Cultural Synthesizism Updated: Policy Initiatives and Shifts Related to the Arts and Cultural Nonprofit Sector in Colombia

by Susan Appe


Colombia’s nonprofit arts and cultural sector remains “diverse, immense, and brilliant” (Appe, 2007) and in the last almost 10 years, continues to be an economic driver and critical component to cultural dialogue and the building of a culture of peace in Colombia. In my 2007 article for CultureWork, I presented the concept of cultural synthesizism, which hinged on the State being responsive to the cultural diversity in Colombia and addressing the challenges of information flow and availability within the sector.


Government continues policy initiatives to engage in data collection about the arts and cultural sector and the nonprofit sector more generally to address the challenges of information flow and availability in Colombia. In 2007, I wrote about the Network of Cooperation for Development which was housed in Bogotá’s Mayor’s office and sought to “map” private and public sectors in the capital city by collecting data and registering nonprofit organizations. The Network is now defunct, however, the interest in collecting data and information about the nonprofit sector remains on the policy agenda. The most recent effort is the 2012 Decree No. 019, which introduced a new registration process and new registry called the Registry of Enterprise and Social (RUES,, in which arts and cultural nonprofits are to be included. It is intended to be an efficient way to give the State and the public information on business, contractors, cooperatives, and nonprofit organizations.


Over the last five years, I have examined policy tools like Colombia’s RUES and their implications on the nonprofit sector and policy sub-sectors like arts and culture. Government registries of nonprofits organizations, also called government-driven databases of nonprofits and government information systems of nonprofits, are tools to ‘map’ civil society. These tools gather, collate, and publish information on civil society. I have argued that who (e.g., research communities, scholars, donor institutions, governments, and nonprofit organizations themselves) is mapping or collecting data on nonprofits is important and begs questioning as it influences what is included and excluded (Appe 2011; 2012; 2013). Other scholars have gone further by arguing that not only the who in mapping matters, rather that the why we are mapping or collecting data should be asked (Nickel & Eikenberry 2016). These criticisms have pulled from James Scott’s scholarship on ‘maps of legibility’. That is, mapping or registration makes (certain) artifacts or ideas legible, however, it offers only a portion of reality as it is through the lens of the “official observer” (Scott 1998, p. 4). Mapping and registering nonprofit organizations are means in which to make “organizations more legible, more visible, and more governable” (Nickel & Eikenberry 2016, p. 397). Thereby, mapping by government in particular becomes a type of regulatory tool. Thus, for the arts and cultural nonprofit sector in diverse contexts—from the U.S. to India to Colombia—government mappings and registries might have ramifications that limit freedoms and promote censorship. Undoubtedly, a global debate continues about state-nonprofit relations related to data collection, registration, and State intervention in the nonprofit sector more generally.


As my 2007 piece explained, the arts and cultural sector has an important role to play in Colombia given the country’s violence and its more than 50-year conflict. Ensuring freedoms of expression and active civil society participation must be a priority in ColombiaIndeed, a policy shift that will affect the arts and cultural sector and nonprofit organizations generally in Colombia is the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which began in 2012 (Isacson 2014; Zambrano and Gómez 2013). The current challenge for civil society—and I would argue for the arts and cultural sector in particular—in Colombia is carving out its role in the pending peace process (Actalliance 2013). The transition to peace will require the expertise and experience of civil society; the arts and cultural sector should be at the forefront.  



Actalliance. (2013, December 9). Civil society voice critical for sustainable peace process in Colombia. Retrieved from

Appe, S. (2007). From state intervention to cultural synthesizism in Bogotá, Colombia. CultureWork, 11(2).

Appe, S. (2011). Civil society mappings by government: A comparison of Ecuadorian and Colombian cases. Journal of Civil Society, 7(2), 157-178. doi:10.1080/17448689.2011.573668

Appe, S. (2012). What about who is mapping and its implications? Comments on Brent Never’s “The case for better maps of social service provision”. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 23(1), 204-212. doi:10.1007/s11266-011-9189-1

Appe, S. (2013). Deconstructing civil society “maps”. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 35(1), 63-80. doi:10.2753/ATP1084-1806350105

Isacson, A. (2014, April). Ending 50 years of conflict: The challenges ahead and the U.S. role in Colombia. Washington, DC: Washington Office on Latin America.

Nickel, P. M. & Eikenberry, A. M. (2016). Knowing and governing: The mapping of the nonprofit and voluntary sector as statecraft. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 27, 392-408. doi:10.1007/s11266-015-9552-8.

Scott, J. (1998). Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Zambrano, L. & Gómez Isa, F. (2013). Participation of civil society in the Colombian peace process. Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre.


Susan Appe is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Binghamton University. Appe can be contacted at


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