"We’ll choose a specific destination each year in which we’ll specially encourage the presence of Basque culture"

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2018-07-25

Irene Larraza has had a close relationship with the Etxepare Institute since 2012. First, she was head of communications, then she was Director of Promotion and Dissemination of the Basque Culture and since January has been Director of the Institute. She’s been in the job for just over six months. In this interview we talk with her about her career and the challenges facing the Institute.

Irene Larraza has had a close relationship with the Etxepare Institute since 2012. First, she was head of communications, then she was Director of Promotion and Dissemination of the Basque Culture and since January has been Director of the Institute. She’s been in the job for just over six months. In this interview we talk with her about her career and the challenges facing the Institute.

  • You have been the Institute’s director more than half a year. How has the journey been?

I took on the position of director in January 2018, and naturally, I needed a little time to adapt, since many of the responsibilities were new to me. In addition, the position I held last year, head of the promotion of Basque culture, was vacant until the end of May, so I had to wear two hats. Now the team is complete and I think we’re moving forward. Being familiar with the Institute already and knowing my co-workers has been a great advantage.

  • After having been Communications Director for five years, you must know the Institute in and out and when you became director you must have had some changes in mind. What were they and have you accomplished them?

Yes. When the Etxepare Institute was first created, I was in charge of communications, a job I did from 2012 to 2016. In 2017 I became head of Promotion and Dissemination of Culture; then I was promoted to Director.

Knowing the Institute from the inside does not only mean mastering the different areas we deal with, but also understanding the context and knowing how far our resources can go. We have already identified the things that need improvement, but we have to be realistic when it comes to making changes.

Right now, it’s in our hands to improve certain aspects and procedures at the group level and above all rethink the division of some of our tasks. We can improve our efforts of coordination, and also in terms of communications with the people who benefit from our services.

  • You once said that you would continue working along the lines of your predecessor. Does that still hold true or do you want to work on other aspects?

I think that the Institute has followed a very coherent path since it was first started: Aizpea Goenaga and her team – with Mari Jose Olaziregi as Director of Promotion and Dissemination of Euskera – did an excellent job creating and setting the Institute into motion. Most of the lines of work were implemented at that time and are still in effect today since they are still considered necessary.

When Miren Arzalluz was named director in 2017, she conducted a thorough analysis of the project and set out specific objectives for 2017-2020, which were then approved by the Management Committee. That’s the path that I’ve inherited and that I continue, among other things because I was involved in defining the project. Neither the priority areas of work nor the dimensions of the institution have changed.

I think my contribution may be more in the way of how we go about our work, and perhaps more importantly, I can offer approachability: I’d like to emphasize that the very existence of the Etxepare Institute is to offer a service and that its doors are wide open.

Anyway, I´m just one cog in the wheel (the most visible): the work of the two main areas is fundamental – with Garbiñe Iztueta in charge of the Promotion and Dissemination of Euskera and Imanol Otaegi as head of Promotion and Dissemination of Culture Basque – and is the work of the entire team. They make a huge effort and I’m very grateful to them.

  • The Etxepare Basque Institute is already seven years old. What stage is it at and in what direction does it want to go?

At present, the Institute is working very closely with the Department of Culture and Linguistic Policy of the Basque Government. We’re very grateful because this bolsters the Institute and gives it voice. And above all it facilitates communication and coordination, both of which are always essential.

Etxepare´s mission – to make raise the profile of Basque culture and language known around the world – is and will continue to be very broad; I believe that the Institute makes the very best of the resource available, and that it works effectively. There is always room for improvement, but I think most of the areas of work are consolidated, and that we’ve identified the aspects that need rethinking.

The organization has identified projects and steps to be taken further down the line, but that would require greater resources.

  • What are the short-terms goals for the Etxepare Basque Institute?

In the academic field, I believe that the 35 readerships – Basque language and culture teachers – and the eight chairs we have in universities around the world make up a solid network. There are aspects to improve in terms of internal communication, but we’re working on it. And we’re getting very positive feedback from the training programmes for readers.

The biggest innovation in this area is the incorporation of Euskara Munduan (a network of Euskara teachers in more than 70 Euskal Etxeak Basque Centers), which has gone from HABE to Etxepare. This programme is also responsible certifying the level of Basque abroad. For us it is a novelty and of course a challenge. But we’re quite pleased, since it seems only logical that this network should fall within the scope of the Institute. And in this way, we can have a more direct relationship with the Euskal Etxeak.

As regards the promotion and dissemination of Basque culture, we’re continuing with grants to make it possible for artists and translators of Basque literature to travel, and we encourage professionals and companies dedicated to cultural industries to take part in trade fairs.

In collaboration with the cultural and creative industries, we also work to promote Basque participation in international fairs; we share this task with the Department of Culture. In this area, we’re analyzing the division of labour to reorganize tasks based on specific criteria.

We’re also working on creating and implementing a joint brand or image to identify the Basque culture when it’s presented or "sold" outside the Basque Country – at trade fairs, for example. Until now, each discipline has shaped its own brand, and we believe it’s important to unify plans and create a strong image.

We also try to support promoters of Basque culture in their international projects. Sometimes we work on projects together. And with foreign organizations and programmes, our job is to promote or make sure that Basque culture has a place in trade fairs, festivals, organizations, etc. Get them to be part of their programmes, or produce activities together. Last year, for example, we promoted 26 projects with Basque organizations and 27 with foreign organizations. A total of 88 activities were carried out abroad with Basque participation, of which 65% were in Euskara.

In addition, we want to conduct a diagnosis and draw up an equality plan, as well as study new strategies to promote culture...

  • And in the long term?

We’d like to reinforce the Institute’s subsidies, services and projects and propose new ways of working.
Starting in 2019, we’ll choose a specific destination each year in which we’ll specially encourage the presence of Basque culture. Next year the destination will be Scotland. I also believe that at the institutional level Etxepare will have more and more weight in cultural diplomacy, especially in Europe.

Another idea is that the Institute, as a tool for artists and promoters, plan and carry out a project aimed at providing them with certain international references, since more and more people are working outside our country.

Identificar los diversos mapas de la presencia de la cultura vasca en el exterior y servirnos de estas redes para la difusión de nuestra cultura es sin duda otro de los grandes retos de Etxepare

The Etxepare Basque Institute is as an ambassador of Basque culture and language concentrating on specific functions and areas. But I’d like to point out that the artists and promoters working abroad, and the Basques of the diaspora play an equally important role, as do those who are at universities or working in foreign companies, for example. Identifying the presence of Basque culture abroad and using these networks to disseminate our culture is unquestionably another one of Etxepare´s major challenges.

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