Web Exclusives:Features
a PAW web exclusive column

August 10, 2001:
What's on in Berlin? Or how about Rome?
At www.Culturekiosque.com, Antonio Romero '87 brings cultural offerings to your screen
by Rob MacKay '89

While studying to be a computer science engineer at Princeton, Antonio Romero '87 took as many literature courses as he did classes related to his major. So it's not much of a surprise that he is now freelancing as a Web programmer while spending his creative energy and free time on www.culturekiosque.com, a literary Internet site dedicated to the arts he cofounded and of which he is editor-in-chief.

Begun in 1995, Culturekiosque offers feature stories, reviews, interviews, and other information related to six topics - art and archaeology, cooking, dance, jazz, classical music, and film and opera. Many of the site's contributors are journalists who work for publications such as the "Financial Times," "Le Monde," the "International Herald Tribune," the "Wall Street Journal Europe," and BBC "Music Magazine" and are considered experts in their fields.

"The goal is to bring intelligent and well-written content to an educated audience," says Romero. "We're not recruiting random amateurs, and we definitely don't want to be a site where any surfer can publish an opinion. We're targeting an audience that is often overlooked by many Web site operators seeking the largest swath of Internet traffic."

There's a decidedly international flavor to the publication, as it runs stories in English, French, and German and includes numerous cultural events taking place in Europe. Romero works from his home in Silicon Valley, and the journal's other contributors live in Paris, London, and New York.

The whole project is cybernetic; there is no print version. And Culturekiosque doesn't come out periodically. Rather a new article goes up in one of the subject areas almost every day, and readers have access to all the archives. Consider it a living organism of cultural data.

Romero handles technical support and some business aspects of the site, but he seems most excited about the film reviews that he edits and writes. With other regulars, he's developed a large readership stemming from his stories about Oscar-nominated films and his reviews of independent flicks.

A native New Yorker, Romero is not afraid of confrontation, arguing in one piece, for example, that certain characters in "The Phantom Menace" drew on outdated, racist stereotypes. The goofy, floppy-headed Jar Jar Binks reminded him of negative portrayals of African Americans in old films. Meanwhile, a merchant in this 1999 prequel to "Star Wars" was greedy, cruel, and had a big nose. The scheming aliens, he points out, had mock Japanese accents.

"I think it's obvious that [Director] George Lucas was drawing on the offensive images of movies that he grew up watching and enjoying in the 1920s and 1930s," says Romero, who is working on a review of "AI" that delves into psychoanalysis.

When the critical shoes are on other feet, Culturekiosque has fared quite well. "Brill's Content" listed it among the "Best of the Web 2000," while France 2 Television called it "Europe's cultural news site." "USA Today" labeled it a "Hot Site," and "Travel and Leisure" said it was one of five "Essential Travel Tips."

Nevertheless, Romero admits that it's hard to make money and stay intellectually pure these days. "The Internet is going through a huge evolution, and sites must learn how to become businesses," he says. In the near future, Culturekiosque might charge a fee for its archives, resell content, or become a fee-for-use site.

But that shouldn't change the site's basic premise. "We feel passionate about having this outlet where professionals and intellectuals can comment on things in a way that mainstream commercial venues don't permit," says Romero. "That's what keeps us all so devoted."

Rob MacKay, is an editor at "Timesnewsweekly," a weekly newspaper in Queens, New York. He can be reached at robertazo@hotmail.com.