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Dance: How One of the World’s Most Important Flamenco Festivals Found Itself at the Brink of Extinction and Bounced Back

By Justine Bayod Espoz
arttimesjournal December 10, 2017

poster Jerez Festival 2018

After a 20-year existence and a reputation for being one of the most important flamenco festivals in the world, the Jerez Festival (Jerez, Spain) found itself facing the very real possibility that there would be no 21st edition. The festival had its first close call in December 2015, when the Spanish tax agency forced the dissolution of the Villamarta Theatre Foundation – the organization in charge of the municipal theatre and Jerez Festival – under the “Local Reform” law that prohibits any municipal company from having more than two years of financial losses. The law was passed by the conservative Partido Popular party in the midst of the economic crisis, a period in which most Spanish cultural organizations were struggling to survive decreased ticket sales, loss of sponsors, increased taxation on cultural activities and more.

“In 2013 and 2014, we had losses, like almost all theaters in Spain,” explains Director of the Villamarta Theatre and Jerez Festival Isamay Benavente. “The only difference from other theatres was that we weren’t able to add money to the foundation at the end of the year to balance the budget. If they had given us a longer timeframe, one or two years, we would have balanced the budget, but in two years, it was impossible. So this law forced us to dissolve the company and prohibited us from starting a new one to continue managing the theatre.”

Ultimately, Jerez’s municipal government made the sensible decision to transfer the functions of the dissolved foundation to the already existing Fundarte (the University Foundation for the Performing Arts and Flamenco of Jerez), but not without first hitting a major roadblock.

Before being officially extinguished on December 31, 2016, Spain’s Ministry of Economy required that the prior foundation’s budget be balanced or cease any and all future operation. In response, the city budgeted additional funding for the theatre in 2016 to cover the debt, but when this amended budget was put up for a city council vote, members of the right-leaning Partido Popular and Ganemos parties kept the budget from being approved, a move that would not only cut the city off from access to opera, ballet and flamenco but also lay off 27 employees in a city already too hard hit by unemployment.

After staff meetings with local politicians, public protests, a Change.org petition and the threat of a strike during the month of December, a second vote held on November 30, 2016 saw the passing of the amended budget thanks to the abstention of Ganemos party members. At just 2.5 months from the start of the XXI Jerez Festival, artists and international flamenco students and audiences were reassured that the festival would continue at least one more year.

“It’s been a terrible year, and it affected the festival because we couldn’t present the festival line-up with all of this uncertainty. We’ve never presented the line-up so late, on the 22nd of December,” confides Benavente. “That’s why I’m more satisfied this year than any before, because despite it all, the festival is still here and people have come.”

Benavente doesn’t think that the instability surrounding the festival harmed it, but admits that it made festival growth in 2017 impossible.

In October, the Villamarta Foundation was officially dissolved by a Jerez court, allowing the City to transfer the theater and festival management to Fundarte. Later that same month, the program for the Jerez Festival’s 22nd edition – taking place from February 23 to March 10, 2018 – was made public. And while the goal of growing the festival seems to remain on the backburner for now, it’s programming for 2018 is promising, featuring performances by the National Ballet of Spain, Manuel Liñán, La Lupi, Rocío Molina and Emilio Ochando. To see a complete schedule, click here .