Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Festival, War Is Over

"The festival aims to be an essential cultural crossroads of the Mallorcan summer, one that is open to the people, to the residents of Pollensa or to the numerous visitors, so that this is not a closed programme of cultural activities but one with the involvement of local people and visitors that bestows on Pollensa the cultural benefits of hosting a festival of this type."

This, and I accept it may not be the best of translations, is the text from the introduction of the press dossier for this year's Pollensa Festival. The "crossroads" is a literal translation, but it could have a double meaning. The festival is very much at a crossroads, potentially about to take a wrong turning and ending up in a blind alley of politicking, recrimination and indifference.

The announcement of this year's programme has hardly been given the fanfare that last year's was. Then, everyone was friends. The town hall was extraordinarily grateful to the director, Joan Valent, for all his valiant efforts in putting on a new multi-disciplinary festival despite the best efforts of the regional government's tourism ministry to undermine it by withdrawing its financial support. Last year, the mayor and his second-in-command, Malena Estrany, sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder with Valent and others. How things can change in a year.

So much of a fanfare has there been this year that, despite the programme having been issued to the press, Pollensa town hall hasn't (or hadn't by this morning) bothered to mention the festival on its Facebook page. Valent, on his Facebook page, merely gives a link to a newspaper article that explains the line-up.

Valent, who complained of being treated as though he were a thief when the town hall's report was issued which made suggestions of "anomalies" in the accounts for last year, has still managed to put an event together, regardless of all the politicking, in which he has become a part. Why, opposition groups want to know, was his confirmation of director for the next two years made without the post being put out to some form of tender? You wouldn't completely rule out Valent deciding to simply walk away from the festival rather than have to endure all this. Frankly, who could blame him?

The dossier given to the press was notable for what it didn't say. The background to the whole sorry affair that has been the lead-up to this year's festival has assumed far greater significance than the festival itself. But, of course, the dossier makes no mention of it. The festival, which takes war as part of its theme in devoting its literature programme to war and having as one of its concerts Stravinsky's "Soldier's Tale", has a back story of warring, one glossed over in promoting the inclusiveness of the festival - one that is open to the people, so the blurb says.

In the end, suggestions as to some of those who might have been putting in an appearance have come to nothing. There is no Ian McEwan and no Paul Preston. Figures from the world of literature are internationally renowned, we are told, but few if any will strike a chord. The festival may be inclusive, but inclusive of what and for whom? The broadened appeal that the festival had undergone before the crisis and near disaster of last year and this has narrowed. It is multi-disciplinary but it still reeks of exclusiveness rather than inclusiveness.

But does this matter? Not really. Culture comes in different forms, and the most important thing is that culture is allowed to flourish and to present a face of a civilised society. Pollensa's festival has always done this, but unfortunately a face of civilised society has been distorted by the lack of civility which has been shown to its chief benefactor - Valent. Its flourish in the sense of both prosperity and of ornate musicality has been diminished and been made diminuendo by the padlocks on the coffers. Even a benefactor from last year, the Camper Foundation, has decamped, preferring to divert its benefaction to soup kitchens rather than to symphonies. Priorities are thus, one has to conclude, when civilised society cannot help the most needy and struggles to insist that it still exists and does so, apologetically, through the tremulousness of a vibrato.

At times of impoverishment, however, culture and civilised culture in particular is needed more than ever. The Pollensa Festival, for all that it can be criticised, is nevertheless part of a beauteous aesthetic without which there would be greater darkness. Let us just hope that, theme of war or no theme of war, its own local war can be called a halt to.

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