Interview with Irene Larraza II/II: collaboration with other cultural institutes, attracting the international and challenges of the diaspora

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


Etxepare Basque Institute director Irene Larraza looks back on 2022. In the first half of the interview, she discussed topics such as the launch of the Saison Québec - Pays Basque cultural exchange programme, the new university chairs and the professional meetings held in 2022.

This second part deals with collaboration with other cultural institutes in Spain, the ability to attract international visitors to the Basque Country, the challenges of the diaspora, and other impacts of the pandemic.

- Has the return to face-to-face activity also had an impact on mobility grants?

- When the pandemic struck, it was a bold step to decide to manage the grants as automatically as possible, without assessment committees. We made this decision thinking there would be fewer applications in 2021. In 2022 we decided to keep the same system, and although we need to fine-tune it for next year, we believe it’s the most agile and best way forward.

The applicants met and exceeded our expectations. They showed us that they wanted to work abroad. In the end, we saw that they were well prepared to do so.

- It seems that the practices and initiatives that have emerged in recent years have stabilised.

- Yes. In the case of the Basque windows, i.e., activities aimed at disseminating Basque culture, this holds true. We have seen that certain windows are becoming regular activities, where a new crop of Basque creation can be seen every year. But the possibilities are great, the world is a big place and our potential is limited. So, we are constantly assessing which initiatives are organised on an ad hoc basis and which are to be more permanent. We’ll continue our involvement with the Finnish Tamperada, the Eñe literary festival and the programme of Basque creators at the Teatro Mayor in Colombia, for example. The series of activities organised in New York, however, have been more sporadic.

- It´s not just about helping people to travel abroad, it´s about creating international opportunities, isn´t it?

- Our work is influenced by the very different cultural areas. Sometimes we help writers, for example, travel to international fairs. Other times, our job is to create a space for them, but in these cases the programmers have the final say. In 2023, we’ll also try to open more opportunities for translators by creating a collection of sample texts by Basque writers, especially those that have not been translated so far. It is intended to serve as a forum for writers who are having more difficulty.

- The New Translators programme is also being run in partnership with the Institut Ramon Llull and the Consello da Cultura Galega.

-The Consello da Cultura Galega, the Institut Ramon Llull and the Etxepare Basque Institute joined forces to promote opportunities for translators who want to take part in a poetry translation residency. The aim is to offer a space for work, inspiration and exchange. There are two focuses: team work to prioritise exchange between residents, and solitary work to give each resident a chance to create his or her own project.

- Is it important to collaborate with these institutes?

- Insofar as we are all linguistic minorities, we believe that contact is important. Again, we’re talking about enriching the world of relationships. The most interesting element we have at the national level is to work side by side, to share projects. There are different possible combinations, either ourselves working with another institute or all four together. The Instituto Cervantes, the Intitut Ramon Llull and the Consello da Cultura Galega have different capabilities, but we learn a lot from each other. We’re a source of inspiration for each other, even though we’re different in size and form.

- In the work of internationalisation, but in the opposite direction, initiatives have also been taken to attract outsiders to the EU.

- Mainly through the ZABAL project. We bring curators from international biennials to meet our creators and take part in exhibitions if they share specific criteria. We create an agenda that meets their interests. We’ve seen that the programme is effective: June Crespo was at the Venice Biennale and the Consonni publishing house at documenta 15.

- In the field of Basque studies, how would you assess the year?

- We’re still in the process of stabilisation in the universities. Because of the pandemic, rather than new developments, our focus is on stability. We’ve had difficulties in renewing agreements and that’s been a big challenge.

I’d highlight the fact that in 2022 Basque language certification exams were held in Argentina, which doesn’t happen every year. I’d also emphasise the efforts made by Basque centers in teaching Basque and the work carried out by the Etxepare team in training their teachers. There too, we’ve gone back to in-person training, thanks to our efforts.

Basque centres and Basque language students in the diaspora have suffered greatly from the pandemic and both have declined in recent years. We’re in a recovery phase and we´ll keep working to regain our earlier strength.

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