Arts in Basque Country

Still under construction, Tabakalera reaches out to public

San Sebastián cultural center starts "community building"

Tabakalera building under construction
Tabakalera building under construction

Currently undergoing refurbishment work, San Sebastián's Tabakalera center is aspiring to set the standard for contemporary art in the Basque Country when it reopens in 2015. In the meantime, organizers are attempting to get the word out about "the Factory," as director Ane Rodríguez calls it.

At the moment, Tabakalera is overrun with cranes, scaffolding, and machinery. All that remains is the skeleton of the building, which, once renovated, will offer a total of 37,000 square meters for contemporary cultural exhibits. Tabakalera will reserve 10,000 square meters for its own exhibitions. The rest of the building will be divided up between the Basque Institute, the Basque Film Archive, the San Sebastián Film Festival and the Kutxa savings bank. A further 2,600 square meters are still to be occupied, but the center's management team is in the process of finding "desirable neighbors" to fill the space. Ultimately, they hope international brands and businesses will hold cultural activities at the center.

This year, Tabakalera has a total budget of 1.1 million, which comes from the Basque Government, the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and San Sebastián City Hall. This is slightly more than last year, when the three administrations spent 375,000 euros each.

All that remains is the skeleton of the building, which, once renovated, will offer a total of 37,000 square meters for contemporary cultural exhibits

Over the next two years, the Tabakalera project will focus on public outreach work. Rodríguez says organizers will attempt to "build a community" by commissioning four cultural projects and admits there will be a "trial and error" period in which Tabakalera will have to "settle into its environment." But ultimately, she hopes the international contemporary cultural center will be a place "for creators and citizens."

As renovations continue, the Tabakalera is moving ahead with the cultural components. This month, it will hold design workshops in the old fire station, as well as other activities in the Egia neighborhood, where the Factory is located. It plans to collaborate with residents to construct a "map" of unused spaces that might lend themselves to higher cultural or social functions.

The Tabakalera is undergoing a phase of experimentation, says Rodríguez, which she hopes one day will lead it to becoming the "most important cultural center in the Basque Country."