portada de BMM

by Fčlix Manito
Historian and Journalist

Over the last years, our metropolitan cultural scene has experienced major alterations in its network of facilities. This is a transformation which has been forwarded mainly by institutions of the public sector, more particularly town councils, but with significant co-operation from the private sector and local social bodies. All these combined efforts aimed at providing the region with new infrastructures are altering our cultural consumption map. The newest data concerning the public use of existing facilities give us useful information about this process. For instance, in the case of the libraries, visitors from the metropolitan region - excluding the city of Barcelona - account for more than fifty per cent of the total number of visitors from the whole of Catalonia. Therefore, it is now a question of overcoming partial perspectives and to transmit the idea of a territory in which, despite the many shortages that still have to be corrected, major projects are being carried out and which boasts cultural services of a standard that is increasingly close to equalling those available in its metropolis. (...)
Cultural centres - also called civic centres or "casals de barri" (neighbourhood houses) - are the most numerous facilities currently available, more particularly in the Vallès Occidental and Baix Llobregat regional districts. Where cultural facilities are concerned, these centres are the places in which town councils have invested most heavily over the last twenty years. There is an important network of Civic Centres, notably in areas such as Badalona, Cerdanyola, Mataró, Mollet, Rubí, Sabadell and Sant Boi. Only ten per cent of the metropolitan Civic Centres are privately-owned and they are in the majority located in small towns of less than 5.000 inhabitants. (...)
Libraries are the only obligatory cultural facilities in municipalities of less than 5.000 inhabitants and the library network has presently reached a normalized level of coverage within the metropolitan region. Although the situation has still to improve to actually meet the standards established by the "Mapa de Lectura Pública" (Public Reading Map), an important number of municipalities - Badalona, Cornellà, Granollers, L'Hospitalet, Montcada i Reixac, Parets, Pineda de Mar, Sabadell, Sant Boi, Santa Coloma de Gramanet and Terrassa - boast two or more public libraries. Almost forty different projects (construction of new buildings, removals, enlargement and remodelling works) have been carried out within the last last years. The Central Libraries in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, Cornellà, Matarà and Terrassa stand out for their large dimensions and special significance. In the town of Terrassa, the first year of "normalized" operation of the Central Library after its official opening in 1998 was such a huge success that it recorded the largest number of visitors in the whole of Catalonia.
The large number of theatres in the metropolitan area is not a real signal of normalization given that almost two thirds of them fail to meet officially established standards. On the other hand, more than half of such theatre facilities belong to Athenaeums and other long-time local organizations that do not have the resources necessary to restore or improve them. Among those privately-owned buildings, only four actually meet official requirements, namely the "Teatre del Patronat de la Passió", in Esparreguera; the "Caixa de Granollers" Cultural Centre, in Granollers; the "Teatre de la Passió", in Olesa; and the "Casino Prado", in Sitges. We must also say that, in many cases, the participation of local town councils in the restoration of those places has not been facilitated by the organizations that own them. In any event, theatres have never ranked first among metropolitan town councils' priorities where municipal investment in cultural facilities is concerned. Only in few exceptional cases - such as the "Centre Cultural" in Sant Cugat -, special effort has been focused on this particular type of cultural facilities. The regular programme of performances presented by the "Centre" is the most notable one in the whole metropolitan region. The most recent restoration projects were carried out at the "Zorilla" and "Segarra" theatres, in Badalona and Santa Coloma de Gramanet respectively. Apart from traditional-style theatres, the survey concerning scenographic-arts facilities includes the so-called "polyvalent houses", which is to say multipurpose spaces that allow the staging of scenographic works and/or other types of performances that do not require stable infrastructures. Such "polyvalent houses" have been created within different kinds of existing facilities such as athenaeums and local organizations' buildings, municipal staging spaces or multipurpose rooms in civic centres. The most singular case in point is the "Capsa" in El Prat de Llobregat.
In the sphere of plastic arts, the survey draws a distinction betweeen Exhibition Halls and Art Centres. An Art Centre is described as a facility specifically designed to foster the creation, production and public promotion of works related to the different branches of visual arts. According to that typology, the survey only recognizes five places as falling into the category of Art Centres: the "Centre Cultural Tecla Sala", in L'Hospitalet; the "Nau", in Sabadell; the "Centre d'Art Contemporani la Rectoria", in Sant Pere de Vilamajor; and the "Centre de Creació Artística Molinet" and the "Centre de Recursos Mas Fonollar", both in Santa Coloma de Gramanet. Exhibitions Halls are the cultural facilities that benefit most outstandingly from the local Savings Banks' cultural patronage, even though they also receive significant support from municipal institutions.
The range of educational institutions available to arts students was made public through an inventory carried out by the Barcelona County Council in 1998. This inventury revealed that the training and educational establishments specializing in music, plastic arts and scenographic arts were, for the most part, concentrated in the areas surrounding the city of Barcelona and, most clearly, in three neighbouring regional districts (Barcelonès, Baix Llobregat and Vallès Occidental) in which seventy per cent of the listed establishments are concentrated. In comparison with other artistic subjects, musical education is available in the largest part of the metropolitan territory and it is part of the curriculum of the largest number of schools, even though the institutions that specialize in musical activities are less numerous than those specializing in plastic arts or scenographic arts. In the metropolitan region, the private, non-profit-making institutions clearly predominate over all other types of educational establishments. Among the plastic arts and design public teaching institutions, the most important ones are the Badalona, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Sabadell and Terrassa art schools.
The cinema scene has undergone a significant transformation in parallel with the introduction of the "multi-room" cinema model into the large shopping centres recently built in many metropolitan cities (Badalona, Barberà del Vallès, Cornellà, L'Hospitalet, Sabadell, Gavà, Terrassa, etc..) and the area which has changed most radically is the Baix Llobregat district where the number of cinemas has doubled over the last five years. In this context, a major point of reference is the "Parc Vallès" shopping and leisure complex recently built in Terrassa, which houses 24 cinemas, 35 eating and commercial establishments, as well as a large night-time leisure centre - called "La Nit" (The Night) - which is comprised of some thirty different places within a single building. In these "multi-room" cinemas, the spectators total two million people per year and, every week-end, some 80.000 people spend time in the "Parc Vallès" leisure complex. (...)
The only global approach to analising cultural consumption within the whole metropolitan region is based on the surveys carried out by the "Institut d'Estudis Metropolitans" (Institute of Metropolitan Studies) every five years since 1985. These surveys are principally aimed at obtaining objective information concerning the living standards and habits of the population of the metropolitan region. (...) The results of the 1995 survey were made public in June 1998. According to the latest survey, the inhabitants of the metropolitan region prove to have common, very generalized interests: they essentially watch television and read books when they stay at home and, when they go out, they mainly like to take a stroll. Listening to music ranks third among their favorite leisure activities. Moreover, the situation described in 1995 is not very different from that pictured by the 1990 survey. In the metropolitan region, not many people go to the cinema, the theatre, art exhibitions or museums: depending on the cultural product considered, between half and three-fourths of the adult population say that they never do. Cinema is the most popular cultural product, whereas theatre attracts the smallest audience. However, going to the cinema is a habit that becomes less frequent as people grow older, while the smaller number of museum-, art exhibition- and theatre-goers remains fairly steady in all age groups.
A report compiled by the Catalan "Sociedad General d'Autors" (General Association of Authors) is the most recent document on people's cultural consumption habits in Spain. This extensive survey, finished in January 1999, is presently the most important reference work where cultural consumption tendencies are concerned and its conclusions have served to build up a more accurate contextual picture of cultural consumption within Barcelona's metropolitan region.

The most significant data presented in that report are the following:

  • 8,5 per cent of the interviewees said that they have been in a library.
  • Where sporadic theatre attendance is concerned, there has been a significant increase from 15 to 25 per cent. In any event, regular theatre-goers only account for 3 per cent of the interviewees.
  • There has also been a considerable increase in pop-rock concert audiences: from 10,3 per cent in 1991, the number of people going to pop-rock concerts has risen to 18,8 per cent.
  • The audience for classical music concerts is still very small: 92,3 per cent of the population never go to classical music concerts.
  • Where cinema is concerned, the survey shows that there has been a revival in attendance in terms of numbers as well as frequency. While, in 1991, 51 per cent of the interviewees said that they never went to the cinema, nowadays this negative percentage has been reduced to 49,3 per cent.
  • Attendance at cultural centres is still a minority activity since slightly less than 15 per cent of the population go to such centres. However, a distinguishing trait is that attendance at cultural centres increases as people grow older and is particularly high among elderly people over retirement age.
  • The number of museum-goers has increased. Approximately 10 percent of the interviewees said that they had isited at least one museum. However, this is an activity closely related to tourist practices.