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portada de BMM


THE DIFFERENT READINGS OF THE
SITUATION OF CULTURE IN
METROPOLITAN BARCELONA
by Manuel de Forn
Engineer, Managing director of GFE Associats

The crisis has finally arrived, and about time. In the last two years conditions have arisen that favour the beginning of a process of reflection and determined action that ignores the short-term interests of the usual Catalan cliques. What is there to support this statement? On the one hand, the rapid changes in the field of language, image and information, and especially in their economic importance and their function in the productive system. On the other hand, experiences like Barcelona Accent de Cultura lay the bases for a deeper analysis and collaboration between the sectors involved in the cultural process.
The crisis takes several different forms; the need for culture to become a major productive sector, as its high added value more than compensates the losses in the secondary sector, at the same time as creating another factor of attraction for the city, as a base for activity and visits. This argument is expressed in the phrase "the city of knowledge", but so far it is very difficult to find any operative content (the most specific and probably the most interesting is 22@ in the Poble Nou district). This phenomenon is complemented by the change of scale of the city and the effective creation of a metropolitan area, which implies increasing diversity of the cultural offer and tastes, the need for new cultural centres and to create real networks connecting the area.
Culture is ceasing to be based on the local territory and is becoming a component of the individual's identity. The communication media, the easiness of transport and information technology are all making it increasingly easy for everyone to live the culture that they want. Barcelona and its surroundings, until recently a city with few immigrants of other races and cultures, is now entering a phase in which people are coming to live here from an increasingly diverse range of territorial, racial and cultural origins. This raises a major historic question: why has it taken so long for Barcelona to start becoming racially and culturally diverse? To what extent does our society, which says it is open and modern, really accept the new? And it also raises a further question, the controversy between cultural integration of immigrants and a multicultural society. Defence of a multicultural society is not easy in this period of Catalan national construction and defence of the Catalan language. Yet we must always remember that what is important is the individual, not their territorial origins or ancestry.
In the context of these changes, the city's culture is hard to analyze. This is why we raise the ten points below to help to open the debate, while helping to define its terms of reference and making clear how necessary it is.
Creation. We must reject the self-satisfied attitude that "we are good at creating ephemeral things and good at organizing individual events, but not so good at maintaining continuity".
The central problem is that innovation is poorly managed, few people undertake risky projects and there is little demand for innovation. Management of innovation is what leads to having major figures (mass production is aimed at the majority, and is thus less avant-garde) and means that the rupture between generations we have referred to will be greater; the mechanisms of reproduction are based on traditional producers of culture. The Sonar alternative music festival is, probably, the exception that confirms the rule. In this sense, it is important to strengthen the system of providing risk capital for cultural innovation and to strengthen systems of sponsorship and tax incentives for those investing in what people say is going to be the driving force of Barcelona in the future.
Dealing with the problem of cultural production requires responses to two basic questions: in the first place, institutional agreements to provide land, comparative advantages, etc. The case of Retevisión is an example of this, as is the use of the battles within Telefónica to attract some of the bases of its activities, and the above-mentioned 22@. In the second place, to finish with the situation in which the Catalan economic sector (apart from a few honourable exceptions) does not consider culture as an industry (except the sector with least added value, leisure), something that is compounded by the cultural sector's avoidance of what is commercial. One of the objectives of any process of modernization and updating has to be promoting solutions to these points by analyzing the industry's growth and showing the opportunities for investors. Even so, the cost of entering the content industry is very high and requires decisive political action by the different levels of government.
To incorporate new technologies to the entire process of cultural creation, innovation, production and diffusion and not to treat them as something unrelated to daily life (they should not be applied as a final touch but incorporated as part of the process). Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, shows a good rate of usage of information and telecommunications networks, and this is positive. Yet it is important is that this use be creative, as a member of the networks rather than a mere spectator. The different levels of government still have an important role to play in this field. The Strategic Plan for the Information Society is an excessively general and "consensus-based" reflection, and is thus not very operational. In Barcelona, the experience begun in the district technology diffusion centres is a definite step in the right direction that has to be complemented with specific policies. Most city councils in the area around Barcelona seek to attract activities based on information technologies, but the results have been sparse and scattered.
In keeping with the above point, different definitions of what culture is may be contradictory, as a result of the difficulty of linking our traditional cultures with the prosaic world of everyday reality. Research and development is culture, but once it has been released, there is no way to incorporate it into everyday life. Connecting research and development with the traditional cultural sectors has to be one of the important objectives of any project to revitalize the city's culture.
The internally-produced cultural offer is growing but demand is stagnant, despite the growing number of university graduates and people with better basic education (the demand should be very thoroughly studied). There is a certain impression that the numerical growth of demand is occurring because the same consumers are doing more things. Intervention is needed here at several levels: improving and clarifying cultural distribution systems (not everything can be resolved by tax benefits), creating channels for the commercialization and export of the culture produced in the real Barcelona, and establishing instruments of support in legal matters, management, marketing, resources, etc. These are all clearly needs that have to be resolved in a shared and participatory way by the private sector and the different levels of government.
The role of the different levels of government should be to generate demand and to manage innovation, in addition to coordinating its own activities, and it should also cease to use culture as an element of political confrontation. In general, things do not function like this at the moment. The action of the different levels of government creates demand, raising prices in the marketplace and helping to create "sacred cows" that may well be a response to the criteria of the managers, possibly even their ideological prejudices, rather than to "objective" criteria.
Managing innovation raises two questions. On the one hand, defining contract-programs that include innovation and risk among the objectives of the cultural offer. What is needed is to strike the right balance between financing in the marketplace and public financing. Thus, what is needed is to act on the cultural offer by giving more opportunities and offering the management of experimentation or innovation. Secondly, it is important to act on demand, and to increase it. Thus, a fundamental criterion has to be introduced into the management of infrastructures and the institutions in general, the planning dimension. The training of cultural managers has to pay attention, not only to the economy, but also to the capacity to act on the objective surroundings of the institution and to convert it into a genuine demand.
Cultural provision for the future. This is the paradigm that has to mark Barcelona's progress towards culture and the "knowledge society". Until now, cultural facilities have been structured as museums, a space housing an area of knowledge or creativity. Until recently, they were characterized by their content, but now they are characterized by their buildings, and by their character as an urban structuring agent. But the Guggenheim Museum is of the 20th century, not the 21st, and La Villette (which treats new technology as content in its own right) is 25 years old. At a moment when the world is being articulated into networks and these are responding much better to the dialectic between the local and the global, the best provision for the future is to create the main node of the net or new "university" that allows a central role and international cooperation, at the same time as, due to its very structure, it adapts to the logic of metropolitan Barcelona.
Thus, the Forum 2004 is a key element that has to be approached strategically. The general impression is that it is being approached as an event to market the city and to generate a new large-scale urban development. This development will attract more activities, some of them induced, others trusting in the action of the different groups involved. This is a very old-fashioned approach which has clearly beneficial general economic effects, but it is doubtful whether it will attract cultural industries to Barcelona and create new ones. From the point of view of Barcelona's cultural strategy, what is important is the process leading up to 2004, which has to permit the constant communication between young people based on encouraging a multicultural society by encouraging creativity and universality, but at the same time it has to permit the industrialization of all the phenomena linked to the admittance of local cultures in the world of the global culture; automatic translation systems, artificial intelligence adapted to interpretation and contextualization of facts, virtual simulations of the surroundings, etc. This has to be the central effort connecting culture to the Forum 2004, and is more important than planning acts to keep people happy for six months ad majorem honor et gloria of the city and its managers.