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Culture and crisis: A changing landscape

Por: | 08 de octubre de 2013

“People are spending on cheaper products, and on brands. We’re in the second group… a brand.” You may think that comment relates to clothes, perfume or any number of consumer goods, but Laszlo Baan is talking about museums. Baan is the director of Budapest’s Bellas Artes, and together with Gabriele Finaldi, the conservation and research director of Madrid’s Prado, a discussion is taking place at the Hay Festival in Segovia about the role of culture in a time of crisis. For the Festival, it’s one of a number of interesting diversions from its literary content. The venue can hardly be more appropriate for the old adapting to the new – Segovia’s San Nicolás Church, built in the 12th century, but with its interior now converted into a performance and conference space. Tom Chivers, of the UK’s The Telegraph, oversees the event.

Works by Goya or Velazquez at first seem a million miles from the vocabulary that abounds – ‘market position’, ‘public/private partnerships’ and ‘sectors’ – yet, as the speakers explain, these terms are becoming fundamental to preserve and develop the role of a museum in modern times. For Baan, the key is the provision of authenticity. “We are keepers of the past; the world is changing very fast,” he says. “How can we give values to the younger generation? Libraries will change totally; you won’t need to go to a library to read a book. But if you want to see the Mona Lisa, to experience authenticity, you have to go to the Louvre.”


Gabriele Finaldi, Tom Chivers and Laszlo Baan.                                    Photo: Jeff Wiseman

Gabriele Finaldi, who previously worked for London’s National Gallery, joined the Prado in 2002. “We deal with how we interpret the past at the present time,” he adds. “In the old days we said that people visited twice – once with dad, and once with sons and daughters – but by creating rich exhibitions, we create the sensation that unless you visit often you’re missing out on important things.” Despite the recent financial upheavals, he believes that the museum’s founding ideals from the 1820s remain the same: preserving identity, engaging the public, education and the diffusion of knowledge.

A current challenge is marketing a museum’s valuable and important work, and presenting a case to politicians, public sponsors and companies for assistance with development and progress. The timescale of European politics, however, makes planning for the future a rocky path. “Politics is a short-term job,” says Baan. “Every four years politicians have to win an election, and it’s not easy if you can’t give them short-term benefits.”

Part of the hardship being faced, as Finaldi points out, is that museums and the service they provide are “difficult to quantify in financial terms.” It’s much easier for culture to become a priority in times of plenty, but to lose its priority when money is harder to come by. When he joined the Prado, the museum was two-thirds publicly funded, and one-third privately. Now, the situation is vice-versa. “It’s a significant shift,” he says. “We’re in a transitional phase.” In fact, the Prado’s annual accounts would be released a few days after the discussion, and would highlight problems.

As an example of the importance of art in a time of crisis, he draws on the story of London’s National Gallery in 1941, when the city was under the strategic bombing of the Blitz. “All the Gallery pictures were removed to a slate mine in Wales,” he explains, “but there was a public outcry. People were saying ‘we need our pictures’, and so Kenneth Clark, the Gallery director, accepts the cultural necessity and arranges that one picture is brought to London each month.” Every night the picture was taken to safe storage; but it satisfied the public demand and suggests that even in the worst of times cultural desires need to be nourished.

Potential can be found in the right strategy, particularly in mixed public/private partnerships, of which British museums have been at the vanguard. “As state funding has rolled back, private funding remains stable, with a small number of large benefactors rather than a large number of small ones. The model of a State-owned and State-funded museum is finished in this part of Europe,” says Finaldi. “In Spain, it’s going to be a mixed model. We’re in a period of cuts… but we have to argue that we are contributing to the net benefit from tourism and to the economy.” He also emphasizes the museum’s prestige, conservation work and research, the necessity to continue to offer times for free entry, as well as the art of diplomacy. “At the British Museum, they recently held a conference with Iranian specialists – two countries with political tension can come together to examine a millennial history that unites them both.”

Both speakers put their money on a bright future. “We have to be optimistic,” concludes Baan, and Finaldi agrees by verbally painting an enviable scene in the Prado. “We can exploit the virtual world, and we can also be exploited by it, but we can make the case for standing in front of Velazquez’ masterpiece ‘Las Meninas’ as the sun goes down, and say that it’s a unique place to visit.”

Hay 2 Comentarios

Many thanks for your comment Jana, and pleased to hear that you enjoyed your visit so much.

Interesting article. I was in the Prada a couple of years ago and was really impressed by its many buildings and sculptures.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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