Monday, 16 July 2007

La Sala – Cause or Effect?

The opening of La Sala – Vilanova’s centre of modern art - will add a new interesting stop to my family’s weekend walks. So, why do I ask myself whether the investment was justified? Maybe the reason is that I am mistaking an effect for being the cause.

Economist Florida teaches that those cities shall flourish which manage to attract the creative class. I first believed that our governing tripartit had been inspired by him when they approved the investment of € 1.470.000 in La Sala (C/Joaquim Mir, 12). Politically, I consider myself a liberal but still do not disagree with the idea that governments, at times, get involved in supporting and financing culture. However, being a realist, I am aware that resources are scarce, so I could not help asking myself the question: Why on earth would Vilanova need a centre of modern art?

I will try to explain the background of my doubts. Based on the number of inhabitants as well as average income and education levels, I guess that the amount of vilanovíns who really care about art is limited. Except for that, the town already has a few museums and neighbourhood centres (centre cívic) which include art exhibitions in their programs. Finally, Barcelona is less an hour’s drive from here and that metropolis in not only internationally recognized for its abundance of art museums but also has the financial strength to house temporary exhibitions of world famous artists. Based on this, I came to the conclusion that a centre of modern art located in Vilanova will not have any chance to attract a major audience. As if to confirm my suspicion, last Saturday when I went to La Sala with my family, we were the only visitors there and this when local media were still commenting on its opening.

I could not help feeling that the creation of an art centre was a very strange use of public funds. However, when I mentioned this to one of my Catalan friends, he suggested that I have let myself be fooled by how La Sala is now being presented and therefore misunderstand the whole situation. As he sees it, there existed a just cause for renovating a unique building since, apparently, this is the oldest still standing theatre house in Catalonia. Then, as an effect, somebody decided to make use of renovated space by creating a art centre.

If my friend is right, it is likely that a majority of Vilanova’s inhabitants consider it correct for the town to have invested in this project. They might not be particularly interested in modern art, but did want to see the La Sala renovated. Partly because the town has already let too much of its patrimony be destroyed, and partly since it brings back memories to them from the times when the building of the old theatre had been converted into a popular dance hall. The latter closed down as recently as in the 80-ies, so it is easy to imagine that quite a few of today’s decision makers had their first dance with their spouses-to-be under its vaults.

In the end, even I am prepared to stop questioning whether the investment was justified, as long as we start to capitalize on it. Summer is here and Vilanova is full of tourist, but I doubt that many of them know anything about the art centre. Today, La Sala is easy to find only if you are on your way to the hospital, but that is not exactly where visitors to our town desire to go. Attention creating information boards in the Rambla and clear sign posts in the alleys are inexpensive means to remedy this situation.

Maybe Vilanova can not hope to attract too much of the so called creative class, but we should be able to increase our importance in the market of quality tourism, especially if we focus on our nearest source of potential visitors - Barcelona. A small town like ours can hardly afford to build a centre of modern art attractive enough to encourage people from other towns to go here. However, for those who do come, the existence of such an institution will add value to their stay. The nice beaches and the sea, many an excellent restaurant as well as a Rambla with attractive shopping opportunities are already there. Now, to round off an imaginary itinerary, we can also offer a bit of modern art before people go home again. No matter whether La Sala was a cause or an effect, we will all benefit from it, by making it a part of the Vilanova experience.

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