thoughts and suggestions with regard to the proposition “Grassroots culture and cultural sectors: the right to creation, experimentation, research and cultural production.”
While we are grateful for Barcelona City Council’s initiative in inviting recommendations relating to the provision of concrete measures for the Cultural Rights Plan, we wish to make clear that these are being solicited for a document that has already been drawn up and published without any prior proactive, joint discussion and that we are therefore only being given the opportunity to provide a response, which is contained in this document. What this makes clear to us is that civil society is not included in any real way when establishing the major axes of municipal policy.
While it is true that the Council voluntarily offered the opportunity for dialogue, the city’s cultural fabric was not given the chance to contribute to the Plan’s elaboration. We therefore do not consider it it either fair or accurate to include a list of collectives and associations at the end of the document as though they had all been working closely and proactively with the Council in drawing up the Plan. It has been presented to us complete and in published form without the option of intervening, nor were we consulted during the elaboration process.
We consider the wording to be ambiguous, with many open-ended statements, and so subject to interpretation from a diverging range of political viewpoints, to the extent that even a completely neoliberal reading is possible. This Plan could be made to serve the political interests of whichever government is in power. We believe it falls short by not locking in certain policies that would specifically protect the cultural fabric we represent in conjunction with other entities and cultural agents. We are, however, fully supportive of the fact that cultural policies are, for the first time and in a decisive manner, being acknowledged as civil rights.
We would like to point out that the Cultural Rights Plan uses the term “Cultura de base” (grassroots culture) in a way that we deem to be an appropriation by ICUB and Barcelona City Council of the term and its meaning, under a guise that we do not feel either identifies or represents us, as we have stated in previous discussions with Barcelona City Council (Letter of Disagreement by Cultura de Base Barcelona (CB) with ICUB’s report on support measures for the cultural fabric of Barcelona).
In this document, we are focusing on responding to and evaluating only the section relating to grassroots culture. It goes without saying that the Cultural Rights Plan is much broader and contains other sections we should be able to evaluate and respond to, but this should have taken place at a prior brainstorming session and in this response phase we believe each sector will provide its own critique.
In our view, some of the axes presented by the Cultural Rights Plan in this section contradict some of our own principles: critical thought around the praxis of art and local cultural policies, transparency and institutional independence. Along general lines, we think the proposal repeats a dynamic that defines cultural policies from the top (institutions and bodies) down (the cultural base). At CB we believe that the City Council should draw up the reference framework and provide the tools, but should not establish either the programme or the directives. We believe a radical change in cultural policy is needed that will transfer programming directly to the sector. Rather than creating more festivals or installations, programming should be led by the activities and the workers in the sector, transforming the cultural content already in existence within the city into a common good, not creating unnecessary repetitions in programming or direction. We’re over the need for large-scale events and buildings.
Regarding this, we are against the continued creation of new cultural spaces and structures taking precedence over support for strengthening the existing cultural network and projects currently in precarious situations, as we made clear in the Report on the State of Grassroots Culture in Barcelona (2019), drafted from the mapping process carried out to 2020.
This present document reiterates what CB has been demanding for more than a decade: transparency, a change in the structural management model, traceability of public budgets and the criteria used to draw them up, and the creation of a body to conduct independent audits of the institution – a Citizens’ Cultural Observatory. Below, we summarise some of our proposals and thoughts relating to the current Cultural Rights Plan in so far as they affect grassroots culture, because we believe in the possibility of creating unity and strengthening common ties in pursuit of a grassroots culture that is critical, independent and transparent.
Point by point
To facilitate dialogue, we have expressed our proposals and thoughts below each point mentioned in the Plan, even though some of our comments could be applied to several points.
1. Programme for grants to support creation
We believe that turning the City of Barcelona Awards into a grants programme is a good idea, and therefore we give this initiative our full support. It is definitely important to promote public funding support outside the subsidy process and obviating the need for financial justification. We think this is a positive way of finding solutions for many workers and cultural agents who, because they are not set up as associations or collectives, or because they are not self-employed, find it hard to apply for other types of public funding assistance.
At the same time, we approve that these are being directed at creative processes, in many cases facilitating the production of new projects.
In our opinion, the high number of applications this year – well over the budget’s capacity to provide broader support – makes clear the need to maintain and extend these grants. To a certain degree, the call-out was oversubscribed because of the high level of need that the cultural fabric has for assistance in the form of grants, particularly for production purposes.
We believe that the funds made available for this grants programme should not be taken from the general budget for culture, or at least not from the subsidies budget, but that they should come from a specific budget to cover all areas, not just cultural workers. The grants should also cover and reinforce the fields of research and investigation in cultural innovation, with the aim of also including archive, university and popular culture research.
We do think that there is a need for a proactive response system that can explain to applicants why their grant applications are denied. This response should help them understand how projects are evaluated and help them improve their methodology and structure so as to be able to fulfil the requirements in future applications. We believe that this response, which could be organised through the Citizens Cultural Office, is an important tool to help understand the criteria applied when assessing applications, as is done, for example, in EU call-outs. It’s also a response system that encourages transparency, thus removing any suspicion of opacity in the grant allocations.
2. Opening the Casa de la Música
Without going into details on this particular case, we would like to use it to comment that from our point of view this model perpetuates the City Council’s practice of establishing new institutional venues and installations, creating culture from the top down. The same thing occurred when the Creation Factories were set up.
Such spaces should be designed, agreed on and developed in conjunction with the city sectors that are already developing proposals and programmes, as opposed to setting up new teams of directors and having to take on the programming from a newly-created body. We already have venues and programmers and we don’t understand this need to create them anew.
We wonder whether the Houses of Culture have been designed as a new model of installation in the same line as the Factories. We think this model is failed and obsolete. There is no need to create new types of installations when we already have community centres, libraries, factories… We believe that instead of creating new installations, the existing cultural fabric needs to be reinforced. We don’t understand the need for a new type of centre. We see the same dynamic when talking about the Casa de l’Aigua, for example.
We think the model must be changed: what we need are incubators and locations where already existing entities and management groups within the sector can cohabit. There are plenty of municipal buildings that could be used to cover the need for new spaces (whether work spaces or for programming and exhibition) as opposed to creating new venues that end up supplanting grassroots cultural establishments. Even if there is set of conditions for public tender encompassing a system that aims to link these with music schools or other types of artistic learning institutions, or that provides documentation or research (archive, programming, management) work, we believe the objective should be the incubator model where cultural workers already performing those functions can establish an agreement or contract-programme for a fixed term. Generating a new space/installation implies creating de facto competition within the sector, however much it is structured with the desire to protect or jointly programme. There should be support for direct management by cultural workers (entities, creators, programmers, networks, independent festivals…) to occupy these locations and provide content and programme.
Creating more venues means supporting a culture of bricks and mortar; in other words, making new structures, when what is needed is for existing structures to be freed up and returned to the citizenry, in this case by placing them in the hands of the fabric/sector for direct management. There is no need to replicate programming and activities already existing in the city; all that is required is to facilitate the conditions for these to work. Transforming establishments into incubators with clear conditions of use and return to the city would be a much more efficient use even in financial terms.
3. Artistic residencies
On this point, we are in favour of creating new residencies, but we can see that this is going to be by way of the installations rather than by directly involving the cultural fabric. We think that other formulae should be put forward, such as the incubator arrangement, or the creation of new residencies managed directly by the sector. In addition, we think there is a need for a system that can not only foster residencies in our city, but also establish a programme of residencies for local cultural workers in other places, focusing on creating agreements with venues in other cities and prioritising the provision of direct links between workers and venues in a particular sector. While the venues where residencies are held could easily be existing structures, the network involving other cities or the call-out and management of these could easily be managed from below and horizontally, directly, between the cultural workers of each city and our own.
4. Manifesta 2024 Arts Biennial
We don’t understand why this is one of the axes included in a Plan of this type. We think a cultural Plan should set out the larger schematics of the future of cultural policy for the sector, particularly in the matter of defining Cultural Rights; not municipal cultural structures.
Obviously, a biennial is a specific case of cultural programming and a very specific model, too. It is neither a cultural axis nor a right. If it is to be understood as an axis, this leads us to think that what is being proposed is the creation of more festivals and large cultural events as part of the broader lines of cultural action. In this sense, we are completely opposed to this type of strategy in terms of defining the cultural fabric of a city. We have no interest whatsoever in the creation of mega-events, or brands, or in the continued support of a commercialised vision centred on and stemming from cultural industry and the management of culture as a product. We do not consider this to be either a model for the future or a model that bolsters cultural citizens or their rights; rather it encourages users and cultural consumerism. If we must have a new biennial or a new, large umbrella, then it needs to be defined jointly with the sector, and redirected away from the standpoint of large festivals and cultural interventionism; all the trappings of a biennial as they have been celebrated over the past few decades must be stripped. We are totally convinced that we need to leave behind the model of large fairs, festivals and artistic events whose ultimate aim is promoting the city internationally by making use of all its cultural actives, while day-to-day structures are left destitute. For CB, the priority is daily activity, not giant displays.
5. Reformulating subsidy call-outs
CB support a change to the way subsidies are administrated. We think the current yearly format should be substituted by new agreement and/or programme-contract models guaranteeing security over 3 or 4 years, with another programme of subsidies for one-off activities.
This change of strategy with a new format of programme-contracts ties in with the idea of providing value and viability to the functions that CB carries out as public services open to all citizens and in direct dialogue with the locality. Culture has always been managed and created from below and horizontally, and it’s not about turning the public administration into a new system of patronage. If we’re going to talk about rights then we must also talk about obligations. Because of this, we’re in favour of a programme-contract system that would allow the reformulation of public assistance, with long-term proposals that would require the participating entities to give back to the city in the form of public service. The aim is to establish direct cultural actions from below that can respond to and find solutions for structural needs while also representing local municipalities.
This “continued management” public support model could be structured from the Office of Culture. Continuous public support extending for longer than one year also implies joint responsibility, which is why we need programme-contracts. The requirements must be established in both directions. While at CB we understand that we are providing a public service, we also realise demands should be made of us and we should meet those demands. As opposed to clientelism and a dependency on public support, grassroots culture means cultural output is put back into the community, a social function which underpins the need for a change of model and a different type of support to current subsidies.
With regard to the ordinary, annual subsidy model for one-off projects we think a change in the funding calendar is required. Preparation and resolution should take place between September and December rather than the current system where projects are prepared at the beginning of the year and are carried out in the summer. The maximum percentage of local council assistance should also be raised from 50% to 70%.
At CB we are also in favour of reworking project assessment indicators; these should not, for example, focus on the production of results, profits and financial returns as benchmarks of their impact. Culture should be assessed with regard to benchmarks that measure and prioritise giving back to the city, as well as the indicators for this, and the creation of audiences above profits and attendance. Local cultural policy must be reconsidered, and the capillarity of cultural and artistic grassroots activity should be valued, not based on large-scale events, but on citizen participation and social transformation projects, and work on other policies to protect the city’s cultural spaces from real estate pressure and gentrification. Solid and sustained support over the long term is required from cultural institutions and public policies for non-profit, private initiative or public projects that, at the same time, promote social returns and impact. We need legislation to guarantee this.
At CB we wish to reiterate that specific funding is required to provide total support for locally-based projects whose objective is social transformation, independently of the artistic disciplines used, and with clear support for transversality and multidisciplinarity.
We need to prioritise a sustainability model based on microcredits for culture. We have to move towards a self-sustaining model. We need public support, yes, but not in order to function; we need it to establish the continuity of projects. Likewise, strong legislation should be introduced to facilitate the participation of private finance in cultural structures (sponsorship and tax-deduction laws).
At CB we believe the current, massive expenditure on transport and dispatch within the cultural sector is nonsensical. We request that the Administration take over most of this part of the budget (in line with the French model) or, even better, we suggest the creation of a public enterprise, a transport and dispatch cooperative or similar formula that could take over this aspect of the budget from cultural entities and allow an efficient, environmentally sound and transparent transport system.
6. New public support mechanisms for research and experimentation processes
We see this as a recap of points 1 and 5, and we’ve commented on those points
7. Training plan
We would suggest that this plan be managed by Barcelona Activa and that all information should be managed through the Oficina Ciudadana de la Cultura (Citizens’ Office for Culture). We will expand in the following point what we believe this Office should be.
8. Citizens’ Office for Culture
The Citizens’ Office for Culture’s role should be to generate cultural facilitation policies: the development of support mechanisms for new projects as well as the management of venues, permits, subsidies, technical and infrastructure support, etc.
This should be carried out by understanding the reality facing cultural structures and the city’s cultural sector in general. Staff for this office should come from the fields of humanities, social sciences, social economics, cultural management, communications…
Ideally, the Office should include the post of Culture Technician for each neighbourhood, to act as liaison between office and entities, to get to know the entities and provide support. We think a physical office is necessary to provide in-person and telephone attention for helping with grant applications and other bureaucratic procedures. Another function we deem to be urgent and necessary for this body would be the management and justification of denied grant applications, with a response report to candidates, in order to improve transparency and help candidates seek out and benefit from the best support for their needs.
It is vital that citizens become more involved, because given the way the office is being presented at the moment, it in no way resembles the Citizens’ Culture Observatory. CB believes the graph depicting links within the ICUB (political and executive structures) lacks the point of view of the citizenry and all the basic cultural sectors, which are vital if a healthy and organic cultural ecosystem is to be created. To this end, as mentioned earlier, one of CB’s permanent demands since the constitution of the ParlaMento (May 2019) has been the establishment of a Citizens’ Municipal Cultural Observatory as an independent organ that would work synergistically with the Administration, following up on decision-making and suggesting policies and improvements for the longer term.
9. Protected Social ground-level venues for culture
This line of action, an offshoot of the official protection minimums programme, is on the right track but falls short. Entities spend a major part of current subsidies on renting space. It seems absurd that this cost should account for a large percentage of budgets. There are several ways to resolve this situation:
- A specific line of subsidies for rents could be devised, so freeing up the main budgetary allowance directly for production, creation and research.
- Local municipal venues could be opened to entities that need a workspace (office) or storage space. There are many empty public buildings; the creation factories could also be used for this purpose.
- Another route could be that entities established in already existing venues or establishments, or new ones such as the Casas de Cultura, could manage incubators by placing their resources and structures at the disposal of new projects in exchange for these complementing or generating actions/programmes/activities in the same space.
- 1% of the city’s public works budget should be given over to supporting the cultural fabric in terms of installations and help with rent.
- We also think that, for transparency purposes, the list of public spaces owned by the City Council should be publicly available and easily accessible. This should also apply to what they are being used for and what their availability is. Incubators for cultural bodies could be established in these spaces.
In any case, the first thing that needs to be done is to help cover rental costs for entities and their viability before creating new installations. Entities should be helped to become established. This means keeping venues local. Cultural activity by CB’s entities is closely linked to the location where they take place, and their integration in the city infrastructure is vital for maintaining the vitality of local neighbourhoods.
10. Live Culture Venues
This improvement in the form of a new activities permit needs to be expanded so that, once it has been obtained, entities will continue to receive support.
We understand that this initiative aims to solve existing problems with activities permits and provide a legal umbrella, but we would like to point out that there are many entities and venues that carry out their activities without a valid permit, and that it is fairly likely that they would not be eligible for this new type. We think we need to find ways of legally protecting any cultural activity without a need for a specific permit. We highlight the need to improve current permit regulations to adjust them to existing and future needs. We are convinced that the framework for regulating cultural and public activities does not need to be via permits, even though we know this is not up to the Council.
We think there are elements missing from this Plan. In the medium term, ideally it should all be accompanied by tools such as a Sponsorship Law and tax deductions for cultural entities. We realise this is not the Council’s remit, but they should be pressuring for it. It is also necessary to talk about introducing an Artist’s Statute or to promote deductions in civic taxes to stimulate the involvement of private funding, for example.
At the same time, there should be a minimum regulated wage for all cultural workers who work at an establishment or on a project that receives public funding.