The popular Niemeyer Center was meant to revitalize a gritty industrial town. But the government deemed it too lavish to operate
The brand new Niemeyer Center for the Arts in Aviles, Spain, is slated to close on December 15 of this year, just nine months after its opening and coincidentally on the 104th birthday of its designer, legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. According to National Public Radio, the fate of the project is seen as a symbolic gesture during tough economic times, in which Spain’s national government is cutting funding for purportedly reckless regional spending.
The Niemeyer Center opened last March to the tune of Woody Allen playing clarinet and has since attracted artists like Kevin Spacey and Yo-Yo Ma to put on sold-out live performances. It also exhibited contemporary works by Julian Schnabel and Sam Mendes. During its nine months of operation, the Center and its programs drew throngs of tourists and celebrities alike to visit the little known Spanish town once characterized only by its cheerless smokestacks. In the above video by Duosegno Visual Design, the pristine, sensual shapes of Niemeyer’s architecture is contrasted at the very end with a cloud of thick white smoke billowing from a local manufacturing plant.
For the residents of Aviles, the Niemeyer Center was a brief source of pride, a dazzling monument to culture in a gritty industrial town. It was seen not just as a source of revenue but also a source of inspiration, a way to revive the dismal urban fabric of Aviles and lift the spirits of its citizens. For Spain, however, the sweeping complex, marked by its elegant sculptural forms that so brazenly uphold the virtues of art, was a glaring example of overspending on the regional level.
Here’s the problem: taxes in Spain are largely collected on the national level and spent on the regional level. According to NPR, one of the few taxes that regional governments can impose on their own are construction taxes, leading many regions to build as a means to raise money off of property and building licenses. However, in order to build projects like the Niemeyer Center, regional governments have been sapping funds from the national government until finally, the national government is nearly broke.
Spain is now littered with abandoned construction sites, half-built infrastructure and shuttered, barely used buildings: Granada’s subway system is stuck in a state of half completion, the brand new airport in Huesca is turning off its lights, Peter Eisenman’s epic “City of Culture” has been postponed indefinitely, and now, the Niemeyer Center is sending its workers home in just over a week and resigning to its still uncertain fate as an empty plaza (NPR reports that skateboarders have already begun to settle in).
It’s clear that the Niemeyer Center and other projects like it sought to mimic what Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao did for the Basque town just 180 miles from Aviles. But with the slumping economy, the lucrative formula failed to translate, and the arts center was quickly viewed as a frivolous expense in tough times. Many are bitter that the arts are always the first to go in a public budget cut and that Aviles has become the victim of an unforgiving gesture intended perhaps to punish all regional spendthrifts. Though there are no plans to raze the structure, jobs are being lost, hopes dashed, and the “light at the end of the tunnel” put out for many.
Image courtesy of video by "Duosegno." View video here.