Spain/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

Spanish cultural policy has undergone profound and rapid changes since 1977. The cultural model of the democratic period has combined the determination of the state to foster culture with a massive decentralisation of administrative tools, in accordance with the rules for the territorial government laid down in the Constitution of 1978. This model has also tried to favour an increase in the involvement of private companies and civil society in running the country's culture. However, the model has experienced profound changes in the last three years, as a result of the economic crisis but also of the re-centralising tendencies in the new Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.

In any case, since democracy, there has been a desire to attain the much-sought-after "European standard" in terms of cultural supply and demand.

In terms of power, the decentralisation of Spanish cultural policy operates on the basis of competition among the different levels of government. Thus, the central government holds exclusive responsibility for protecting cultural property against export, for creating legislation to protect copyright, and for overseeing the basic rules on freedom of expression, creation and communication, and regulating the means of communication (radio, television and the press) solely to the extent that such freedoms are threatened. At the same time it retains the ownership of certain major cultural institutions, such as some museums, archives and libraries, even if their administration is sometimes delegated to the regions.

The regions led the radical decentralisation of cultural policy, in which three phases can be identified:

  • the first lasted until 1988, in which the administrative structures and plans were laid out;
  • the second, dominated by something akin to a "1992 fever" when, as a direct or indirect result of the commemorations of that year, cultural spending of many regions rose out of all proportion. This came along with the desire of every region to build cultural equipment and infrastructures; and
  • the third phase, much more discerning in its policies and restrictive in its spending.

The high-water mark of decentralisation can be seen in the mid-1990s. From then on, cities took on the bulk of responsibility for cultural promotion and dissemination, as is evidenced by the two European Capitals of Culture, Santiago de Compostela in 2000, and Salamanca, in 2002, with Donostia / San Sebastián having been designated for the year 2016.

The only statutory obligation to which municipal authorities are subject is that of providing libraries where the inhabitants number more than 5000. In practice, however, local authority involvement in cultural activities now accounts for over 50% of all public spending at all levels on culture (see also chapter 6). A distinction should be drawn between the bigger cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Valladolid, Bilbao, Seville, Oviedo, Salamanca, La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela), capable of funding major projects and activities, and the medium-sized and smaller towns, which must do with providing the basics (libraries) and supporting patron-saint festivals and other strictly local events.

In the last few years, as provision of cultural activities became more professional, efforts have been made to make support for culture more flexible, drawing from resources at all three levels of government. At the political level, the Popular Party's terms in office have meant the defence of greater involvement of the private enterprise and civil society in the organisation of cultural events. In terms of power, the first Popular Party's terms (1996-2004) questioned the existing model and set its sights on more popular participation in the configuration of collective symbolic production. This was the background to legislative changes (see chapter 3 and  chapter 5) introduced in that period aimed at obtaining private funds for certain cultural activities. The new term, initiated at the end of 2011, has also meant other changes in the orientation of cultural policies. Partially motivated by the strong economic crisis, the policy of the Ministry has led to questioning not only public expenditure on culture, but also its decentralised organisational model.

Traditionally, the decentralised Spanish policy has favoured the adoption of different models for cultural management and for the support and promotion of artistic creation. Sometimes, the creation of arms-length bodies has been encouraged; while sometimes, advisory councils have tried to connect cultural policy with relevant cultural stakeholders. One example of a hybrid institution is the National Council for Culture and the Arts in Catalonia. This arms-length body, the first instrument of its kind in the Spanish state, was approved by the 6/2008 Act with the main objectives of ensuring the development of cultural activity and collaborating in drawing up both cultural policy and policy that supports and promotes artistic and cultural creation. The council was reformed in 2011, and it was given a new structure and configuration that sought to reinforce it as a supervisor and assessor of public cultural policies, while losing many of its executive functions (11/2011 Act of restructuring of the public sector). Also with an advisory character, since 2000, the Community of the Basque Country has a collegial body of participation, cooperation and advice in the field of culture, attached to the relevant department in the field of culture of the Basque government (Decree 27/2008 that modifies the Decree 219/2000). In the same line, the Andalusian Agency of Cultural Institutions (Act 1/2011 and Decree 103/2011) was created in 2011 by merging some previous arms-length institutions. It is attached to the regional cultural department and has wide functions in the management, programming and promotion of cultural programmes. More recently, the autonomous community of Castile-Leon has created the Council for Cultural Policies (Decree 26/2012) as a regional organ of participation, consultation, analysis and coordination in the field of culture, arts and cultural heritage.


Chapter published: 24-06-2015


EN | ES