Venezuelan Embassy celebrating Bolivarian Hall, bicentennial
The Venezuelan Embassy is opening its newly renovated Bolivarian Hall on Thursday with the traditional sounds of Serenata Guayanesa and Cecilia Todd, followed by events throughout April.
The hall's month-long cultural showcase is timed with the bicentennial anniversary of the Latin American country's independence.
"This is definitely an initiative towards promoting people-to-people diplomacy and to reach out to all the communities living in Washington," said Patricia Abdelnour, cultural attache to the embassy.
The embassy represents about 6,000 Venezuelans who have registered within the jurisdiction, which includes five states and the District.
The hall was previously connected to the ambassador's office and house on Massachusetts Avenue NW near California Street. It was built as office space in 1940 by Ambassador Diógenes Escalante.
In 2003, Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera opted to use the hall as a multicultural space. Alvarez and his family have lived in the home since 2003, except for a nine-month period when he was expelled in response to U.S. ambassadors being expelled from Bolivia and Venezuela.
Alvarez and Patrick Duddy, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, were reinstated in the summer after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with President Obama at a summit. No one has been reinstated to Bolivia.
For the past two years, the embassy worked with the nonprofit arm of Citgo Petroleum to gut the space and remodel it to better host not only Venezuelan cultural, educational and social events but also for other communities to use, Abdelnour said.
"Not everyone is aware that there is a huge menu of cultural activities in the Washington area that are mostly free at the embassies," said Abdelnour, noting the Bolivarian Hall is one of the only large halls in a Latin American embassy and on Embassy Row.
"It just bumps them up another notch," said Daniel Sheehy, director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. "I loved it before. If they have something more inviting and appropriate and supportive, that brings the hall more in line with the high quality of music they have there."
Sheehy, the curator of the Smithsonian's Folkways Recordings, called Serenata Guayanesa, Thursday's performers, outstanding musicians who were key to the resurgence of folk music in Latin America. The band sought out musicians from various regions of Venezuela, learned their styles and traditions and incorporated that into a new sound that appealed to contemporary audiences.
"The sounds of Serenata Guayanesa went far beyond the boundaries of Venezuela. There is something more special of them," Sheehy said. "They remained a vibrant and creative interpreter of Venezuelan tradition."
In April, the embassy will have its first cooking demonstration, featuring Venezuelan chocolate, considered the finest cacao among the world's chocolate artisans, said Biagio Abbatiello, co-owner of Biagio Fine Chocolate in Northwest Washington, who hosts monthly chocolate tastings with the embassy.
Susan Cohen, a Biagio chocolate specialist with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, will lead a simple demonstration incorporating El Rey chocolate.
"It is a nice baking chocolate. It is not too expensive but a much higher quality than the other kinds of chocolate people use for baking," Cohen said.
The month-long events will conclude with a reception focusing on the continued need in Haiti, Abdelnour said.