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Xavier Fina: «In Catalonia, culture is not understood as a part of the economy».
Xavier Fina is a cultural manager and philosopher. Since 2005 he has been a professor of Production and Management at the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya, where he was head of the department from 2007 to 2017. He has also taught cultural policies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and was coordinator of the master's degree in cultural management at the University of Barcelona. Together with Josep Maria Bricall, he promoted and developed the first version of the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CoNCA), in 2009.
Besides, Xavier Fina has worked since 1989 in cultural research and consulting, until in 1998 he created his own company, ICC Consultors. Since its creation, ICC has carried out nearly 200 studies and advisory services, mainly for public administrations.
During the coronavirus crisis, different voices from the artistic and cultural sector have agreed that political management has left them in the lurch. When culture was beginning to rise after a period of cuts and the crisis of 2008, a new crisis forced the closing of cinemas, theaters and concert halls, making work in this sector even more precarious.
Xavier Fina, who participates in the debate Forum 'City, tourism and culture' organized by the Barcelona City Council, gives us his vision on the management of culture in our country. According to him, the lack of prioritization, together with an economic approach that does not take viability into account and that wants to satisfy everyone, has led us to maintain a deficient cultural sector, exaggeratedly unequal within itself, and without resources to generate proposals solidly.
What is the course of the management of culture and cultural policies in Catalonia in recent years?
The management of culture and cultural policies in Catalonia in the last 40 years is very disappointing, basically because there has not been a well-defined, well-planned cultural project for a country that considers culture as a priority, and that takes into account the needs of citizens. There has been no project for cultural policy and management.
Indistinctly of who was ruling?
During the 23 years of CiU, culture was not part of the government's priorities, which has a paradoxical point since, in a nationalist project based on identity, there should be a cultural project. During the seven years of tripartite there was a small parenthesis, especially in the first three when Pasqual Maragall ruled, who made a good team with Xavier Marcé and Gemma Sendra, among others. The following years, with Montilla, Cultura belonged to ERC and interesting proposals were made, but there were never any major changes.
Between 2010 and 2020 there have been six Culture councilors. Counting that Ferran Mascarell was there for six years, we have had a counselor for months, almost. And there are those who did not expect to be, others who were but who wanted to do something else... There has been no leadership and cultural policies have never been prioritized.
With center-right governments, there has been a certain perception of culture as "something of the left-wing people." And with the governments of the left, cultural policy has been excessively at the service of the cultural sectors, causing that there has not been a critical mass among citizens that would allow us to say that culture was important. Cultural policies are directed at cultural sectors rather than at the people. When President Mas cut back on Health, doctors and people took to the streets. When he cut on Education, teachers and people took to the streets. When he cut on Culture, who came out to protest? Only the culture workers. It is a vicious cycle: we have forgotten people, and therefore people have forgotten us.
Perhaps because culture is economically restrictive?
I think it is more restrictive socially and psychologically. Obviously everything is replicated in the economic reality of people, but I think that the price of tickets is not as serious as the inability to convey that what is offered from culture is of general interest and that everyone is called. Many important cultural facilities become temples that are elitized: you can go to MACBA for free many days, but perhaps contemporary art communicates in a way that alienates many people, who end up thinking that this is not for them. Besides, an important part of the people of Barcelona does not even know that they can go to museums for free.
So the change should be in discourse?
And also in practice. The liturgy of a large part of the cultural offer is more made to expel than to welcome. For example, at a classical music concert you will see people get angry if someone in the audience claps between movements. This ritualization is relatively new and totally constructed: at some point we have decided that this should be the case, and not even because the activity requires it, but to feel unique living it (in fact, originally, at opera and classical music concerts, people were making noise and talking). In these situations, culture stops acting as an integrating element and acts as a disintegrating element. And, in this dynamic, it is true that those who are least welcomed are the popular classes, therefore, yes, in the end there is a socioeconomic correlation.
Has the tourism model of Barcelona until the coronavirus crisis promoted the elitization of culture?
The cultural consumption of tourists falls under another logic: that when we leave home, we do different things from what we do when we are at home. If visits to museums have plummeted since the pandemic, it is that people go to museums when they travel, but not in their own city. Therefore, it is difficult for me to see the elitization of culture as a consequence of tourism. In fact, the look of rejection that we mentioned before is also made towards the tourists who "invade us" when, finally, these tourists are just citizens of the world who like our city or our country and come to enjoy it.
Barcelona has been overly dependent on mass tourism, but the coronavirus has turned everything around. Should we rethink something?
Starting from the point that everything, right now, is a disaster, I would tell you that a first positive element, for me, is that thanks to the coronavirus, the debate has depolarized. Both the enemies of tourism have seen that without tourism we can be ruined, and those who were fine with the model have moderated their discourse, and now there is a kind of consensus on the matter: we agree that there is an economic life that wouldn’t be able to sustain itself without tourism, and also that we cannot be so dependent on it.
Should we look for a more sustainable model?
The phrase of turning crises into opportunities gives me some hives, but in this case, it is impressive to what extent some of the most affected sectors are experiencing this crisis as an opportunity to demand a systemic rethinking. Through the Institute of Culture I have been able to exchange with people from the tourist and cultural world, and they are very aware that, although what they are suffering is an immediate consequence of Covid-19, it is also a consequence of the previous crisis. They demand to go beyond solving emergencies and to not return to where we were but to build another model.
Do we have economic margin to rethink? Both culture and tourism are drowned.
It is a question of political will. The public administration, allied when necessary with the private sector, has room for maneuver. The Generalitat and the Government can borrow more than they are, they can decide where European funds go, which have a strategic logic far from plugging holes. This money is to generate activity and change the productive structure, with the key values of creativity and sustainability. They should serve to make us leaders and allow this turn that we were saying, not to hire doctors or to put more beds in hospitals. We have outrageous deficits, but these must be covered by the administration because they are basic services.
If you were now appointed Counselor of Culture, what would the first measures you would implement to achieve a better cultural management model be?
In the first place, dedicating more resources to Culture would quickly and easily reach 2% of the total expenditure of the Generalitat. Second: I would really build a network with towns and cities. They have a fantastic cultural life, therefore they must be prioritized in dialogue and resources. Third: education. I would establish real links and joint strategies, and would recover the sixth hour of public school to dedicate it to artistic and cultural content. Fourth: it would promote creation and experimentation to build an economically viable and solid cultural sector. One of the great problems that cultural policy has in Catalonia is that it does not understand culture as part of the economy. We need powerful cultural companies, which may be linked to a greater or lesser extent to the Ministry or the Catalan Institute of Cultural Companies, but it is clear that they must have some autonomy. We need serious projects to promote Catalan cultural companies and industries, instead of continuing to make small dance and theater companies that are not profitable and which are given the exact resources in order to survive.
So the problem is that everything ends up depending on the administration?
The problem is that culture is not a priority. And the other problem is that the relationship that the administration establishes with the sector is excessively patronizing: it is more designed to give resources and keep people neither very happy nor very angry, instead of doing politics, which means taking risks and making decisions. One of the people that I consider my teacher, Josep Maria Bricall, who had been rector of the University of Barcelona and advisor with Tarradellas, and with whom we did the CoNCA project commissioned by President Maragall, always said that, rather than command and control, in this country what people like is to get their hands on everything, but hardly anyone makes risky decisions.
What would be a "risky decision"?
With the crisis we are experiencing, a risky but meaningful decision would be to make a map of what we have to save at all costs: ask, at a local level, what people believe that in no way can be allowed to die in their municipality . Saying "we will save everything" is not realistic, apart from the fact that trying to save everything you are allocating resources to projects without viability. We are still playing delivery so that everyone is surviving precariously and no one gets angry. And I ask myself: are we capable of joint responsibility, asking people what they want and building something from what each municipality decides to prioritize? Because doing politics is that; It is not throwing money away and waiting for things to fall apart.
Could you tell us a good model of cultural management?
France is very clear about how important culture is, and although there is a beastly centralism and everything ends up depending on Paris, it is also true that the Theater of Perpignan has more resources than the National Theater of Catalonia. In the Netherlands they apply very well the mixed model of public-private cooperation, integrating foundations into public management to obtain resources, and they take into account the educational, proximity and grassroots aspects. And in the United Kingdom there is the Arts Council - which is the model on which we base ourselves to create the CoNCA - which is a public body but autonomous from party struggles.
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