From the outside in

Xavier Cester, an international promoter at Catalan! Arts, writes on the region’s unique creative perspective, and why gaining global recognition for that uniqueness is crucial

Our goal at Catalan! Arts is clear: we ensure that Catalan cultural companies have access to international arts markets, and to promote the work of our artists abroad. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but this is exactly the kind of challenge we like.

Historically, Catalonia has always been proud of its traditions and, at the same time, open to modernity, to new trends and developments from abroad. I feel the region has its feet firmly on the ground – especially when stubbornly resisting all attempts to dilute our culture and our language. These defiant characteristics exist in the works of world famous Catalan artists like Gaudí, Dalí and Miró, but also in some of the most prestigious contemporary performers working today, like Jordi Savall, the gambist and conductor who has rediscovered many long forgotten gems of early music and who, like his late wife, the soprano Montserrat Figueras, firmly believes in the power of music to create bridges between cultures.

Here in Catalonia we have the talent, but as a small nation inside a bigger country, the road to international markets is not as straightforward as it seems. Nevertheless, it is a path we must pursue as our own market is relatively small. In the current economic crisis performing at home is a challenge for many companies, as a result internationalisation is more relevant than ever.

Catalonia is at the beginning of a process that may lead to independence from Spain. We don’t know what the future will bring, but at arts networking events such as Midem or WOMEX, our Catalan! Arts exhibitor’s booth exist separate to representatives from Spain. For many years now, we have attended these and other big international events on our own, aiming to give visibility to Catalan cultural companies. Nonetheless, we’re friends with the Spanish cultural institutions and occasionally collaborate on projects. Ultimately, in our work we’re talking about culture, not borders.

In times of reduced public budgets, we work hard to do more with less. Admittedly, as a regional government, we do not possess the financial resources that big governments like Spain, France or the Scandinavian countries allocate to the promotion of their cultural activities.We try to balance this with a more dynamic and imaginative approach, for instance, with colourful designs for our stands at international trade fairs that make Catalan! Arts easily identifiable.

One of the elements common to many Catalan arts groups is a distinct ‘Mediterranean’ sense of fun. Take for instance Sol Picó, a dance company that combines the influences of classical, contemporary and flamenco dance forms, to create an irrepressible body language coloured with a sharp sense of humour.

For musical groups, there is the added issue of language barriers; bands singing in Catalan may have fewer opportunities to sing in English or Spanish, though this is not always the case.Thanks to their impressive use of social networks, a band like La Pegatina (singing both in Catalan and Spanish) has brought its electrifying fusion of rumba and ska to countries all around Europe, and even as far as China.

Currently we’re producing our annual CD compilation of Catalan jazz, pop rock and world music, and, alongside well-known bands, it’s always a pleasure to discover new voices that are contributing to the region’s wealth of creative talent.

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