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2 x 2 = 5 DEBATE

In which direction is Barceloa's culture heading ? This is a question which mainly refers to the present, even though it involves some prospective thinking. In which direction should it be heading ? The answer to that second question, however, implies that we have to start out by assessing the present situation but, above all, it obliges us to reflect seriously over the future and to project what we could call a strategic reasoning upon our cultural reality. Such a process had never been envisaged in our cultural world until recently, when the City Council of Barcelona, through the Institute of Culture, draw up the "BCN Accent de Cultura" strategic plan. These are the matters we now propose to discuss with Ferran Mascarell, director of the Barcelona Institute of Culture; Jordi MartÝ, co-ordinator of the "BCN Accent de Cultura" strategic plan; Joan Rigol, a former Catalan Generalitat officer in charge of cultural affairs who attempted to promote a large-scale "Cultural Pact", unfortunately without success; and the poet and painter NarcÝs Comadira, a well qualified observer as a user, active inside agent and actor on Barcelona's cultural stage.
The culture-orientated Strategic Plan drawn up within the framework of the "BCN Accent de cultura" platform is in fact an all-embracing civic forum for debate which has congregated representatives from all sectors of the cultural sphere, inviting them to reflect seriously upon the direction in which Barcelona's culture ought to be guided in the nearest future. The first stage of the Plan, whose objective was to issue an overall "diagnosis" concerning the current cultural situation, has now concluded, while the second and last stage, centred on actual proposals and solutions, is due for completion next spring. Which is to say that the process has now reached a point where it is particularly relevant to conduct the following debate.

JAUME BOIX : What made you wind up with the idea that the methods of strategic reasoning should now be applied to approach Barcelona's cultural situation ? Where did the alarm call come from ? Which particular circumstances have prompted the setting up of a Plan of this nature ?

FERRAN MASCARELL : The idea that was our starting point was a very simple one : in a world that is heading towards what we call "globalization", it is obvious that the cities cannot plan their cultural futures if they do not give some thought to the image they want to project over the medium and long term. In an increasingly complex world, it is not enough to get by on a haphazard basis; the cities have to foster conscious efforts to determinate the role they mean to play. The BCN Strategic Plan is born of such an idea. Barcelona, apart from taking due advantage of its rich historical and cultural heritage, ought to be able to go further and take steps to win a place of its own within that universal network of "cities of culture". The first idea was therefore that cities have to get a move on in order to define the role they want to play in the world of culture. The second idea was that such a process should take place within the city's global framework, i.e. with the civil society and all the institutions joining forces in a collaborative effort. (...) The third and last matter we considered was that there is every likelihood that the city's cultural "sector" - in the widest sense of the word, i.e. a sector that would include not only the art world, but also the universities, all the culture-related enterprises, the research departments of the different industries, etc... - will become the principal agent in the transformation of the cities of the twenty-first century. (...)

JORDI MARTI : (...) The "diagnosis" that was issued brought forth many ideas : where creation is concerned, it has been said that Barcelona still maintains its image of a city that attracts and welcome creators, notwithstanding the serious problems usually encountered when attempting to establish actual connections between the sphere of creation and the international production and distribution systems. As regards our cultural heritage, the "diagnosis" stresses the enormous effort made over the last years in Barcelona to construct a whole new network of cultural facilities, but it also reveals that we still have to work out better systems that would allow those facilities to be run as culture-generating spaces rather than mere art warehouses. The role that culture should play in the sphere of education is another very interesting matter to be debated.

JOAN RIGOL : I have read the Plan's "diagnostic" account rather succinctly, but, in my opinion, it suggests a series of questions which I find very stimulating. First of all, I think that it deals more with a city-orientated culture than with a culture-orientated city. By that I mean that the Plan shows a very deep preoccupation with the profile the city ought to adjust to in the future and with ascertaining in which ways culture could be used to implement that profile. (...) Another element open to debate is the cultural space Barcelona may claim as its own. Barcelona transcends its own boundaries, and not only by spreading out over the whole conurbation, because it seems to me that Barcelona's cultural space is actually the citizenry, and for me this means the people who live in all parts of Catalonia. The fact that the Plan acknowledges that the routes that go through Barcelona's cultural space are not limited to urban subway lines but extend to longer-distance motorways is, in my opinion, something to be taken into consideration because there is a connotation between Barcelona's outwards promotion and the development of culture. The key idea could be summarized in two words : identity and universality.

NARCIS COMADIRA : What worries me most of all is that kind of planning zeal that is currently moving the people who pull the strings in the cultural world. I think that culture is a result, it is not a project. I consider that culture is a whole that combines people's lifestyles, social interactions, aesthetic and artistic creative production, etc... It's all right with me that you carry out those "diagnostic" surveys in order to check up on the situation and that you draw up plans to foster interaction in a country traditionally prone to cliquey behaviour and to prompt people to get in touch with each other and overcome that often irrational feeling of hostility that hampers relations between different groups; I find that all these initiatives are very positive. However, when it comes to designing the cultural profile the city should have in the years to come, it seems to me that this is a dangerous line of thinking. (...) What I would not like to see happening is the implemention of a pre-designed cultural project that would not answer any genuine need, that would be neither authentic nor justified. In other words : let's not try to build the Sagrada Familia. And there is still another matter which preoccupies me and it has to do with what Rigol said. Barcelona has diverse responsibilities in the field of culture : on the one hand, as the capital of Catalonia and, on the other hand, as a city that holds an important place within the Mediterranean area.

JOAN RIGOL : I think that what is really relevant when you devise a cultural policy is to consider the country's actual cultural level as the main point of reference. Which means that we have to know the mechanisms that move people to become aware of their own potential.

NARCIS COMADIRA : I seriously wonder whether the authorities are entitled to influence the manner in which people conduct their creativity.

FERRAN MASCARELL : And I wonder how it is possible that you should have drawn such a conclusion from what we have been commenting here. I agree with you about culture being a result and not a project, but you, as someone who belongs to the world of culture, don't you expect the country to provide a certain framework so that your creative results might be produced ? (...) And it seems to me that you also gave to understand something which I would consider a prejudiced viewpoint : I don't see any reason why designing collective frames of references for the future should be incompatible with maintaining a sense of identity. On the contrary. If the cities' structure is not strong enough to maintain their identity, they will be devoured by "globalization". If we do not have the capacity for sustaining our own production, relying on the intelligence of creative artists like you, that "globalization" process will lead us to consume what others have produced. And that would be quite a negative way of achieving equalization. So, what should we do now ? First of all, we should pull ourselves together to ensure that our city has the necessary capacity for producing culture with the support of the creators' work and the initiatives of enterprises as well as public and private institutions. Because, if we don't, "globalization" will just mean getting lost in a stream of Los Angeles movies and music fron London. That is precisely what we should be wary about if we want to preserve small-scale cultures like ours. Our consumption is increasing, but what we consume are cultural products from Hollywood and London. And then, what about our own culture ? We have to see to it that effective plans are made for the future because, if we don't, the cultural standards set by "globalization" will eventually erase local identities.

NARCIS COMADIRA : I just wanted to tell you - or rather warn you - that there is a danger that such cultural patterning plans might be excessively rigid.

JOAN RIGOL : I agree that, within a global framework, we have to foster Barcelona's specific identity, but this effort should be paralleled by a critical analysis of the current situation in relation to the "globalization" process. (...)

NARCIS COMADIRA : There are fields in which we will never be able to compete. (...)

FERRAN MASCRELL : I don't see why we should give up trying. We have to put up a fight so that talented people with a creative instinct to work in the sphere of audio-visual media, or in any other field, might be provided with the instruments for expressing it.

JOAN RIGOL : We ought to look for more imaginative ways to work out how a minority culture like ours might somehow enter the universal cultural circuit. (...)

FERRAN MASCARELL : Let me add another comment regarding that cultural space which you pointed out as a matter of concern. Fortunately enough, Barcelona is the capital of a minority culture and, at the present time, minority cultures have to be strongly supported by governments and public institutions. It is very important for such cultures to be able to count on a capital city with the capacity to make its existence a patent, "visualized" reality within an universal framework. There lies one of our most serious shortcomings. And any show of reluctance in the relationship between the country's government and its capital city is bad for culture. (...)

JOAN RIGOL : In my opinion, the Mediterranean basin is the space that most clearly appears to be within Barcelona's range of cultural diffusion; it is an area where our city has crowd-pulling capacity, a space that means a change from other conventional, already consolidated spheres of cultural influence and which constitutes an important bet for the future. (...)

FERRAN MASCARELL : I agree with you about the importance of the Mediterranean area, but there are also considerable prospects for cultural promotion in Latin America. In one of today's newspapers, I read an interview with an American professor who was quoted as saying : "The university of Barcelona could be the mythical paradise every Latin-American student is dreaming of". (...) There is no reason why Catalan culture cannot play a major role as a meeting place for people from different and distant countries. Then we would have to compete with Madrid ? It may be so, but, anyway, we've been competing in every field for many years now.

JOAN RIGOL : Yes, and everything went all right as long as Barcelona projected that image of the leading capital of freedom, tolerance and underground democracy. When Madrid freed itself of the burden of negative connotations it was weighed down by, the situation started taking a turn for the worse.

FERRAN MASCARELL : I don't really understand that insistence. I don't know for sure if you are merely telling us that the promotion of Barcelona is not an easy affair, or if you mean that we should just renounce any endeavour in this respect.

JOAN RIGOL : No, we should not renounce anything. (...) But I believe that it is through the creation of cultural spheres such as the Mediterranean basin that Barcelona will be able to give the strongest fight.

JAUME BOIX : I am surprised - though only slightly - that we should be talking about promotion and spheres of cultural interaction, discussing prospects in the Maghreb area, the Mediterranean basin, Latin America and Europa, while making no mention (although it might be a mere lapse of memory) of Spain, apart from referring to Madrid, as Rigol did, as a competitor...

NARCIS COMADIRA : There is a problem of relations that, as long as it remains unsolved, will provoke a certain feeling of ill will between Catalonia, Barcelona and the rest of Spain. So, for the present, I am of the opinion that we'd better plan new advances on places where we are popular and stay away for a while from those where we are not popular.

FERRAN MASCARELL : Well, I've got a different point of view. Catalan culture or, more accurately, the culture that has been generated in Barcelona during the sixties, seventies and early eighties, is a culture that has attained extraordinary recognition throughout Spain, precisely thanks to the values we were referring to : creative values and democratic values. You only have to recall the high esteem and many successes achieved by Raimon and the "Nova Canšˇ" singers, as well as other Catalans working in the fields of theatre and design. It is also true that, since the early eighties, there has been a process of estrangement, but this is a phenomenon that is obviously two-directional. I don't like to be unfair to others : this is a two-way relationship affected by attitudes adopted on both sides, and the result is that, now, people from the rest of Spain do not understand Catalan culture as well as they used to. (...)

JOAN RIGOL : Well, if you ask me which should be the frame for the international diffusion of Catalan culture from a rational perspective, I would answer Spain. Quite clearly. Why ? Because Spain is naturally and rationally speaking the channel through which Catalonia should be promoted worldwide, and there are many reasons for it. Many reasons indeed. But the actual situation is that, when Spain is requested to be generous in regard to the recognition of Catalan culture, the answer is : nothing doing ! Because Spain is burdened by a deep-seated problem which has its origins in the country's history. After losing its colonial empire in 1898, Spain has been projecting its frustration upon the different parts of the Iberian peninsula. This is Spain's greatest drawback as well as a challenge which the country is not yet ready to face up to. Therefore, even though I admit that, from a rational perspective, we should be using Spain as a channel for cultural diffusion, the fact of the matter is that Spain does not show any interest in projecting itself as a space propicious for interaction between cultures.

JORDI MARTI : (...) Perhaps the best way to achieve a wider diffusion of our local cultural production would be to do our best to overcome and avoid confrontations of that nature, because any culture-orientated initiative carried out here will encounter difficulties as long as it is not linked up to others within a more global strategic framework. For example, if the State authorities show interest in programmes aimed at increasing Spain's cultural presence in Latin America, then we should work side by side with them. Because this is the only possible way for our culture to achieve real diffusion in those countries. (...)

JOAN RIGOL : It is necessary to make a pact with the State if we want to achieve that kind of diffusion. However, the idea of a cultural pact implies that both parties are actually willing to come to an agreement in terms of their respective requirements, of what each institution needs to obtain from the other in order to go ahead with the plans in hand. It is relatively easy to reach such an agreement. However, at this moment in Spain, it is much more difficult to come to an agreement about a future-orientated pact that would be based not only on current needs but also on a will to share diverse projects. And both sides are at fault in that. (...)

JORDI MARTI : Those political problems of adjustment between Catalonia and Spain are likely to hinder our attempts at forwarding our own identity. We won't find solutions to the decline of Barcelona's cultural industry and the problems that plague our cultural sector by opening polical debates of that nature. Quite the opposite.

JOAN RIGOL : The current state of affairs, therefore, is working to the detriment of Barcelona.

FERRAN MASCARELL : I agree with you on that point. It is quite true. Given the current state of affairs, Barcelona, capital of a particular culture, is not granted the kind of State support which Madrid, capital of another culture, so to speak, has the benefit of. Our autonomy, our fraction of State, is not at all in favour of the city of Barcelona. However, on the credit side, we can bank on another kind of support which is very important : the attitude of Catalan society, in particular the people working in the cultural sector, who are perfectly aware that they have to rely mainly on themselves to get things done. I know a lot of people in the publishing sector, for example, who are very much aware that we cannot afford to sit idly by anymore. But Barcelona is not backed by the kind of autonomy that would act in its favour.

JOAN RIGOL : If we are to speak in strictly political terms, Barcelona is searching for its identity through culture and the policy pursued by the Generalitat of Catalonia is also searching for an identity through culture. However, none of them is actually capable of separating policies from partisan political struggles, because these are viewed and used as an instrument of identification.

NARCIS COMADIRA : No, I don't agree about that. Because I suspect that, for reasons of partisan political interest, the Generalitat, the Catalan autonomous government, is hindering Barcelona's activity, an activity which is precisely what has lately saved Catalan culture from receding still further. In fact, if Catalonia had not had a capital city like Barcelona, Catalonia might no longer exist either as a culture or as a country. Therefore, in my opinion, all those obstacles which the government of the Catalan Generalitat has put - and is still putting - in Barcelona's way to hamper its initiatives are absolutely contrary to the policy which that government should pursue, because it does indeed have an obligation to defend the general culture of the country. That it should be holding back the horse that is drawing the cart of culture appears as a tremendous contradiction. (...)