National Arts Prize winners say “no, thank you” to protest government cuts

Photographer and musician decline awards to highlight “shameful” state of culture sector

Blanca Cia
Photographer ‘Colita,’ in a photo from 2009.
Photographer ‘Colita,’ in a photo from 2009.chema moya (efe)

Two winners of this year’s Spanish National Arts Prizes have turned down their awards, accusing the government of systematically damaging the sector.

Photographer Isabel Steva i Hernández, better known as Colita, along with musician Jordi Savall, have both rejected their €30,000 prizes, which the government awards each year to leading figures from a range of artistic endeavors. They have both published open letters to Arts, Education, and Sports Minister José Ignacio Wert outlining their unhappiness with government cuts and taxes that have hit the arts and entertainment sectors hard.

I do not even know if there is an arts ministry any more, and so must turn down the prize”

“I do not even know if there is an arts ministry as such any more, and so must turn down this prize… The arts and education [sectors] in Spain are in a shameful state, which pains my heart. We will have to wait with hope for other times, other people, other governments to restore our pride and their honor,” said Colita, adding: “I have no wish to appear in a photograph with you.”

Savall, an internationally renowned early music expert, turned down his prize last week blaming the Spanish government for what he called its “dramatic lack of interest and incompetence in defending and promoting the arts and its creators”.

Education, culture and sports minister, José Ignacio Wert.
Education, culture and sports minister, José Ignacio Wert.

Both Colita and Savall are Catalans. However, Colita made clear that her protest had nothing to do with the independence campaign in the region or the informal referendum held on November 9 to measure support for sovereignty there.

Savall made no reference to Catalan independence in his letter, but noted: “We cannot permit … those responsible at the highest positions in the Spanish government to erode with impunity the hard work of so many musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, writers and artists who determine the true standard of culture and who certainly don’t deserve the treatment that they receive, since they are the true protagonists of the cultural identity of this country.”

The pair’s refusal to accept the National Arts Prize in protest at government policies follows writer Javier Marías’ decision in 2012, and that of painter Santiago Sierra in 2010, to do the same.

Speaking on November 7, after the weekly Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said that individuals were within their “right” to accept or reject the prizes, explaining that the awards were decided by an independent jury, and called on the recipients “to respect the recognition that Spain can show of its artistic and cultural values, like any other state.”

Spain's arts scene has been hit hard by deep spending cuts of around 25 percent. Movie and theater tickets sales have also been affected by a large hike in the value-added tax on tickets, to 21 percent from eight percent.

Senior figures from the Spanish movie industry have called on the government to repeal the sales tax on films and concerts, saying the entertainment industry faces collapse, with tens of thousands of jobs at stake.

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