Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Bravery Of Joan Valent

Pollensa's festival was able to go ahead last year thanks almost exclusively to the efforts and the contacts of its artistic director, Joan Valent. It was festival-lite as there wasn't any money. Valent is the Catalan word for brave. Joan Valent was brave to have taken on the task of organising the music and cultural festival. Indeed, he was more than that. If one can describe the organisation of a festival as heroic - and to be realistic, one can't - then brave Valent was a hero. So what does he get for his trouble? In his words, humiliation. 

In order to stage the festival, Valent called in favours from his many friends in the arts world, including the British composer and pianist Michael Nyman. He also needed to get substantial financial and sponsorship assistance from the private sector, which he did; from the Camper foundation, for example. However, there was one slight snag with this amassing of private sector funds. They couldn't, for bureaucratic reasons, be paid directly to Pollensa town hall under whose auspices the festival is organised. Instead, this private money went to an association that was set up by Valent expressly for the purpose of receiving the funds. It is this association that is now at the centre of a row that threatens not just Valent's future participation in the festival but possibly also the festival's continuation.

The town hall is going to open up the management of this year's festival, assuming it does happen, to tender. This is in response to "anomalies" that have arisen from the arrangements made for the 2012 festival. These anomalies do not mean any wrongdoing. They relate, so says the town hall's report, to a lack of detailed documentation and a problem with transparency and correct control of funds for public activities caused by the system that was put in place last year.

The trouble is that as soon as the word "anomalies" gets mentioned, it can be interpreted in a way that isn't intended. It is for this reason that Valent feels humiliated.

What is staggering about the whole affair is that Malena Estrany, ostensibly the number two to mayor Tomeu Cifre, despite the total current confusion at the town hall regarding councillor roles, was and maybe still is responsible for both culture and finance. The Pollensa festival clearly brings these two responsibilities together. Yet Sra. Estrany says that last year she and the town hall didn't know about the association until the festival was underway.

This beggars belief. How can the town hall not have known how the funds were being accounted for? If councillors genuinely didn't know, then questions must be raised as to, at minimum, their curiosity. Even if they did know, how else were the funds meant to have been organised, given, as Valent has pointed out, they couldn't go directly to the town hall?

The news of the report regarding the "anomalies" was badly managed. And to make matters worse, and so make Joan Valent even more upset, were remarks about the issuing of free tickets. Too many were given away, it has been alleged. Valent has come back on this one, referring specifically to the ten tickets (rather than the usual four) given to Sir Norman Foster, his family and friends. Foster was the guest of honour at the opening concert, one dedicated to him by Valent. Foster had paid for these people to come to Mallorca and for their stay. Valent, rightly enough, has queried how or why, under such circumstances, he should have refused the six additional free entrances.

And it wasn't only Norman Foster who was paying for his own travel. Valent himself says that he spent upwards of 30,000 euros of his own money in organising the festival, one which, in the end and despite the private-sector generosity of Camper, Barceló and others, was run on a shoestring.

Prior to the town hall's announcement of the tender for this year's festival and to the release of the critical report, Valent had been making progress in contacting various figures from the arts world to participate in this year's festival. One of these is the British author Ian McEwan. Now, arrangements for this year have been thrown into confusion.

There is one final point to make on this affair. Malena Estrany has been at pains to refer to "transparency" in connection with funding. Yet she is a councillor at a town hall which is consistently accused of a lack of transparency. Her argument smacks of expedience, the result of the current turmoil at the town hall, and perhaps it is one that is intended to deflect questions as to why she wasn't more aware of what was happening last year. 

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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