The current legislature has been complicated for all areas, although culture has been one of the most sensitive sectors to the problem that has marked the reality since 2020, the pandemic. How is the cultural environment after covid, its importance in Aragon and the policies of the regional Executive in this area are some of the issues addressed by the Director General of Culture of the Government of Aragon, Victor Lucea, interviewed by this media.
What is your diagnosis of the cultural sector after the pandemic?
The cultural sector has had a very bad time, obviously, during the pandemic. And we are now in a moment, from what we perceive and talk to cultural agents, above all, with the technicians, of an impressive effervescence, coinciding with the summer. People are very eager to attend live culture and normality has made it possible that, in some way, we are back, especially in some open-air musical activities, to pre-pandemic levels or more.
In some others it is true that it is, in some way, costing and we have to be aware that not everything is so easy. We know that movie theaters are having a hard time recovering attendance levels. Perhaps in some others, as in our case the museums, it is also costing to return to pre-pandemic levels. It is true that, in museum attendance, there is a growing trend, but also that there has been such a slowdown, such a break, that in some cases it is costing.
But the context is favorable, we understand that there is a favorable trend and a perception that culture is an essential element in our lives. The pandemic has made possible among the -cultural- agents a moment of reflection to become aware of the fragility and importance of culture as an essential element in the lives not only of professionals, but of the whole world.
What is the sector’s weight in Aragon’s GDP at the moment?
We know that it is, according to the latest figures, approximately 1.5-2% of the GDP. And there is a considerable number of professionals, around 10,000, linked to culture. We defend that, besides being an important element for the Aragonese economy, the strategic importance of culture goes beyond that. There are issues that the market does not reach and the institutions must also be there to offer culture. Not because it has an economic return, but because it is important to support programs, activities or ideas that have to do with the Aragonese cultural heritage, with the dissemination of culture and, little by little, to work with the dissemination of that culture so that new audiences are incorporated. And, above all, to arouse curiosity so that people can enrich themselves and investigate at home. We have a very rich heritage and we must go beyond the market.
What are Aragon’s strengths in this area?
We are convinced that Aragon has a very remarkable creative talent. I am not going to say disciplines because in all of them we find wonderful examples and creations that, in some cases, reach popular and social recognition; many times, there is an award behind them, which is what makes them visible, and in other occasions, not. But we are convinced that there are enormous talents in all disciplines, not because it is an act of faith, but because many proposals come to our office through our lines of aid, which have to be explained in all their terms, and we find that there are great creators in almost all areas of cultural activity. It is in all disciplines where we find great creators and great creations, and it is the administrations that must work to give support and continuity to this.
If you were a foreign visitor, what would surprise you most about culture in Aragon?
Perhaps, the richness of the cultural offer in terms of the heterogeneity of proposals that can be accessed. It is also true that we often focus on Zaragoza, but Aragon, in general terms, has very remarkable elements. There are wonderful places, not only in terms of heritage, but also in terms of culture. We have established a line of support for festivals in the territory and traveling to find proposals that take place in rural areas, linking performing arts, music and truly innovative proposals, is something that must also be taken into account.
It is true that the great focus of irradiation and creation of culture in Aragon is still Zaragoza, its great engine. But in the territory, both in Huesca and Teruel, there are very interesting proposals that should not be underestimated. There are many and many corners to discover. We are hopeful with a line of aids linked to the MRR funds that we will publish in this end of 2022, with execution in 2023, linked to the dynamization of the culture in the non-urban scope; that is to say, in the rural context. Many projects that come to our table we believe, and we recommend it, that they will have a natural outlet through this line of aid. And we hope it will have continuity.
And about Zaragoza, does it have the potential to become a cultural center that can compete with Barcelona, Madrid and other big cities?
It should. From our point of view, the cultural proposal of Zaragoza is obviously very rich and we believe that there is room for improvement, for updating to the times. That is why we have our own cultural proposal, which never wants to compete, but to add and complement. We are launching a lyric and dance season, which is the flagship of the cultural proposal of the Government of Aragon. These are three milestones because, with the resources we have, we adjust everything very much, but, above all, we do not renounce to artistic excellence, we do not renounce to Aragonese talent and we do not renounce to our own production.
In fact, the first performance programmed, ‘The Barber of Seville’, counts, for example, with the Orchestra Reino de Aragón…
It will be at the Teatro Principal, on November 5 and 6. And yes, we believe it will be a very important moment for Aragonese culture because it is our own production, with the Orquesta Reino de Aragón in the pit. The stage direction is in charge of Leo Castaldi, a professional with a consolidated and growing projection that develops stage productions in the (Teatro) Real, in the Liceo, La Maestranza… And we have managed, because he also understands that it is possible to advance in the cultural proposal, in this case, lyric, in Aragon, to contact him, to generate a very positive synergy and he is delighted to be able to collaborate in a scene that, of course, is going to surprise a lot. We have an absolutely groundbreaking figuration, it will be a Barber of Seville with rock-punk and urban tribes attire and aesthetics.
You recently presented the cross-border project Paisajes-Pyrenées with France, do you plan to continue along these lines?
It is something very interesting. It belongs to an activity of the Center of Art and Nature (CDAN) developed within the context of the Beulas Foundation and has a clear aspiration of continuity. It is true that we have received very interesting proposals for cross-border collaboration. This aspect would deserve some kind of project or visibility. We are working on the idea of the internationalization of Aragonese culture.
Thanks to the commitment of the President of the Government of Aragon, to the availability also of the Department of Economy and I believe that, generating a really interesting synergy for the future, this year we have launched two very interesting lines. One is financial support through the Society for the Industrial Development of Aragon (Sodiar) for cultural projects, with favorable credit conditions. And the other line is to support the internationalization of Aragonese culture. We develop it with Arex (Aragón Exterior) in collaboration with the General Directorate of Culture. In one case there are 450,000 euros and in the other, 150,000.
This summer there have been important events that have returned and others that have arrived, such as Pirineos Sur or Vive Latino, what is your assessment of these great summer festivals?
They are undoubtedly very important moments in terms of impact and visibility. They move a lot of economy and the key is often continuity. In the case of Pirineos Sur, obviously, it has done it; it has been around for many years and the brand has been created. I think Vive Latino has entered with a very good footing, with the possibility of staying for a long time because the festival was really a success. And we are already in preliminary conversations so that next year there can be a new edition. Therefore, the balance is very positive and the administrations can only facilitate that this type of events take place, because they are very important.
You recently met with cultural agents to discuss a possible pact for culture in Aragon, how did that meeting go?
In addition to the cultural agents, we wanted it to have an institutional air because the institutions also have a very important role, especially in Aragon, in generating culture. There was the Federation of Municipalities, Counties and Provinces (FAMCP), the county councils and our facilities, which are a very important anchor and sometimes also invisible to the public. Libraries, archives and museums are at the service of citizens, but for the administration it is an important effort to continue to maintain a good service in terms of access. And, obviously, a large representation of the cultural sector, of the professional sector, of the associative sector and of specific sectors that have a more transversal vision, such as cultural managers.
I must say that the feelings were very positive. At that meeting we offered the terms of a social pact for culture that should be endorsed in the near future with a document that, in some way, would reinforce the work on a law on cultural rights, which is what we are moving towards. Some communities have already made progress, Navarre and the Canary Islands have texts, and there is a favourable breeding ground to move towards the perception of culture as a social good that can have a legal endorsement that makes possible the establishment and progress in cultural policies. We believe that, by the end of the legislature, it is possible to have, not only a text proposed by the administration, but also a text endorsed by those cultural agents.