Spain, like other European countries, has placed great confidence in the ability of post-covid reconstruction funds to boost the growth of its economy and, incidentally, modernize it with a transition towards green and digital. Many have compared them to the huge spending ordered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the crash of 1929 to reduce unemployment caused by the Great Depression. Others, now that we are entering a phase of shock with China, have alluded to the times of the Cold War, when in the West public spending was not only trying to sustain a robust economy, but also to show that capitalism was superior to communism.
In both cases, one of the significant destinations for that money was culture. This is not the case with funds for the end of the pandemic. Culture has become irrelevant. In Spain, even more.
The precedent for the Great Depression
In the mid-thirties of the last century, the crisis that followed the crash of 1929 had devastated the American economy. Unemployment was 25% —a figure that in the Spain of the last decade would not stand out so much, but an aberration as well. Roosevelt launched several economic plans to get the country out of the crisis, including the Public Works of Art Project. 3,749 artists were hired to produce 15,663 paintings, murals, posters, designs and sculptures for public buildings. Other plans would pay people like the painters Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, later global stars. There were programs dedicated to music and theater —which covered tours of groups around the country—, to archeology, history and literature; writers who would later be recognized, such as John Cheever Y Saul Bellow, they wrote or edited books on the cultural particularity of towns or cities, guides to the different states, and stories about slaves or Indians. The poet W. H. Auden He called it “one of the noblest and most absurd projects undertaken by a state.”
Underlying the plan was the idea that culture was important for society to know itself a little better
When Roosevelt was asked why this project – to which little money was spent compared to the huge public works plans, such as the construction of schools, courthouses, parks and highways – he replied that the artists were workers like any other and they also had to eat. But, in addition, underlying the plan was the idea that culture was important to transmit stories, discover places and ennoble spaces that could, finally, make society know itself a little better.
Years later, already in the middle of the Cold War, the American government did things equally unthinkable todayThrough a private foundation that was actually funded by the CIA, he gave money to literary magazines around the world to convey that free culture was far superior to Soviet propaganda. He also paid for the tours of musicians like Louis Armstrong O Dizzy Gillespie by African or Middle Eastern countries so that their elites would see the American cultural superiority (and, incidentally, convey that it was not really a racist country); and he promoted abstract expressionist painters for the world to see that they were far more modern and interesting than the workers’ realism of Soviet propaganda. Culture, presidents like Dwight Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Y Lyndon B. Johnson, had a profound importance in the struggle of ideas, and the freedom with which it was created in the West, and in the United States in particular, could convince the world of its superiority in the face of communist control and repression. Any money spent on that was well spent, the promoters of those programs must have thought. Although they should have known that there was something morally debatable about them, since kept their cost a secret for as long as possible.
I do not pretend that the current governments pay for the cultural production of their countries in this way and use it as propaganda of any kind. It is better that a large part of books, plays, art and movies is created on the market, away from bureaucrats and government oversight. But between those times and ours there is a relevant difference: it is not that governments do not want to spend on culture, which may be reasonable, it is that it seems that no one, with the exception of cultural professionals, continues to believe that this is important for society in general or for the global political struggle. Maybe there is no need to regret too much, but It is striking and says a lot about the changes we are experiencing. It may be the end of one cultural age and the beginning of another. It doesn’t have to be bad, but we should think about it.
The European Union, within its Green Pact to accelerate climate neutrality, has launched the New Bauhaus project: inspired by the German Bauhaus of the 1920s —which gave birth to some of the architectural and design discoveries of the 20th century— , wants to promote, according to its website, “a creative and interdisciplinary initiative that is a meeting space to design future ways of life and that is located at the crossroads of art, culture, social inclusion, science and technology” . And it is exactly as boring and unexciting as the phrase with which it is advertised. The Government of Spain has stated that, in the next three years, it will spend 525 million euros of European funds on culture, 0.7% of the total. As the minister honestly acknowledged Rodríguez UribesIt is not yet known how these funds will be managed, when they will arrive, or if your ministry will have the resources and staff to implement them.
Let no one believe that this is one of the traditional requests of the cultural sector in which more public money is demanded, more pampering from politicians and more social recognition. Perhaps the time for these demands has passed and culture must assume that it is another industrial sector (2.4% of GDP, exactly) that does not deserve more than others, although not less. However, it is inevitable to be amazed at how quickly, as a society, we have decided that books, movies, or music are not particularly helpful in getting to know ourselves and defend certain forms of life in global politics.