Open letter by Barcelona Grassroots Culture (CB) expressing disagreement with ICUB’s document defining measures of support for Barcelona’s cultural infrastructure.

We at the Barcelona Grassroots Culture (Cultura de Base de Barcelona – CB in its Catalan acronym) platform wish to express our disagreement with the recent measures published by Barcelona City Council in relation to the city’s cultural infrastructure. On the one hand, we believe these policies do not adequately respond to the issues raised by CB since 2019. On the other, we demand more clarity, access, and transparency with regard to the figures of the city’s culture budget, so that ordinary citizens are able to follow the opaque arrangements with consortia and public-private partnerships. We also protest the attempt of appropriation and wrongful manipulation of the term “grassroots culture” by ICUB, and the distortion of its meaning, as their use neither depicts our situation nor represents us. For the above reasons, we wish to establish a permanent negotiating table between ICUB and CB in order to resolve these serious shortcomings.

Barcelona, June 22nd, 2020

All the diverse and self managed persons, entities, spaces, and projects that make up the organised community known as Barcelona Grassroots Culture (Cultura de Base de Barcelona – CB) and that, for more than ten years, have together fought against the indifference and abandonment brought about by the institutions’ backing of a neoliberal model of cultural industry, would like to make public our evaluation of the document/press file presented on May 15, 2020 by the Barcelona City Council in relation to their support for the culture sector and the city’s cultural infrastructure.

In the first place, even though we appreciate the practical nature of the document (press file), we would like to express our dismay at the use of language more appropriate to an advertising campaign than to a government that is accountable to its citizens and is proposing solutions and actions in the general interest. To mention COVID when speaking about the severe structural problems affecting Grassroots Culture and Barcelona’s financial/cultural model shows a marked lack of commitment by the city authorities to bring about change in the cultural landscape which, even if it is the acquired inheritance of multiple incumbencies, is also the current government’s responsibility. 

At the same time, we would like to draw attention to the misappropriation of the term “Grassroots Culture” and its improper and excessive use as an umbrella term for festivals such as Grec, the Quinzena de Dansa, and other theatres or initiatives that appear to be public but that nonetheless are run by private entities with a total lack of transparency. A reminder: Grassroots Culture is a united front that is at the same time exceedingly diverse, encompassing anything to do with art, education, or social action emerging from free citizen initiatives. It is in no way an initiative of the administration or of any political party. It is characterised by three axes: critical thought in relation to the praxis of art and local cultural policies; transparency (in practice and at request); and institutional independence.

Despite fulfilling a range of functions or collaborations, neither public-privately funded companies, cultural managers whose role is selling shows, consortia, boards, nor foundations can be considered Grassroots Culture. CB can refer to either persons or entities but their objective will never be profit. That is, any profit will always be reinvested in the projects (even “cost of living” is an investment in the artistic and cultural projects we are active in). Independence from government institutions does not prevent CB projects, should they so desire, from applying for public grants or subsidies because as tax-payers, citizens, and workers in the arts, we are absolutely entitled to these.

With regard to communications with the administration, ever since holding the Open Day for Municipal Cultural Policy (Barcelona-Madrid-Valencia) in January 2019, CB has promoted discussion sessions to which the administration and the political representatives for local culture have been invited and consulted. The most direct expression of this is the Barcelona Citizens’ ParliaMent of Culture (PMCCB in its Catalan acronym), established on March 11, 2019, a space where citizens can consider and evaluate the administrations’ actions in the field of culture, and which has held three assemblies to date. Even so, the ‘mediatic’ revitalisation of CB occurred with a press conference held in July 2019, where the local state of emergency affecting our projects was declared and which marked a sea change in direct action for our united front.

Since then, we have held several meetings both in person and online with Mr. Daniel Granados (ICUB) in order to directly study structural problems. These months of meetings had led us to expect a more precise definition of support to CB than is the case. The document does mention the mapping that CB has been carrying out since October 2019 with the aim of producing a basic tool to recognise and highlight our situation. This project was suggested to the City Council, who agreed to fund it with a budget of €15,000; nine months later, we have yet to receive any of this. The work, however, has continued thanks to volunteers and we now have significant results of this mapping, which show that 86% of CB projects can be considered financially at risk.

In addition, the financial measures published in ICUB’s document are short-term, emergency measures that do not respond to what CB has been demanding for the past decade: policy of openness, a change in the structural management model; traceability for public budgets and the criteria to which they adhere; and the creation of a body that can audit the institutions independently: a Citizen’s Observatory of Culture.

The document shows discrepancies and vagueness when it comes to clarifying the sums involved and identifying the recipients of the same. Bearing in mind that ordinary subsidies have always undervalued and underfunded CB projects, the fact that extraordinary funding should call for criteria such as the ever-ambiguous “innovation” (a term with clear neoliberal connotations) and which has nothing to do with research and practice in Arts and Culture, we are concerned that such practices will continue unchecked. 

CB wants Barcelona City Council to recognise the uniqueness and vulnerability of this group of more than 100 entities that compose it as of now, and to set out concrete measures that will enable real support and provide compensation for the institutional neglect to date.

For these reasons, we urgently demand a permanent negotiations table between ICUB and CB in order to define measures, call for transparency, and end the systemic neglect and oblivion of Grassroots Culture in the city of Barcelona.