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Spain/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Anna Villarroya in cooperation with Victoria Ateca-Amestoy

The development of democratic cultural policies in Spain cannot be understood without an awareness of the long dictatorship period between 1939 and 1975. The victory of the Nationalists in the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 ushered in the dictatorship of General Franco. In a first period, academies and cultural institutions were purged, and many scientists and artists were exiled abroad. The Press Act of 1938 imposed censorship and state monopoly control over information. The single political party controlled a powerful press and propaganda machine. The official culture of Francoism combined fervent nationalism with equally fervent Catholicism. Its artistic predilection was for traditional styles. It appealed to Spain's imperialist past and expounded at great length on the brotherhood of the Spanish-speaking people. A good deal of the institutionalisation of regional cultures was undone, and the social use of Peninsular languages other than Spanish was pushed aside. "Evasion culture", comprising football, bullfighting, film, radio, popular fiction and gossip magazines, provided the government with instruments for social integration and the maintenance of political unawareness.

Madrid, Monument of Felipe IV

From the 1960s onwards, rigid press and education policies began to soften. The new Press Act of 1966 was a timid effort at deregulation. Provisions were made for the public funding of cultural activities and support was given to selective avant-garde projects such as the San Sebastian film festival, or Spanish participation in international art biennials. Despite this, however, economic and cultural developments opened a major divide between society's demands and what the regime had to offer. The expanding gap was filled by the recovery of the Spanish liberal-reformist tradition of the early 20th century, and with it, although often in opposition, by a new culture of critical consciousness among widening university and artistic circles.

Upon Franco's death in 1975, Spain was a much more modern and open-minded country than its political regime. Economic and educational development, together with the greater class equilibrium obtained after the 1960s, explains the relaxed approach adopted by Spaniards to the return of democracy and subsequent membership to the European Community. In 1976–7, the first governments of the restored monarchy introduced decisive reforms of the press laws. The Ministry of Information and Tourism was closed, the state-run newspapers were shut down or sold off, and Radio Nacional's monopoly on radio broadcasting ended. The Constitution of 1978 and the charters of regional autonomy set up under its aegis, initiated a period of freedom of the press and artistic expression, combined with greater state activity in disseminating culture and in giving full recognition to the cultural and linguistic diversity of Spain.

In 1977, the Ministry of Culture was established, being given the responsibilities formerly held by the Ministry of Education for the national heritage and fine arts. It also became responsible for film, theatre, music and dance policies, until then the responsibility of the Ministry of Information and Tourism. The Ministry stood by the principles of neutrality of the state in cultural issues and recognised the plurality of civil society. By means of international exhibitions, congresses, prizes and appointments, much of the cultural heritage silenced by Francoism was recovered, and the work of exiled artists and intellectuals recognised. The work of the Ministry, and fundamentally from many city councils, was decisive in developing the cultural infrastructure (museums, archives and libraries), in protecting the country's cultural heritage, and promoting new or existing cultural institutions (the National Orchestra, the National Ballet, the National Drama Centre, the National Classical Theatre Company, etc.)

As from 1982, different Socialist governments stressed the need for the state to be present in those areas where private initiative was likely to be lacking. In the initial phase, up to 1986, the central goal was to preserve the much-deteriorated historic and artistic heritage (Historical Heritage Act, 1985), renovate theatres and auditoriums, and subsidise artistic expression. It was found that the political aims and the gradual transfer of responsibilities to the regional authorities required that the Ministry be slimmed down and reorganised. It was in this period that the Ministry of Culture was given its operational structure, which has remained virtually the same to this day (Decree of 24 April, 1985).

In a second phase, from 1986 to 1996, the authorities staged a series of events that brought their cultural policies to the foreground of public attention. They included the inauguration of museums and concert halls such as: the Reina Sofía Museum and Art Centre, the National Museum of Roman Art of Merida, 1986; the Concert Hall of Madrid, 1988; the Valencia Institute of Modern Art and the Modern Art Centre of the Canary Islands, 1989; the Festival Hall of Cantabria, 1991; the Galician Centre of Contemporary Artand the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Collection, 1993; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona and the Domus Museum of La Coruña, 1996. In addition, a number of major international events were held, which had a major cultural element, such as the Barcelona Olympics, the Seville Expo, the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of America and the Madrid European Cultural Capital 1992. Plans were also made to promote the book publishing and the film industry. Cultural networks were established and efforts made to raise the level of professional expertise of artists and performers. Outside Spain, the world began to recognise the recovery in the confidence of Spanish art and culture and the authorities took steps to encourage this, culminating in 1991 with the establishment of the Cervantes Institute.

These were years of exuberant artistic activity and freedom of expression, in which Spanish artists brandished a dizzying array of political and cultural banners while their international colleagues were welcomed to join in. The number of exhibitions, concerts, festivals and summer schools responded to a deep-seated social need. The turnout for cultural events rocketed, while publishing, the music and film industries developed at breakneck speed. At the initiative of either the central or the regional authorities, major urban refurbishments were designed with museums, arts centres, and concert halls as their hubs.

This cultural explosion coincided with, and to a certain extent masked, the lack of real resources: very few public libraries; poor reading habits; indifferent conservation of cultural heritage, and the low standard of much artistic training. The decentralised structure of government often succeeded in recovering and strengthening regional cultural diversity but did not always bring about a broader participation in cultural events or improve the standards of artistic creation. The expectations raised by private television, introduced in 1988, were dashed by the banality of its content. The dichotomy of mass and avant-garde culture and the loss of the political function held by creativity in the days of the dictatorship soon became signs of the normalisation of Spanish culture after 1975.

The political regime enshrined in the 1978 Constitution did much to encourage the cultural activities of both the autonomous communities or regions and the municipal councils. The regions have been very active in caring for their heritage and building new and imposing amenities. In those regions with their own language, much cultural activity is directed at recovering and developing the sense of regional identity, particularly by means of statutory initiatives to protect these languages. The local administrations, responsible for the bulk of national expenditure for culture, were from the first democratic municipal elections in 1979 very active in the use of culture and in recovering the streets and squares as public agora.

In 1996, the incoming liberal-conservative government of the Popular Party merged the Ministry of Culture with that of Education in a new Ministry with a State Secretariat for Culture. Two different strategies could, in theory, support this decision: on the one hand, the creation of a Commission for Cultural Affairs which would promote culture as a priority area; on the other, the development of a closer relationship between educational and cultural policy. In its second term (2000-2004), the government added sports to the Ministry's responsibilities. Despite changes to the status of the State Secretariat for Culture, its organisational structure has remained remarkably unaltered since 1985.

Since the second half of the 1990s, the approach to cultural policy has been to ensure the cultural neutrality of the state and to recognise regional cultural diversity. While it may seem that an emphasis has been placed more on "looking after the heritage", artistic creation has not suffered as a consequence. The broad outlines of ministerial action remain the same: protection and dissemination of Spain's historic heritage; management of the great national museums, archives and libraries and promotion and dissemination of film, theatre, dance and music.

More specifically, during the Popular Party's two terms in office (1996-2000 and 2000-2004), a large Investment Plan assisted the reform and improvement of auditoriums, museums, archives and libraries, and increased the public access to cathedrals, castles, religious buildings, industrial architecture and natural landscapes. New technologies entered the archives sector, and the Plan for the promotion of reading was part of an effort to increase cultural participation. A large portion of the Ministry's investment budget was allocated to Madrid's Paseo del Arte, including extensions of the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. Other substantial investments were directed to the renovation of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia and the Royal Theatre Opera House in Madrid and the Liceu Opera House in Barcelona. Support to the film industry was expanded and consolidated by a new Cinema Act (Act 15/2001).

The deregulatory tendency of the Popular Party's government led to efforts to involve the private sector in major cultural initiatives. Management efficiency and operational autonomy were the keywords in reorganising the Prado Museum and the Spanish National Orchestra and Choir (2003), and in setting up bodies such as the two state corporations for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad (SEACEX) and Cultural Commemorations (SECC). New tax legislation was adopted to stimulate private funding of cultural initiatives, such as the Sponsorship and Foundation Act of 2002.

The Socialist Party took office following the General Elections in March 2004 and reorganised the government's ministerial structure (Royal Decree 1601/2004 on the Structure of the Ministry of Culture). The Ministry of Culture was again established as a separate entity from the Ministry of Education, although it included the same departments as the former State Secretariat for Culture: the Directorate-General for Fine Arts and Cultural Assets; the Directorate-General for Books, Archives and Libraries; and the Directorate-General for Cultural Cooperation and Communication. Other bodies, which previously depended on the State Secretariat, gained independent status and a certain degree of operating autonomy, although they remained under the umbrella of the new Ministry: the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum and Art Centre, the National Library, the National Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts and the National Institute of Performing Arts and Music.

Following re-election in 2008, the new socialist government restructured the departments of the Ministry of Culture (Royal Decree 1132/2008 on the Structure of the Ministry of Culture), and made the cultural industries one of its main priorities. Thus, a new Directorate-General for Cultural Industries and Policy was created, which replaced the Directorate General for Cultural Cooperation and Communication.

The economic crisis which started in late 2007 in the financial sector has also had its effects on culture, resulting in a reorganisation of the Ministry of Culture and austere budgets as a key way of reducing the public deficit.

The November 2011 elections led the Popular Party to the government and the integration of culture in a new Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport with a State Secretariat for Culture (Royal Decree 257/2012 on the Structure of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport). Beyond structural changes and cuts in public budgets, culture and education have been two of the subjects that have caused greater disagreement between the central government and the autonomous communities, in particular, those with their own language (see also chapter 2.3).


Chapter published: 19-03-2014

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              Council of Europe/ERICarts, "Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 15th edition", 2014 | ISSN 2222-7334