Supporting The Arts

What a contrast there seems to be here on the island of Lanzarote with its thriving arts scene, compared to the misery being felt by the arts scene back in the UK, where funding is being drastically cut. Lanzarote, where my wife Dee and I have lived for nine years now seems to support its arts offer not only by financial means but also by ensuring an integration between arts, culture, education, history and religion and family life.

We attend arts event at least twice a week here, some of which, because of this integration, are delivered free of charge. On an island that in square mileage and population is no bigger than Rochdale, where I lived in the UK, has four excellent theatres on a space where Rochdale only had one.

The jewel in that crown, of course, is Jameos Del Agua, the theatre conceived and brought to fruition by the late Cesar Manrique. This underground theatre, that is carved out of rock and is built within a lava tube, enjoys state of the art lights and sounds acoustics, and an auditorium that provides uninterrupted views for its audience.

It was here we saw the first ever presentation of the wonderful musical that tells Manrique’s life story and that will surely be made into a film. It was here that we saw, only a few months ago, American actor John Malcovich deliver a one man show to a full house that was, almost literally mind-blowingly and deliberately confusing. He had the full house audience of 800 hanging on to every word of a one-man show that by the way featured a thirty piece orchestra and two super soprano singers. The theatre is also a place where we have seen symphony orchestras and chamber music groups perform.

At the glorious Teatro de San Bartolome, a little further south, we have heard the Spanish versions of Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. This theatre stands in a tranquil town square with a water fountain and on dark nights is beautifully lit as audiences wait on public benches for the theatre doors to open, or wander round looking at the church and the town hall that border the theatre.

The Victor Gopar Theatre in Arrecife, named after the late, influential poet, is where we recently went to hear what I called on these pages, A Voice Held In High Regard. That unique contra-tenor voice belonged to Jakub J Orlinkso as he sang with il pomo dora, a classical group that included clavichord, two violins, viola, violacello, contrabajo, and Tiorba. This fantastic concert was actually part of the 40th annual Festival Internacional of Classical Music which each year tours Canarian musicans and others from around the world to perform on each of the eight Canary Islands for the first three months of the year. Not only do we hear musical master-classes but we also marvel at the master-class of logistics that make all this happen.

Teatro de Tias is a smaller venue seating maybe five hundred but here, too, we have seen some first class events by such artists as Pagagnini performed by a quintet of anarchic classical musicians.

These are simply the major theatres on the island but Lanzarote has a place for rock and jazz, too, at the Cic El Almacen (the warehouse) another creation of Manrique. In a building that houses three or four visual arts rooms there is a restaurant and bar, and a small upstairs theatre. We have also attended book launches here and also guided art exhibition ´tours and talks´ by art facilitator Estefania Corujo.

We have attended performances in tiny churches all over the island, at the El Grifo Bodega and even heard wonderful classical music in a place called The Camel House in Macher.

We have heard folklore music, led by the timple and percussion as dancers float around the town squares of the island in traditional costume.

We have seen jazz-rock fusion gigs outside ´the warehouse´ in Arrecife, folk music by the San Gines lagoon in the same city and beautiful folk playing in the courtyard at the Timple Museum in Teguise.

There have been huge pop music concerts along La Geria vineyard trails each year and in the square in front of the church in Playa Blanca we have attended rock, folk and pop concerts with hundreds of people hopping and bopping with grandparents and parents dancing with their youngsters beneath the moon and stars.

All these concerts seem to be surrounded by excellent restaurants that include three or four course fine-dining establishments as mobile vans selling ´la comida basura´ (crepes, chips, burgers etc) that deserve a much better billing than the ´junk food´ that Spanish phrase might suggest.

Every one of the venues we have mentioned here is special, very special… in its own way. We sigh at the other- worldliness of the theatre under the rocks at Jameos Del Agua, and we sink happily into the plush furnishing of Teatro San Bartolome. Nevertheless, we are just as content sitting on a low wall around a town square on a warm night in a friendly atmosphere that is typical of the art scene in Lanzarote.

Although relatively few tourists attend these concerts they would be certainly made to feel welcome by the indigenous fans and by those who, like my wife and I, are new residents here from the UK or from Germany, Italy, France, Italy and even mainland Spain.

Perhaps our favourite venue has become one only 12k from our Playa Blanca home, which is the Benito Perez Galdos Casa de Cultura, in Yaiza.

This is a tiny theatre in a complex that also holds visual art galleries, surrounded by a church with a peaceful public park area, and Ayuntamiento administration services (Council offices)

We have seen so many fantastic events here over the years and so far in 2024 we have already seen The Yaiza Municipal  Band and two amazing concerts that we have previously reviewed on these pages; three world class instrumentalists coming together as a trio for the first time in timple player Alexis Lemis, guitartist Javier Infante and on double bass, Javier Corona, and more recently an incredible flamenco fusion concert led by Antonio de la Rosa that included six musicians, a female vocalist and two dancers who brilliantly recreated the street bars that were the first homes of the genre; slightly dark, slightly dangerous, voicing protest, and promising romance based on physical attraction and all the time perpetuating the folk lore of Spain.

In the same venue we also saw Roger Trend preview his book of history and geology, The Island of Volcanoes.

And now we have learned that this venue, Casa de Culture in Yaiza is to be given an almost 1 million euro facelift. !

The Government of the Canary Islands, through the Department of Universities, Science Innovation and Culture headed by Councillor Migdalia Machin, has allocated nearly 900,000 euros for the rehabilitation of the “Benito Perez Armas” House of Culture, Yaiza, as part of the historical heritage of the Canary Islands, and in this case, of the island of Lanzarote. The subsidized activity is to take place by December 31, 2024.

“Casa Benito Perez Armas” is an 18th century colonial mansion in Yaiza where Benito Perez Armas, a prominent politician, journalist and writer of the late 19th century and early 20th century, was born and raised.

For the past 35 years it has served as a cultural centre hosting a wide variety of events, such as international conferences, theatrical works, art exhibitions and concerts, in addition to housing the Municipal Library. In 1989 it was declared a Site of Cultural Interest, with the category of Monument, as part of the Historical Artistic Heritage of Lanzarote and the Canary Islands.

I am still not totally sure how the arts funding is shared here on the island, but there is a pyramid, I guess, of Ayuntamiento and Cabildo (Lanzarote government), and Canary Island funding supporting what finances come from mainland Spain. There is also a high level of sponsorship from some of the major companies presenting festivals. Whatever are the machinations that make it work, Lanzarote has an arts scene in which everyone can share, and some of it remains ´gratis´.

From Snarky Puppy to The North Sea Quartet, to choral music and poetry, Lanzarote treasures its art. And the art rewards its landscape and its people.

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