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Spain’s culture industry badly hit

July 02, 2012


AMID all the talk of bailouts and sovereign debt, less attention has been paid to another victim of the financial crisis — the arts. The Spanish culture industry has been hit by a double whammy: first the deep public sending cuts that began in 2010, and now the collapse of the savings banks that have been a major source of funding.

These banks, known as cajas, grew out of montes de piedad — which were basically pawn shops — in the 19th century as an encouragement to the poor to save. They became something akin to friendly societies and were technically not for profit and so had no shareholders. As they grew, they channelled their surplus into foundations that spent it on la obra social — anything from old people’s homes and drug rehabilitation centres to opera houses and art galleries. To put this in perspective, the obra social budget of the Catalan Fundacio la Caixa for the current year is 500m euros.

“The savings banks have been the main sponsors of culture, even more than government,” says David Camps, head of communications at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Macba) and who also co-founded the Spanish fundraising association. Spain has many layers of national and regional and city government, each of which until recently had a generous budget for cultural activities. On top of that, virtually every cultural event — from exhibitions to rock festivals to village fiestas — would carry the logo of the local caja that was sponsoring it.

Now nearly all the cajas have succumbed to debt and corruption and, furthermore, have become banks. “Now that they have changed from being savings banks to banks all this funding is going to disappear,” says Camps. “Now they are not mutual societies and they have no obligation to fund the obra social.”

The Fundacion Caja Madrid, which funds the prestigious Casa Encendida arts centre in Madrid, has already been forced to close down 48 of the cultural and social centres it runs in Spain, 33 of them in the capital, while work has come to a halt on the 15m euro Palacio de Musica in Madrid’s Gran Via which it was funding. The foundation’s director, Pio Diaz de Tuesta, says it will have to have to get funding from Caja Madrid’s huge capital assets, principally property, claiming these assets are protected from claims made by the bank’s creditors. The value of the assets is still being assessed, he says.

In the autonomous region of Castilla-Leon the 92m euros earmarked by the local cajas for culture and good works in 2005 fell to 34m euros this year. According to a study by the Swiss bank UBS, five of the major savings banks will have no social budget at all in 2013.

“The only one that is safe for the moment is la Caixa because, although it is a bank, it has publicly stated its commitment to the obra social and it is, as far as we know, solvent,” says Camps. “Caja Madrid will disappear in terms of its social profile.

My prediction is that we will end up with only one bank that will commit a large budget to obra social, and that’s la Caixa.”

Ironically, the funding shortfall comes at a time when there are more and more Spaniards who are unemployed and have more free time for venues like galleries and concerts. Camps predicts that large cultural institutions will have to rely more on sponsorship while smaller ones will have to develop new ideas such as crowdsourcing. He is involved in a campaign to persuade the government to improve tax incentives for corporate cultural sponsors, which at present can only write off 35 per cent against donations.

“We don’t have the culture of philanthropy that they have in the UK and the US,” he says. “We did up until early into the 20th century but not now.” — The Guardian, London