Salvadorans can now enjoy art where their former leaders once wined and dined. Opting to live at home during his time in office, newly elected President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has turned the Presidential House in San Salvador’s upscale neighborhood of Escalon into an art gallery, featuring works by 45 local painters and sculptors. “The residence will become a space where we can share with those who have been excluded,” President Sanchez said at the gallery opening Sunday, according to the BBC.
Palaces and art museums have frequently entwined. The Louvre, a former dwelling of French kings, is one of the world’s largest art museums. India’s Jaganmohan Palace displays works by the likes of Raja Ravi Varma for the public’s enjoyment. Bulgaria’s National Art Gallery was also once a palace. And other opulent museums, like the Metropolitan in New York, feel like they could have once housed royalty, even if they never actually did.
President Sánchez Cerén’s transformation of the presidential palace into an art gallery may be the first sign the Salvadoran leader is making good on a campaign promise to bolster his country’s art, long crippled by war and poverty. Last year, he stated that “workers in culture, the arts and the intelligentsia” would be at the center of his presidency’s policies. He also announced a plans to establish a Ministry of Culture and a National Fund for Culture and the Arts, to breathe new life into the country’s Higher Institute of the Arts, and to encourage arts education at the high school level.
It’s exciting that the country’s government is investing in the arts, though the gallery’s emphasis on the poor is certainly politically convenient. Céren’s Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) — a formerly militant leftist party — has a history of campaigning in the poverty-stricken, rural regions of El Salvador, where access to basic needs like clean water and sanitation is limited. It’s also worth noting that while thirty family members of civil war victims and eight human rights organizations were invited to the gallery’s opening, journalists were not (the president has already been criticized for his treatment of the press).