A public meeting took place in Barga on Friday which was unfortunately sparsely attended and more or less ignored by most of the reporting media but which could well have been one of the most important meetings in Barga in a very long time.
It was billed as a meeting on the subject of cultural events and local development and posed the question on the printed invite, “could a cultural event have a positive economic impact and boost local tourism?”
As it was organised by the people behind this year’s extremely successful Barga Jazz Festival, it was kind of begging the question, as it was obvious that the huge increase in visitors to Barga during the festival was proof enough.
But, the meeting in Palazzo Pancrazi was not about pats on the back for a job well done – in fact it something much more important and although the event was sparsely attended the importance will only become more apparent as time moves on.
After an introduction by the Mayor of Barga Marco Bonini, a brief 10 minute video was presented showing some of the huge crowds which had filled Barga Vecchia this summer during the Barga Jazz Festival 2012.
The final frame of the video remained frozen on the screen and showed the article in the Il Tirreno newspaper in August 2011 with the headline ” Tourism in Barga knows nothing about a crisis” and subtitled “ record figures in July and August compared to 2011 with the arrival of Russian and French lovers of music and culture”
The article pointed out the rich calendar of cultural events during the summer and went on to state that Barga was the only city in the area which had more visitors than last year, the others all reporting a drop in tourism during 2012.
And this really was the centrepoint for the whole meeting, the fact that the increase in the numbers of visitors to Barga was due to cultural events.
The next to speak was Alessandro Rizzardi who outlined with a transparency almost unheard-of in public meetings on just how much the Barga Jazz Festival 2012 actually cost to stage. Again using a multimedia display he showed those present just how the festival was funded with money coming from regional and local government funding, revenue earned from ticket sales and investment from private investors.
Even though there was a huge increase in the amount of tickets sold for the concerts on the Fosso which could hold 1000 people instead of just the 300 seats available in the theatre, the Barga Jazz Festival 2012 finished with a loss of just over euro 20,000.
The next to take the stage was Walter Tognocchi who represented a group of private investors who have been involved in the Barga Jazz Festival for two years. He pointed out that the investors were very interested in the possibilities that Barga and its rich and varied cultural life could offer for the future.
According to Walter, as the Italian manufacturing and services industry starts to decline or passes into foreign hands the only thing left is the huge cultural background that is Italy. Tourism based on that culture is the only hope of a future where our children will be able to find work in this area and not be forced to move elsewhere to earn a living.
Those readers with a good memory might just remember not that long ago, in fact it was in July 2009 ( article here) the selfsame words were spoken in Palazzo Pancrazi by the sculptor Bruto Pomodoro who talked about the city Pietrasanta - a town on the coast of northern Tuscany in Versilia who’s success is based entirely upon culture. Bruto Pomodoro was here in the city for an exhibition of his sculpture and he suggested and offered to give support to an idea that Barga could quite easily become another Pietrasanta on this side of the mountain range which divides the two cities.
He talked of the excellence of a certain level of culture and art and the possibilities that it could provide.
Unfortunately, his call to action was ignored and the opportunity lost.
Three years have now passed but once again the city has a second bite at the cherry – this time not by sculpture but via music.
During those three years the economic climate has worsened as the crisis affecting a good part of Europe has made itself felt in Italy.
Public finance for cultural events has become harder and harder to obtain and as pressure increases and more and more cuts are made, cultural events have to fight hard to stay alive.
Funding from the private sector is one way that these events can survive.
Walter went on to say that there is a project ready for 2013 which will involve the two events which brought the largest crowds into the city and which culturally had to sign of excellence about them - Barga in Jazz ( article here) and the Stefano Bollani concert on the Fosso (article here) .
Walter and his group of investors are interested but the shortfall of cash needed for these events, estimated at €30,000 will have to be found from somewhere else in the private sector.
And here we come to the most important part of the meeting - according to Walter all that is needed is 100 people who put forward €300 each as an investment in the future.
Printed A4 sheets with the heading Bargapartners were handed out to all present at the meeting inviting people to join in and signup to the project.
A box has been set up in L’edicola Nardini just inside the main gate in Barga Vecchia where people can post the sheets with the details and of course the amount that they are prepared to invest.
The box will remain until 30 November when it will be opened and if enough people had signed up then the project can take place.
If not, “all bets are off” so to speak and the BargaJazz Festival will do some serious downsizing and revert to how it was in the past.
The final person to speak was Andrea Guzzoletti who illustrated that just because Barga was a small community with just 10,000 inhabitants, that did not mean that putting on large cultural events was a an impossibility.
He pointed out that the Montreux Jazz Festival – a music festival in Switzerland, held annually in early July and which is the second largest annual music festival in the world after Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival started out in 1967 in Montreux a town of just 20,000 inhabitants on the Lake Geneva shoreline, by Claude Nobs, Géo Voumard and René Langel.
Originally a pure jazz festival, it opened up in the 1970s and today presents artists of nearly every imaginable music style. Jazz remains an important part of the festival. Today’s festival lasts about two weeks and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people.
Now it’s just a question of waiting to see if people and local business respond to this initiative.
Cross your fingers.