Founder profile: Marlyn Attie, Penn99

Marlyn Attie, Founder of Fundación Espacio Creativo

Tell us a bit about your company

Fundación Espacio Creativo is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote socio-cultural development through dance, education and innovation. Its three main intervention programs are the Enlaces Program, the Sandbox program and the Professional Development Program, today under the guise of the recently created COCO Contemporary Dance Company.

What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?

Our aim is to generate opportunities through dance, education and culture. Youngsters living in marginalized or rural communities, experiencing high levels of poverty and those that belong to minority groups, can’t enjoy access to specialized dance training, emotional support and afterschool tutoring.

What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?

Panama could be a synonym for the word contrasts, and as a Panamanian I often find myself going over its parade of accents, shapes, rhythms and social classes that are very extreme. This characteristic of multiculturalism permeates everything that arises in it, and the creation of a contemporary dance company in this country has not been an exception.

Source: Fundación Espacio Creativo

What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?

The Sandbox Program began its operations in May 2020 thanks to a seed fund granted by the Inter-American Development Bank. Sandbox is a project that integrates art and technology that seeks to increase opportunities for productive inclusion in the Creative and Cultural Industries for young people at social risk. This is achieved through a curriculum of technological training modules applicable to the performing arts to foster 21st century skills as well as the creation of an internship program that provides them with their first practical experience alongside industry professionals.

What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?

Dance offers a space for liberation and a way to explore the plasticity of identity. A moment of estrangement in which the artist is only a body in motion potentially free of attributes and categories. It also presents a fundamental component to explore: empathy. Within this empathy, which can be seen as an appreciation of the other and a resonance in the self, there is also a transformative level. Movement, I believe, has these elements of manipulation of the organism based on objectives in which awareness of body transformation takes a central place. Now, within this transformation, the artist experiences the world as an act around their body-consciousness, which implies a reinterpretation –consciously or not– of human understanding.

What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?

Due to the recent increase of innovative proposals within the performing arts sector in Panama, there is a perceived need for Art to take risks. Furthermore, to challenge and investigate creative processes and their products; as well as to invite the public to venture into new high-quality works. Within this challenge, the creation of a formal artistic organization is proposed, a contemporary dance company. Capable of influencing popular culture that tells its own stories and gathers the work of talented professionals from different kinds of Sciences and the Arts.

What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?

I have been surprised by the engagement of private donors who have jumped in to support our cause. Our organization has been recognized by UNICEF, PNUD, US embassy, IDB, Panama’s National Secretary of technology, and other government organizations that see in us a partner that is capable of executing measurable and impactful projects.

What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?

The biggest reward is the impact we have had in our students and young professional dancers. Selected students have been awarded full-ride scholarships in European dance universities and all of our graduates have been the first in their family to pursue an education beyond high school.

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