STATUS OF GRASSROOTS AND COMMUNITY CULTURE IN BARCELONA

23/07/2019

1. WHY ARE WE HERE?

We’re here to help grassroots culture (CdB, from the Catalan) to emerge, be recognised and be included on the public agenda; to express our joint demands and expose the issues that institutional or media interests frequently brush under the carpet such as precarity, low budgets, reduced subsidies, increases in rental prices and the difficulties in accessing workspaces in which to develop and foster creative practice.It is also a call to all independent projects in the city, to get to know each other in our diversity. Our aim is inclusion and networking.

WHAT IS “GRASSROOTS CULTURE” (CdB)?

Grassroots culture consists of free, independent citizen initiatives arising from the real needs of local infrastructures: people, entities, venues or projects linked to art, education, culture, audiences, or social issues. It does not refer to initiatives activated by the Administration, the Government, or the ruling political party.

PUBLIC v. PRIVATE

The Administration divides economic activity solely on the basis of whether it’s “public” or “private”, a use of wording that creates confusion between the concepts of “private” and “independent”.An independent project is non-profit; it is “self-managed” in the sense that any proceeds are reinvested in the project. The thinking behind and attitude of a CdB project is to work constantly towards a common good above and beyond individual benefit: listening, generating, acting and promoting beyond immediate interests, extending from a local to a global environment.It follows that an independent CdB project will not be managed along business principles: it neither seeks profit nor views people as “users” or “customers”, but rather as citizens, neighbours, or collectives. Culture is not seen as a commodity but as a right, and business logic does not apply to rights.Some independent projects survive because of their commercial activities. However, to a greater or lesser degree, they are also dependent on patronage or Administrations that control and provide financial resources. This leads to a serious problem, namely, the lack of transparency in the decision-making process, in the criteria applied to the distribution of those resources, and in citizen access to this information.Grassroots culture projects exist in various formats: associations, co-operatives, self-employment set-ups, and even companies. Yes, companies; in many cases, the Administration requires a company to be established as a prerequisite to providing financial support. In this sense, participation in the cultural industry market is enforced by the system itself. To be eligible for subsidies, this is required; failure to comply means being excluded.What is more, the most taxing demand on cultural enterprises is that their activity be sustainable, but fall short of creating profits, as this cancels out the right to receive public funding. While we agree on principle, it must also be pointed out that support is only requested because it is needed and because, as workers in art, it is a right.Access to culture is a primary right. Nonetheless, the key word is precarity.A note: in 2019, of Barcelona City Council’s €200 million budget for Culture, only €4.2 million was distributed by public competition on city projects, whether they were mega-festivals or CdB (which, in any case, is not assigned a specific portion). The remainder of the budget was divided among covenants, direct grants to administrations, entities, public bodies, and private companies. Inequality of opportunity is a fact.Precarity exists because economic resources fail to reach CdB, while it is we, the citizens, who create art and culture, who pay taxes and who deserve something in exchange for our free, independent initiatives. Institutions don’t make art, but they should support and facilitate it.

STATUS QUO

Culture and art are not accepted institutionally as having their own intrinsic value, but are seen as resources, tools, instruments or means for the authorities to generate order, control, and image/brands. These system dynamics operate, construct and codify based on preset models and not on the real needs of the cultural infrastructure. Creation Factories are an example, or symptom, of this. (Ivan Alcázar has written a detailed and contrasted chronology in his article carn, pedra i purpurina, recently published in La Directa.)For decades, the successive Cultural Policy plans have prioritised Cultural Industries to the detriment of research work or long-term projects. We should be aware of the appropriation mechanisms used by the Institution to do away with grassroots culture by dismantling existing structures and transforming them into propaganda tools. This strategy only leads to impoverishment and the progressive disappearance of diversity in artists and their languages.We’ve watched our lives become more expensive for years; gentrification moves at a fast and furious pace, and places the survival of CdB in jeopardy. The real threat of disappearance for our venues and projects lies in the rise in rental prices, thanks to rampant speculation and the criteria of supply and demand.

WHAT ABOUT THE INSTITUTIONS?

Public institutions (in particular, museums, art centres, and community centres) systematically subcontract out their services leaving working conditions to be regulated by private companies. This environment encourages irregular contracting situations, when institutions should be the first to assume responsibility for the fulfilment of laws and agreements, for codes of good conduct, and for the rights of cultural workers in general.However, and despite the “will” to change the cultural model experessed by the Ajuntament in recent years, there have been no actions to indicate a real change. Short-term views prevail, at least on two levels: on the one hand, we see that each party imposes its own doctrines, generates its own mega-events or supports its own fields of interest; on the other, new projects continue to emerge and die with each term of government (if at all). Social dialogue in culture is a farce and the Administration’s interest in dialogue with CdB is, in most cases, nonexistent.We demand that the government, which also represents us, submit a measure to the Ajuntament that will publicly recognise CdB and assign a budget for it in the same way that it does for programmes such as Creation Factories, Barcelona Districte Cultural or Cultura de Proximitat.

VISIBILITY (OR LACK THEREOF) AS A SYMPTOM: CIVIC AND MEDIA PRESENCE

Those of us who work with CdB know that it is the system itself that generates unequal media coverage, and that institutional or business control of the media and the overwhelming application of commercial standards are facts. We realise that we’re not included in the agenda-setting, but this does not prevent us from seeking dialogue with and the consideration of free thinkers in independent media who look after the cultural reality of the city. The fact is that our capacity to “resonate” is only as strong as the networks we weave with our environment and the people. We are our own communication agents, but without your complicity and will, our chances of reaching the people are limited and so, therefore, is our capacity to make ourselves known and survive.We will continue to protest and make ourselves heard through working on our activities and, above all, our unity, by drawing up a map of local, crossdisciplinary venues, collectives and independent projects in the city showing where they are and what they do, as much for ourselves – in order to combat the strong atomisation and sectorialisation of art in Barcelona – as for the general public, the Administration, workers in art, and the media. It’s a first step towards the creation of a network that will bring us together and generate wealth, attachments, synergies and survival.At no point will this map become a mere list of names, or a network controlled by the Administration, although we have a right for it to be communicated, broadcast and supported under equal conditions.At the same time, direct action is vital. For this reason, following the Open Day for Municipal Cultural Policy (Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia) held on January 27, 2019 at Antic Teatre, and given the general desire to move forward, the Barcelona Citizens’ ParliaMent of culture was formed on May 11, 2019. Since then, with the help of architect and activist Itzíar González and the methods put in place by the Citizens’ Parliament, all promoter groups and anyone who wants to join, we are moving forward with the PMCCB, having held two assemblies to date.

The time has come to speak out and to each other from our individuality.