conclusions of Savage were published by his college George F. Lombardi as “Sons of the Machines.” How this development was interrupted by mafias and how mafias got strong in the center of development is actually a matter of study and its dedication means answers for the future planning of development in Latin America.

But more than works from scholars like Savage, Medellín kept a careful record of its development process since the 19th century. In this case, it is possible to say that is one of the South American cities with more photographic material and other artistic productions. It is the reason why the IDB organized the exhibition with the most prominent artists of its history.

Medellín has been always a commercial plaza with a rude culture for work. It is possible to see in the active movement of the young metropolis with its well settle industrialization and technology. Foreign visitors would find difficult to match the stunning modern city that was literally bomb by the mean mafias of Pablo Escobar with the pleasant view of urban and green mountainous shapes. But it would be more interesting to see that before the mafia crisis, Medellín was already a model of progress and it can be seen through the eyes of artists.

The city is also the place of the Inter American Forum for the Small and Middle Enterprise with the presence of scholars in the area like Juan Enrique Cabot, director of the project “Science of the Life” of the School of Business, University of Harvard; Gabriel Silva, general manager of the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers and Michael Chu, administrative director of the Fund of Risk, Ignia.

In a time of economical crisis and the risk for the rise of unemployment, especially in countries of the Third World, small and middle enterprises must be protected and promoted, but also form in a conscience of competitive development.


  • Charles H. Savage presented the conclusion of his investigation in his thesis “Factory in the Andes: Social Organization in a Developing Economy” to gain the Doctorate in Business Administration in the University of Harvard in 1962.

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