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art.es: What's going on in… Barcelona? The inter-cultural nature of the city


Rong Rong, In Bad Goisern nº 5 (2001)



Barcelona has got it all. Or at least that's the popular view when it comes to weighing up the city's charms.

It's just that Barcelona is a city like few others. Its strategic geographical position has allowed it to become almost a core point of nearly all the cultural as well as economic spheres of Europe. Recognized as the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia, the city is located on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, some 120 kilometres from the Pyrenees, very close to France's southern border. Its northern limit is marked by the river Besós, and to the south by the river Llobregat, natural frontiers just like the Sierra de Collserola to the west, which are all responsible for the amicable climate and diet that the city has, even during the winter.

When the year 2000 arrived, Barcelona entered its third millennium. Founded by Emperor Augusto shortly before the beginning of the Christian era, its original name was Colony lulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino, from where its current name was derived. A direct heir of Roman civilization, the character of the city is given in large measure by the moods produced by its architecture. In addition to its profound Gothic nature, Barcelona is the capital of modernism and a "model to follow", according to contemporary urbanism.

Beyond its imposing industrial past, its position as a capital of design and its reiterated commitment to peace, Barcelona is acknowledged as a city where technological, social and business innovation meet in a cosmopolitan and inter-cultural climate that in current times sets trends in European markets and thinking. It goes without saying that its nightlife is one of the most pulsating in the surrounding region. Its popularity soared in 1992 after it staged the Olympic Games, although on many occasions it has hosted international events such as the Universal Exhibition of 1888 (and also that of 1929) or the Universal Forum of Cultures of 2004.

These days, the city's most ambitious project is concentrated in the Poblenou neighbourhood (known at the moment as "the Manchester of Catalonia"), and is known as 22@, a prototype of "city of the future" in which the subjects to boost in the next few years will be technology, communication and entertainment. The economic rehabilitation of some of its oldest neighbourhoods, as well as the staging of several cultural events, art fairs, music festivals and many other activities, have given back to the city that friendly character which had been declining due to the surge of property speculation over the past few years.

The city's artistic scene is currently shaped not only by state institutions or museums dedicated to the region's artistic dynamism, but also by an important number of private initiatives that are not limited to covering the commercial gallery circuit based on the area around Consell de Cent Street or the Born neighbourhood. It is influenced also by a growing number of collective projects that have as a mission that of boosting both the production and the artistic projection at both a national and international level. The links between art and business are more and more frequent. In that sense, it is worth mentioning initiatives such as the Association of Barcelona Art Galleries, the Hangar Centre of Visual Arts Production, the video art producer and distributor Hamaca, the Piramidón Centre of Contemporary Art, the Espai Ubu, the Antigua Casa Haiku, and more recently the artistic space NIU in the centre of Poblenou, to mention only a few.



Gino Rubert, The birth of Venus (2008)

In institutional terms, the most powerful contemporary scene is concentrated in the circuit framed by the

Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), the Caixa Forum, the Santa Monica Art Centre, the Joan Miró, Alorda-Derksen, Suñol and Antoni Tàpies Foundations, the Picasso Museum, the Virreina Palace and the Barcelona Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB). All this without forgetting the difficult task of decentralization carried out by the Caixa Terrasa Cultural Centre or the Tecla Sala Cultural Centre. All of these are places where the artistic avant garde is consolidated not only as an element of dialogue in the sociological and economic flux of the city, but also as one of the main tourist attractions. In terms of inter-cultural flow, institutions such as the Göthe Institute or Asia House play important roles. Asia House, located in the splendid Baró de Quadras Palace and conceived of as a bridge between Spanish and Asian society, has as a priority objective that of promoting projects and activities that contribute to a better understanding of Asian society. In this way the customer will find not only information about the pillars on which its activity is based (institutional, economic, cultural and academic), but also specialized information on the whole area, with resources such as news, data banks, information newsletters, discussion groups, country statistics, resources and services of every type in accordance with the needs of the 21st century.

Having reached this point, it is worth mentioning initiatives such as the Barcelona International Festival of Contemporary Art (BAC), the Barcelona Off Festival, as well as the LOOP and SWAB fairs, the latter created very recently. The Catalan-ness in the cultural industries is a thing of the past, assure those who are involved. The future, meanwhile, is being built on the pillars and values of the society of knowledge. Beyond counting on a stable public, the city is concerned about the constant "attraction of talent", trying in this way to integrate the artistic circuit to its ever more powerful inter-cultural nature. Working together, its authorities, civil society and artistic community are concentrating on the creation of work networks that have allowed not only the permanent staging of projects and initiatives, but also an inter-relation that aims to become a model of administration of cultural industries. Quite a path to explore!


By Christian Obregón
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