Bilbao praises ‘museum that saved a city’

Locals in Bilbao say an art museum helped save their Spanish city from decline. Now they are glad to know their saviour, the Guggenheim, will be staying for some time.

Bilbao praises 'museum that saved a city'
The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao has just had its lease extended for another 20 years. Photo: Stefano Montagner/Flickr

With the initial lease set to expire, the US-based Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation on December 9th announced it was signing on to run its museum in the northern port city for another 20 years.

That was double the period previously envisaged for the new contract, and for those involved it was another sign that the museum satellite is a winning

The northern Basque port was a run-down mess in the early 1990s before the contemporary art museum ensconced itself there in its scaly titanium building, local leaders say.

"It is a real miracle that the Guggenheim is in Bilbao. This was a junk yard before," said the city's mayor Ibon Areso.

SEE ALSO: Top ten ways to spend a weekend in Bilbao

The Rothkos and Warhols hung from the museum's walls have helped give the city new life — and others across the world are following its example.

"This strategy was driven by globalization. It was very new at the time, but now it is being replicated," said Lluis Bonet, a specialist in cultural management at Barcelona University.

Apart from their New York base, the Guggenheims had already opened a collection in Venice and are now planning a new museum in Abu Dhabi.

Numerous other big museums are planning their own satellites as well, including several in Spain, a country slowly recovering from recession.

The Louvre has branched out from Paris to Abu Dhabi and to the northern French town of Lens. Paris's Pompidou Centre is planning to open a venue in Malaga, southern Spain.

In Russia, Saint Petersburg's Hermitage museum has announced plans for a branch in Barcelona.

Bilbao effect

The banks of Bilbao's Nervion river were grotty and dirty, dotted with abandoned factories before the project was launched that led to the Guggenheim opening in 1997.

"We were in a terrible state. There was high unemployment, industries had shut down, there were lots of drugs and the city hadn't been cleaned up for many years," said Iñaki Esteban, author of a book, "The Guggenheim Effect".

The more than €130 million ($170 million) museum was part of a plan to transform the city and diversify its economy, but it was controversial at the time.

"People didn't see how a museum could be an economic motor," Esteban said.

Now the area is brightly lit with parks and bicycle lanes woven around the ship-shaped metallic museum building designed by Canadian-born US architect Frank Gehry.

Seventeen million visitors have come through its doors and hotel stays in Bilbao have soared as foreigners have flocked to the city.

The Guggenheim directly or indirectly employs 5,000 people, and has brought in €3.5 in revenues to the region, officials say.

Bilbao had historically been one of Spain's most prosperous cities, but it had declined along with its heavy industries and shipyards.

Within a year of the museum opening, it had generated €144 million for the Basque region, and its unemployment rate has decreased to one of the lowest in Spain.

"The Guggenheim was a great success but it was not an isolated initiative. It was part of wider urban regeneration. They improved the port and built an underground train system," said Guillermo Dorronsoro, head of the business school at Bilbao's Deusto University.

Other cities have since imitated the "Bilbao effect" though not all have succeeded, mayor Areso said.

"There is much more to it than just putting a museum there. Bilbao's transformation would have been possible even without the Guggenheim. But we wouldn't have become so well-known internationally."

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UPDATE: What next for the 2 million people in Spain who had the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine?

Due to side-effect concerns, the Spanish government has decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now only going to be given to those aged 60 to 69. But hundreds of thousands of other people in Spain who have received the first dose of this vaccine now find themselves in limbo.

UPDATE: What next for the 2 million people in Spain who had the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine?
People in the northern Spanish city of León queue to get the Covid vaccine. Photos: CESAR MANSO, GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

On April 7th, the Spanish government announced it would reserve the AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 60, after an EU regulator said blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of the jab.

This decision has left 23 percent of those who received at least one dose of the vaccine, in limbo. 

The circa two million people who received just their first AstraZeneca dose, before this announcement was made, mostly includes key workers such as teachers, police, firefighters, physiotherapists and chemists, the majority of them under the age of 59.

Spain’s Ministry of Health has confirmed that only 97 people received both AstraZeneca doses, which were spaced 10 weeks apart.

Those who received the first dose who are between ages 60-69 will still receive their second AstraZeneca vaccine, but what will happen to those who are younger?

Currently, there are two different scenarios that are being considered. 

READ ALSO: Spain reserves AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 60

Will the AstraZeneca vaccine be combined with another inoculation?

A clinical trial conducted by the Carlos III Health Institute is currently taking place, with 600 participants in two hospitals in Madrid, two in Barcelona and one in Bilbao to determine what should be done.

Director of the Institute Raquel Yotti announced that those taking part in the trial will be receiving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine instead of the AstraZeneca one.

The volunteers were all given their first AstraZeneca vaccine nine weeks previously and out of these, 400 of the participants will receive their second dose of Pfizer.

“This will assess the impact of the intensification of the immune response when the second dose is the Pfizer one,” explained Jesús Antonio Frías, coordinator of the Carlos III Health Institute’s clinical research network.

If the trial is successful, this same method could be carried out on all of the roughly two million people in Spain, who have only received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

The study, which has been named CombiVacs, has already been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

The goal was to have the results of the trial as soon as possible, but on April 30th the Health Ministry announced that would delay the fate of those who had received just one dose by an extra four weeks. 

This will take the amount of time between most people’s doses from 12 to 16 weeks. The decision will give extra time for the results of the clinical trial. 

However, the announcement has caused opposition from the Community of Madrid, as well as authorities in Castilla-La Mancha and Aragón.

Even experts from the Spanish Vaccine Commission have proposed that it would be safe to administer the second dose of Astrazeneca to those over the age of 40.

Will those who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca receive only one dose? 

The second option being considered is that those left in limbo won’t receive a second dose at all. 

It is believed that even a single dose of AstraZeneca provides 70-75 percent protection against Covid-19, according to the news site OK Diario.

Will Spanish regions change their vaccine strategy?

The current government vaccine strategy in principle is to vaccinate those between 60-69 with AstraZeneca and those 70 and above with either Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen.

However, the government recently announced that it will give each autonomous community free reign on which vaccine it will use for the over 60s, depending on its availability.

The Health Ministry said: “Regions can vaccinate with all available vaccines” given that “there will be more than enough”.

AstraZeneca will not be used on a voluntary basis

The government however has categorically rejected the proposals of some regions, including Madrid and Catalonia, to allow those under 60 to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca on a voluntary basis.

It said that it does not seem appropriate to offer the vaccine to those under the age of 60, who wish to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca. 

“Once again, we must remember that which vaccine people receive cannot be based on individual choice, but must be based on efficacy and different population groups,” the Health Ministry wrote. 

READ ALSO: Region by region: What foreigners in Spain should do to register for the Covid-19 vaccine