Spain's actors, directors and musicians come out for culture

Industry's biggest names lend their voices to protests against tax rises in sector

Director Pedro Almodóvar (top right) poses with other Spanish stars in protest against VAT hikes. / GORKA LEJARCEGI/Samuel Sanchez

Beginning in September, Spaniards will have to pay the highest value-added tax (VAT) in the entire euro zone to buy a ticket to a play, a circus act, a concert or a film at a movie theater. Neither countries that are performing well, such as Germany, nor countries suffering horribly, such as Greece, come even close to the 21-percent levy that is about to be slapped on cultural performances in Spain.

"Culture is not a luxury, it is a public access commodity," says the actor Juan Diego Botto. "To make cuts in culture is to produce citizens who don't think much. To be a free citizen you have the right to bread and the right to read a good book, see a good movie and go to the theater."

Around 30 representatives of film, theater, music and art heeded EL PAÍS' call to analyze the way the crisis is affecting culture in Spain. Some individuals put their thoughts down on paper, while others took up placards.

Pedro Almodóvar, Nuria Espert, Mario Gas, Juan Diego Botto, Alberto San Juan, Soledad Lorenzo, Anni B Sweet, Paco León and Miguel Abellán came to the Matadero de Madrid cultural center to express their anger, fear and sense of disbelief.

While accepting that culture is not as basic as a basket of goods, even economists argue that it is an essential component of civic values.

To make cuts in culture is to produce citizens who don't think much"

"Culture is a very important cohesive element in society. In Spain we have a deficit when it comes to the notion of social capital, which means citizen participation, and culture is a substantial element of this," says Santiago Lago, a professor of applied economics.

"From a fiscal viewpoint, you have to treat culture the opposite way you treat tobacco. The public sphere must discourage smoking because it is bad for smokers and for their surroundings, but you have to encourage culture because its external effects are positive in making society function in a more civilized way."

The value-added tax rise, from eight to 21 percent, is just the latest blow for a sector that has been suffering since subsidies started to dry up in 2010.

"This is the worst moment for culture in all of democracy," said celebrity filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. "We are in a dangerous situation, not just for our movie industry but also for the entire country, because democracy has turned into something imperfect and small, which affects all areas."

"If you combine the strong drop in subsidies for culture, the hike in taxes and the drop in household income because of lower salaries, you get a perfect storm that will see the sector really suffer," predicts Santiago Lago.

Even the Culture, Education and Sports Minister, José Ignacio Wert, confirmed this: "Part of the tax rise will be passed on to the consumer."

The initiative did not fall on deaf ears. Thousands of internet users lent their voices to the 30-odd artists in their complaint against this latest blow to culture. By Sunday, the issue had become a trending topic on the social network Twitter, using the hashtag #porlacultura - meaning "in favor of culture."

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