Angry artists snub prizes from ‘indifferent’ ministry

Spanish photographer Colita has become the second artist in just over a week to reject an award from Spain’s Education and Culture Ministry this autumn amid discontent over government policies for the arts.

Angry artists snub prizes from 'indifferent' ministry
Musician and composer Jordi Savall turned the prize down saying the Spanish government had shown a "shocking indifference and complete incompetence" when it came to art. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

The photographic artist Colita announced on Friday that she would not accept the 2014 National Photography Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, due to her dissatisfaction with government policies in these areas.

The news comes just over a week after the musician Jordi Savall rejected the equivalent annual award in the field of music, also citing his sense of indignation with the performance of Popular Party (PP) Education and Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert.

Colita, born Isabel Steva Hernández in Barcelona in 1940, explained her decision to turn down the €30,000 prize ($37,400) in a letter directed to Wert. Stating that the "cultural panorama in Spain is pitiful,” Colita said: "I wish to express to you, Mr Wert, that as the said National Photography prize comes from the Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport, I feel obliged to reject it. I do not know where that ministry is located or even if it exists as such. In any case, it is unknown to me."  

Wert has become a sharply divisive figure in Spain, thanks in large part to his ministry’s education reform, which limited the use of regional languages and gave greater importance to religion while the government simultaneously reduced the budget for public schools as part of its austerity programme. It has become a regular occurrence at prize-giving ceremonies to see students or other individuals picking up awards refuse to shake hands with the minister.

Wert has courted controversy with comments about wishing to “Hispanise Catalan students” and playing down the idea that any “brain drain” caused by Spanish youngsters fleeing a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent was negative for the country.

He also defended the government’s decision to raise VAT on all cultural activities to 21 percent from seven percent.

In reference to the tension between Madrid and Barcelona over plans for a referendum on independence for the Mediterranean region, Colita said in her letter that her "condition as a Catalan" had nothing to do with the decision, which was purely a protest against the national government’s cultural outlook.

Savall, a Catalan musician famed for his mastery of the viol (or viola da gamba), besides being a conductor and composer, said he could not accept the National Music Prize in order “not to betray his deepest-held principles and convictions” with regard to the PP government’s "shocking indifference and complete incompetence in the defence and promotion of art and its creators”.  

In 2013 another Catalan musician, Josep Soler, rejected the Gold Medal of Merit from the Spanish government, also citing its “horrendous policies” in education and culture.

The previous year, the well-known novelist Javier Marías turned down the National Fiction Prize, although in his case the writer explained that he had always maintained that he would never accept awards from a state body in Spain.

Asked about the two recent rejections of cultural prizes, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría asked that “the recognition that Spain gives to its artistic and cultural values should be respected, as in any other state.”

But in her letter, Colita said that she was looking forward to "other times, other people and other governments to give our pride back to us and to them their honour".

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IN PICS: How Barcelona’s La Rambla is set to be transformed

Authorities in the Catalan capital have started to redevelop Barcelona's most iconic street, not only transforming how it looks, but also the way it's used. Here's what it will be like and what you should know about the project.

IN PICS: How Barcelona's La Rambla is set to be transformed

More than 200,000 people walk along La Rambla de Barcelona (also called Las Ramblas) every day, adding up to around 80 million people a year. 

It’s by far the most famous street in Barcelona – perhaps even Spain together with Madrid’s Gran Vía – although nowadays it’s particularly popular with tourists visiting the city.

It’s lively, some would say chaotic, and in recent years pickpocketing and other illicit acts have tarnished its image. 

Now city authorities have embarked on an ambitious plan to transform Las Ramblas, providing more room for pedestrians and giving residents the chance to reclaim the space for their own enjoyment.

The plan to transform Barcelona’s emblematic Las Ramblas Street was first proposed back in 2017, but it wasn’t until last week that Catalonia’s Urban Planning Commission gave its final approval and the go-ahead for works to begin on Monday October 3rd.

The redevelopment has a total budget of €44.56 million and will be carried out in stages, with the first one expected to last 18 months.

The aim of the project is to modernise Las Ramblas, whilst at the same time, enhancing its historic elements and reactivating local commerce, as well as creating more space for pedestrians. 

The bottom of La Rambla near the port will be the first part to be transformed. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The new layout of the Rambla will improve the accessibility and connectivity between the Raval and Gòtico neighbourhoods.

La Rambla will become a greener space. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
Barcelona City Council also wants to make it a greener and nicer space for locals to use, as well as turning it into a cultural hub rather than just somewhere for tourists. 
New seating areas will be created under the trees along the route to ensure a balanced use of the public space between areas for leisure and areas where locals live.
The press kiosks will also be relocated and redistributed so that they do not face each other. Instead, they will be scattered between the trees along the Rambla de les Flors-Sant Josep, where they have historically been located. 

The way the pavements and roads look currently. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The pavement will be one of the main elements of transformation. In essence, city workers will reduce the amount of space allocated to vehicles and will give more of it to pedestrians.
There will now be one lane for vehicles rather than the current two, with sidewalks of at least 3 metres on either side.
Currently, the pavements on the sides of La Rambla are very slim and only allow for people to walk in single file, with others having to step onto the road to let people pass. 

A bird’s eye view of how the new Rambla will look. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The road will be restricted to neighbourhood traffic (residents’ vehicles), bicycles as well as service vehicles such as buses, taxis, delivery trucks and ambulances.

The central section of La Rambla will be widened. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The central promenade will also be widened, creating more space for both pedestrians and trees. It will be created from types of natural stone, granite and porphyry (a red stone embedded with quartz). This will allow for a simpler and more functional design.
There will no longer be any tarmac for vehicles either, the whole of Las Ramblas will be paved without a curb separating the road from the promenade.
In light of the terrorist attack on La Rambla in 2017, more security elements such as bollards and blockades will be incorporated. 

One of the new centres of La Rambla near the Liceu Theatre. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona
The plan is to create three large spaces, almost like plazas, including one near the Betlem church, one near the Boqueria market and one near the Liceu Theater. These will be configured differently and have a more circular flow, instead of just a longitudinal one, allowing for more cultural elements too.
The city council has already started creating more cultural events around Las Ramblas with the introduction of the Àgora Musical de la Plaça Reial festival, which has attracted more than 7500 people attending 50 concerts, held between June and October this year.