Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Onstage in Spain: Austerity ; Deep Economic Crisis Has Devastated Nation's Arts Organizations

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Onstage in Spain: Austerity ; Deep Economic Crisis Has Devastated Nation's Arts Organizations

Article excerpt

Europe's deep economic crisis has devastated the country's arts organizations.

There is no sign marking the door to La Poderosa, a dance and performance space on a scruffy street in the Raval neighborhood here. The door itself is low and set a few inches off the ground; to get inside, visitors have to climb up and duck down.

Up a flight of dusty stairs is an airy yet cozy loft with a slightly raised platform for performances at one end, a bar at the other and some hand-me-down tables and chairs. One afternoon, as the sun streamed through a wall of windows, Javier Vaquero Ollero sipped a beer and talked about the future.

"We really live day by day," said Mr. Vaquero Ollero, 28, a dancer and choreographer and a member of the collective that runs the space. "You cannot project about the future. You cannot have an idea of a project or design a certain kind of artistic project from one year's distance, because you actually don't know if you can pay the rent next month."

The rent on La Poderosa's loft isn't much: about $1,100 a month. But it's hard to pay even that when just a trickle is coming in. Like most arts organization in Spain the space used to draw the better part of its income from public subsidies. At the high point, a few years ago, La Poderosa was receiving about $90,000 a year from various government sources. It used that for rent, hosting performers and technical costs, and to give three members of the collective small salaries as employees.

Now it gets nothing. The housing bubble that began with the introduction of the euro and burst in Spain in 2008 was not unlike the one that helped cause recession in the United States. But the rigid austerity-focused response to Spain's crisis and the strictures of its membership in the euro zone have prevented any similar recovery from taking hold.

The recession continues to deepen; unemployment continues to rise. The jobless rate reached 22.8 percent at the end of 2012, more than double the European average, and is much higher for young people. Two successive governments have desperately cut spending to meet targets for aid from the European Union. If anything, the decisions have failed to stem the crisis and have been devastating for culture. A far greater proportion of arts budgets in Europe -- often upward of 50 percent -- comes from government subsidies than in the United States.

Private donations in Europe are generally not tax deductible, so when subsidies are cut, it is hard to generate new income to compensate. Ticket sales, the largest remaining source of revenue, have been affected by a large increase in the value-added tax, to 21 percent from 8 percent. (Using the tax's Spanish acronym, the newspaper El Pais coined a bitter rhyme, calling itan "IVA- guillotina.")

A calmly devastating report produced for the Culture Ministry and updated at the end of 2012 found that since 2009 the average cultural organization had reduced its budget or volume of activity by 49.8 percent. All in all the situation for the arts in Spain is dire, affecting both the underground, experimental world epitomized by La Poderosa and much more famous, mainstream institutions and personalities.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu here, one of Spain's two leading opera houses, has laid off about 100 employees since the crisis began. When asked in an interview in his office overlooking the bustling Ramblas Avenue what had changed at the Liceu since the crisis, Joan Francesc Marco, its general director, simply burst out laughing at the enormity of the answer. "Everything," he said.

The tenor Placido Domingo, sitting in the serene lobby of the seaside Arenas Hotel in Valencia recently, said, "The hope for everybody is that we go back to the level of quantity and quality we had before the crisis."

But quantity is a daunting problem at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, where Mr. Domingo was singing in the Verdi rarity "I Due Foscari." The house's budget and performance schedule have both been cut in half, and its soaring, retro-futurist Santiago Calatrava building, which opened in 2005, sits dormant most of the year. …

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