The arts are not always in a prominent place on the political agenda in Africa, Latin-America and Asia. Nevertheless, an increasing number of governments recognise the importance of culture in itself and in connection to social and economic development. Part twenty-three in a series on cultural policy in non-Western countries.
"A historical moment for Belize as a nation," said Prime Minister Said Musa at the opening of the country's third 'culture house', the Banquitas House of Culture in Orange Walk Town in 2002. The houses of culture use concerts and expositions to get the population more involved in the arts and to stimulate local productions. "Culture will prepare Belize for the process of globalisation. Culture is a dynamic fermentation agent for our identity and freedom."
The Latin American country along the bay of Honduras - the Maya name of which means 'muddy water' - has a relatively well organised cultural policy that is institutionalised in the National Institute for Culture and History (NICH) in Belmopau. The government established this institute in 2003 to join together the various departments that had been involved in art and archaeology for quite some time. The NICH is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and has four departments: the Institute for the Creative Arts (ICA), Museums of Belize and Houses of Culture, the Institute of Archaeology and the Institute of Social and Cultural Research.
The ICA, which focuses on stage and visual arts, is housed in the recently renovated Bliss Centre for the Creative Arts in Belize City, the country's former capital. The ICA organises performances, art festivals and educational programmes. Famous punta rock musician Andy Palacio is one of ICA's managers and was also appointed as cultural ambassador in 2004. Artist Yasser Musa, the brother of Belize's prime minister, is the institute's president. He is also the founder and director of Image Factory, an institute for contemporary art.
With scarcely 300,000 inhabitants, Belize's cultural diversity is nevertheless enormous. The African, Mayan and Creole roots are often not only a source of artistic inspiration, but also the theme of festivals organised by the government, including the annual Cultural Consciousness Week and the celebration of the country's independence from Great Britain during the September Celebrations in 1981.