Irene Larraza: "The BIKAIN award is the result of our work, not a goal in itself"

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


The end of the year is approaching and, as always, it is time to take stock of the past 12 months. 2019 has been a year full of progress and special initiatives that have led to many changes in the day-to-day of the Etxepare Basque Institute (EBI). We spoke with the Institute’s director, Irene Larraza, about the work carried out and the results obtained.

The end of the year is approaching and, as always, it is time to take stock of the past 12 months2019 has been a year full of progress and special initiatives that have led to many changes in the day-to-day of the Etxepare Basque Institute (EBI). We spoke with the Institute’s director, Irene Larraza, about the work carried out and the results obtained.

One more year, EBI has worked intensely in promoting Basque artistic disciplines at international festivals and fairs. Has there been any progress in this area in 2019?

At EBI we have two ways to internationalize Basque creation: one is by providing the creators with financial support to work in other places, and another is by creating Basque ‘windows’ in strategically important areas and in events around the world. In this regard, I think we made great progress this year, and some other things are being developed now for implementation later. In the field of visual and plastic arts, for example, we have set into motion the ZABAL strategy, which consists of bringing curators and organizers of international biennials to learn about Basque art and share it back home.

Speaking of Basque windows, 2019 has been a special year, especially for the #ScotlandGoesBasque programme. Have the goals been achieved?

Totally. The origin of this project comes from a review of the strategic project we did in 2017, in which we identified the need to concentrate Basque creative energy in a specific place. Our strategy focused mainly on festivals in Scotland, especially Edinburgh, since that is the place of important festivals whose influence reaches not only Scotland, but all of Europe. Taking into account that we only took a sample of Basque creative talent, I think that the potential of our culture today has been well reflected.

Another goal of this initiative was to build bridges of collaboration between creators and Basque and Scottish institutions. Was that goal achieved? What mark will #ScotlandGoesBasque leave in the future?

Our main goal is to promote our culture abroad, but it’s often in our interest to promote two-way dynamics and/or intercultural relationships. We want to use the uniqueness of our language and culture to unite, not to separate; and that connection is especially easy to achieve with minority languages such as Euskera and Scots or Scottish Gaelic. Some of the projects in #ScotlandGoesBasque have been brought back to the Basque Country, such as the Atlantik 1050 Basque and Scottish dance show, the Chejov vs Shakespeare epistolary conversation project and the Throwing Voices poetry and music activity, among others.

What other plans does EBI have for the future with other regions?

For 2020, we are organizing the next step of this strategic project with Quebec. This year´s work has taught us that we cannot follow the same strategy in all places, because each place has its own idiosyncrasies. Therefore, one of the foundations of our relationship with Quebec is that it will have that back and forth character from the beginning. We have already organized a meeting in 2019 between Basque and Québequois stakeholders, and other projects are underway. We’ll see the results of all our efforts in 2020-2021.

There have also been advances this year in the university sphere. The clearest example is the launch of your ninth Chair, Amale Artetxe, in Argentina. What is the situation of teaching Basque and Basque culture internationally?

The opening of the Amale Artetxe Chair was one of this year’s milestones. It was launched in Buenos Aires, but it will be conducted at different Argentine universities, as the agreement is signed with the CONICET Institute, not a specific university, and the programme will change venues every year. It was time to create a chair in South America, specifically in Argentina, which has the strongest Basque diaspora in the world.

The Euskara Munduan programme has also been a milestone. In 2018, we started working with Euskara Munduan, which was designed to manage the Basque courses offered at the Euskal Etxeak, but in 2019 we assumed full responsibility. If we add the readerships at various universities around the world, I’d say that in 2019 the teaching of Basque language and culture has been greatly reinforced at the international level.

The Institute has also received recognition for its day-to-day activity. It was recently awarded the BIKAIN certificate for the standardization of Basque language in the workplace. What other challenges do you have for the future in the standardization of Basque?

The BIKAIN certificate is very showy when you receive it on stage. But the main purpose of the certificate is our work, not the goal itself. In our case, we wanted to analyze our work in order to improve what we do, and we’ve found out what needs improvement. We’ll continue working on the path of normalization, not only in the area of Basque language, but also in gender equality, with a Equality Plan that we intend to launch next year. We think that as a Basque public institution we should set an example on that front.

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