Carte Blanche at Mercat de les Flors · By Hazel Hodgins

I undertook a Carte Blanche at Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona to learn about their context and in particular their communications and education initiatives. I was there at a very interesting time of transition for the organisation, as they welcomed their new director, Àngels Margarit only a few months previously.

Marc Olivé, the Programmer at Mercat de les Flors was my guide for the week. The performance programme of Mercat de les Flors, while extensive, is only the tip of the iceberg for the organisation. In addition to running the Mercat de les Flors building, the organisation also runs El Graner, a Centre for Creation on the other side of the city. On visiting El Graner and hearing about their activities, I could see it was probably most similar to our own venue, as the DanceHouse in Dublin only has spaces for creation and rehearsal, and no performance venue. However, while our DanceHouse has remained largely unchanged since it opened 10 years ago, as Elena Carmona showed me around El Graner I could see how the various spaces had been adapted and re-purposed as the needs of the artists changed around them. This is definitely something I will share with my team as we negotiate with our city council for greater flexibility on the use of our DanceHouse.

Alongside the performance programme at Mercat runs their educational programme, which reaches not only schools in the city of Barcelona but is multiplied outwards into the surrounding region. As policy in Ireland is moving quickly towards embracing the arts in schools over the past year, I felt it was most important to go to a DanceHouse to research how they work within their education systems. Seeing the continually successful, best practice project models built by Mercat over many years was exciting for me and I could see that there was scope for adaptation and they could be feasibly be applied in Ireland. As Arts Administrators, often we thing we must be inventing all the time, new projects, new models… When this work may have alrealy been done by a colleague in another country, we need only communicate about our work.

Speaking of the communication strategies around the organisation, and its programmes (both performance and education) with Carme Clua, I could see the value in a cohesive branding campaign each season which encompasses print, video, digital and analogue platforms, as well as audience participation and key strategic partnerships for dissemination. As we do not have a performance programme and are focused on the training and development opportunities for professional dance artists as well as advocacy for dance at a national level we do not have the same scope to run such a campaign, but there were definite insights I have taken away and will implement going forwards as we continue to develop our communication strategies.

I also visited La Caldera at Les Corts and met with the director, Oscar Dasí. Very quickly we entered into a philosophical discussion about the challenges of engaging with a neighbourhood in an authentic way, a challenge that we also face.

Even now as I write, almost a month later, the experience is still settling for me. Dance Ireland is going under its own strategic review which may or may not involve a change of direction, so I could identify very clearly with the transitional feeling at Mercat as Àngels begins rolling out her new vision. I think the approaches of the different creation centres I visited as well as the ways they engage with their surrounding communities and advocate for dance and varying levels will continue to inform my input into the review process of the workings of our own organisation. What I appreciated most about the Carte Blanche opportunity was that it was a reciprocal exchange. As much as I learned from being in Barcelona, I think I also was able to give some good ideas and information about the Irish context to those I spoke with.

Huge thanks to the team at Mercat and in the EDN office for welcoming me so warmly and spending so much time with me. Special thanks to Marc for arranging such a packed and interesting schedule over the week. Even though he had the added demands of his own daily workload I felt he really put me at the forefront of his attention for the week which was greatly appreciated.

Thanks to Sílvia and Mara at EDN for the opportunity and to Paul Johnson at Dance Ireland for supporting my interest in researching these specific interests in another context.

Hazel Hodgins
Programme Manager at Dance Ireland Dublin
20 July 2017