During these last few days we have discovered who the National Culture Awards 2019 will go to. Congratulations to all the prize-winners. And no, this year once again not a single designer among them.
2012 was the last year in which the National Culture Awards of Catalonia were divided into sectors. Up until then there was: Architecture and Public Space, Visual Arts, Audio-visuals, Cinema, Circus, Comic, Popular Culture, Dance, Design, Literature, Music, Cultural Heritage, Scientific Thinking and Culture, Social Projection of the Catalan Language, Theatre and the Special Professional and Artistic Career Prize. That year the National Design Award went to Enric Satué, and in my opinion it was long overdue. Before him, from 2003 when the awards began, the prize went to: Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Promotion of Decorative Arts-FAD, ACTAR Publishers, Pati Núñez, Martí Guixé, Nani Marquina, Enric Jardí, Claret Serrahima and Javier Mariscal.
In any case, from that year on the award was not made by cultural sector but rather to people in the cultural limelight. Some of us expressed our disagreement at losing the sector prizes, since we considered that some fields of culture are more “visible” then others and the broader view which included Comic, Circus and Design would probably be lost as would their equality of position alongside Visual Arts, Literature and Theatre, which are historically more recognised. The Councillor for Culture at the time, Ferran Mascarell, assured that this would not occur because the judges had a cross-cultural view.
The following year the jeweller Elsa Peretti won a prize despite the fact that it was awarded for “the significant task of cultural, scientific, humanitarian, educational and human rights sponsorship from the sponsorship Fondazione Ferdinando Peretti, in Rome, and the Elsa Peretti Foundation, in Sant Martí Vell, Baix Gironès, always combining past and present, tradition and innovation”.
Six year on and the jury, which is no longer formed of independent professionals but members of the Board of the Catalan Arts Council – CoNCA – have not found anyone in the field of design worthy of the country’s greatest cultural recognition. Bad luck. Curiously, each year writers, actors and artists have been identified as being worthy, and probably rightly so. I would not wish to challenge their criteria or their knowledge of design, among the other disciplines that can present themselves as candidates for the award. But I cannot help thinking that if there is not specific slot for this sector, then maybe they don’t think about it.
For many people Design is simply not Culture.
And why don’t they think about it? Because for many people Design is simply not Culture. Or at least not culture with a capital ‘C’. It is not the only professional sector in this position, but I want to talk about design because it is what I know and in which I have been working for thirty years. And don’t let them say that means I belong to the world of industry, because if that is the case where does it leave film, publishing, performing arts and architecture. To think that this disciplines which thinks up and produces most of our surrounding does not form part of our culture is arguable to say the least. From the time we get up to the time we go to bed we are surrounded by design. Sometimes design is functional, discreet, almost invisible, but you certainly miss it when it does not fulfil its task. In fact, design becomes most visible precisely when it fails.
We do see it when the beauty or efficiency of the object we are using impresses us. When a poster or a restaurant interior, or a mobile app or the chair we are sitting on, or our daily newspaper or our glasses or earrings or shoes or … the list of things which make us smile, feel good, ask a question or leave us open-mouthed is endless. That is when design also becomes visible. So, it would seem that for the jury of the National Culture Awards none of these things have happened to them in six years. Blimey, how sad it that? I must be easily pleased because I remember pretty pleasant experiences with objects, graphics, fashion, interiors and jewellery during the whole of that period.
This year the centenary of Bauhaus is being celebrated and in Germany they are organising a series of exhibition and activities connected with it. They see it as a national event. Books have been republished and facsimiles and objects re-made. Documentaries have been made and even a film about Alma Siedhoff-Buscher which will soon be premiering, and which emphasises the importance of the women designers from the Weimar and Dessau School. The centenary is organised by the Ministry for Culture. They do not seem to have any doubt about whether design is culture.
We do not have anything comparable here, but we do have an incredibly important legacy of creators, both women and men, who were pioneers in design, and many of them are still working. It is a shame that the Department of Culture of the Government of Catalonia does not consider that this talent merits the National Award, because what they are saying, de facto, is that they are not concerned with the contribution of design to our culture. And let me tell you, it is no small thing.