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The Guggenheim effect, by The Economist

The Guggenheim Effect: can other cities imitate Bilbao’s cultural-tourism success? Spain is full of art hubs, offering an awesome cultural tourism.

By Valeska Idarraga

Original print edition | The Economist, Europe

This time we literally transcribe this article published by The Economist in August 18th 2018. At the bottom we leave you the link to the original publication. Not only it is directly related to our trip to the Basque Country, but it opens new frontiers to explore the world distinctively.

“NOT long after it opened in 1997, the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao became a case study in urbanism, credited with transforming a declining industrial city into a sleek tourist destination. Few people know more about the “Guggenheim effect” than Miguel Zugaza, both then and now the director of the nearby Bilbao Fine Arts museum. Previously obscure, despite its splendid collection of Spanish masters, his museum now gets twice the 150,000 visitors a year it received in 2002, when he went off for a long and successful stint managing the Prado in Madrid.

Many other cities around the world have strived to replicate the Guggenheim effect, rarely with success. Spanish towns, in particular, are littered with expensive white elephants, designed by starchitects during the pre-crisis construction boom. They include the recently opened Iberian museum in Jaén and the City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, which resembles a ski-jump designed by a drunk.

Yet amid the dross, there is gold. Several cities are following Bilbao’s path. Madrid, not long ago a sleepy town of bureaucrats, is now one of Europe’s cultural capitals. Perhaps the most striking example is Malaga. Once skirted by tourists on their way to the Costa del Sol, it now has a cluster of art museums. They include outposts of the Russian state museum and Paris’s Pompidou Centre as well as a museum devoted to Picasso, who was born there. Hotel stays in Malaga were up 9% last year.

Valencia splurged more than €1.3bn ($1.5bn) on the City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of fantasy buildings comprising an opera house, an aquarium and several museums. Tourism to the city is growing fast. In Santander, along the coast from Bilbao, the Centro Botín, a contemporary arts centre, opened last year in a dramatic building designed by Renzo Piano and suspended over the sea. Two more museums are under development in the city. This is helping to generate “a cultural map” in northern Spain, says Mr. Zugaza.

It is also contributing to healthy economic diversification. After booming in recent years, Spain’s beach tourism appears to be levelling off. The proportion of foreign tourists who are mostly there for the culture is still only 15%, but the number is rising fast—from 8m to 12.9m in 2012-17, according to official statistics.

“We Spaniards are very critical of what we’ve done,” says Mr Zugaza. “But there’s a new dynamism in our cities. We have an extraordinary cultural patrimony.” Not every city can be a hub for the arts, but the effort to become one is bringing a buzz to many.

Photo credits: Shutterstock


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