A lively museum in artistic Spanish city of Valencia

In the late 1980s, the Spanish city of Valencia emerged on the European cultural map as one of the most happening and talked about cities. In just a few years, talk about the «Spanish miracle» spread and Valencia became the cultural capital of Spain and a prime artistic center in Europe. To a large extent, the city’s transformation happened thanks to the large financial investment the local government had made in culture. But it was also thanks to the work of people driven by motivation and a clear vision. Consuelo Ciscar Casaban, general director for the promotion of culture and artistic patrimony in Valencia’s regional goverment for nine years, was a main protagonist in the city’s transformation. For the past year, Ciscar Casaban has put her expertise toward running the Valencia Institute of Modern Art (IVAM), a dynamic museum and one of the pillars of Valencia’s cultural rebirth back in the late ’80s when the museum was founded by the city’s regional goverment. The museum operates on the same outward-looking, cultural policy for which Valencia has become so well known. With probably the biggest collection of Julio Gonzalez works in its ownership (390 works in total, with four or five owned by the Pompidou), the museum is in a position to negotiate the exchange of exhibitions with some of the biggest museums worldwide. The exhibition on Julio Gonzalez that just opened here in Athens at the National Gallery’s Glyptotheque is drawn from IVAM’s collection and is on its third stop on a tour that began in Paris and included the Netherlands. Another traveling exhibition on Gonzalez’s work, organized again by IVAM, will be in Chicago on a US tour that began in New York and then moved on to Los Angeles. «A total of 1,700 works from IVAM’s permanent collection are at this moment touring the world. In total, there are eight exhibitions that the museum has organized across the world at this time,» Ciscar Casaban said in a press conference organized by the National Gallery on the occasion of her visit to Athens for the opening of the Gonzalez exhibition. She also said that a cooperation is planned in 2006 with the DESTE Foundation to bring works from the Dakis Joannou collection to IVAM. It is this kind of open cultural policy and collaboration with international institutions and artists that has helped bring Valencia worldwide attention. When, for example, Ciscar Casaban and her team organized the first biennale for the arts, she invited renowned international artists to plan the event. Bob Wilson, Achille Bonito Oliva, Emir Kusturitsa and Irene Papas – whom Ciscar Casaban also invited to direct the newly established school for the art of set design (a branch subsequently opened in Rome and one is expected to open in Athens this coming summer) – are some of the artists who went to Valencia for the city’s art first art biennial in 2001. The blend of the local with the international also shows in IVAM’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. A total of 9,000 works trace the origins of Spanish, European and American modern art and its developments to the present. Besides the Julio Gonzalez collection, IVAM also owns a large number of works by the early modern painter Ignacio Pinazo. Schwitters, Calder, Arp and Lipchitz are just a few names in its collection of European sculpture. The museum can also pride itself on a substantial photography collection. Although IVAM constantly strives to enrich its permanent collection, its main principle is to remain a dynamic, lively, contemporary museum that, as its director said, can draw people from different backgrounds and artistic fields. «We want to be an interdisciplinary museum of the 21st century. IVAM is open to all the arts and shows their crossover,» said Ciscar Casaban. So far, IVAM has proved a success. It has helped to nurture the artistic scene of the city and has managed to integrate art into the lives of the city’s inhabitants. A large public library with special educational programs and workshops as well as services for the disabled (in a exhibition on sculpture for example, the museum will make reproductions that the blind may touch to get a sense of the originals), reflect IVAM’s priority to be as democratic and accessible as possible. Attendance is high and artists have also responded enthusiastically. «Of the 9,000 works in our collection, 4,000 are artists’ donations,» Ciscar Casaban said. However, it has mainly been the solid funding provided by the Generalitat of Valencia (IVAM is attached to the council of Culture, Education and Sport of the Regional Goverment of Valencia and takes no share of the country’s state goverment funds) that has enabled the museum to grow. Currently, annual funding amounts to 12 million euros, with 6 million more coming from private sponsorships. At the press conference that the National Gallery held especially for Ciscar Casaban, the museum’s director, Marina Lambraki-Plaka, remarked on the huge difference in funding between the two institutions. With 1.400 million made available to the National Gallery each year, the Greek museum has almost 10 times less funds to make ends meet than its Spanish counterpart. IVAM’s generous funding is really part of the broader, cultural policy that supports the arts and for which the Regional Goverment of Valencia has been so well reputed. A typical example of this policy is the commission of big-budget architectural projects from the Valencia-born, renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. The huge urban complex of the City of Arts and Sciences, with the eye-shaped, planetarium at its center and partially designed by Calatrava in the late 1990s, is one of the city’s landmarks. Another of Calatrava’s designs, the 4,000-seat Opera, which just opened, is also bound to be another landmark. «We receive almost 2 million visitors a year who come to look at Calatrava’s building,» Ciscar Casaban said. Again, Lambraki-Plaka made a comparison between the two cities by noting that Calatrava’s designs at the Athens Olympic Sports Center are not accessible to the general public as the sports center is closed. IVAM holds a substantial collection of Calatrava’s work and collaborated with the National Gallery for Calatrava’s exhibition held here in 2002. What Valencia has shown is that culture can be used as a financial investment. By investing in culture, the government of Valencia has not only enriched the cultural life of the city’s residents but has also turned the city into an art capital and a travel destination for people from all over the world. IVAM and the work of Ciscar Casaban both help continue this policy that serves as a model of how, if given a clear objective, cities can change at a rapid and steady pace.