Just a week ago I had a great time at a fine restaurant in Tavira, appropriately named Álvaro de Campos, filled with mainly tourists and foreign residents, watching an excellent pianist/singer, Ricardo Martins, and a charismatic actor, Pedro Monteiro - writes Rudy Engelander
Everyone was listening throughout their dinner to poetry by Fernando Pessoa in Portuguese, English and French. Not only listening: some guests were inspired enough to read some poems themselves. The whole evening, food, music, poetry, was a huge success.
The event was part of the Festa dos Anos de Álvaro de Campos (Álvaro de Campos Birthday Party), for the third year built around the (imagined) birthday of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, 15 October.
The Festa dos Anos consists of a variety of events, exhibitions, concerts, performances, involving local artists and arts associations, and is financed by 365 Algarve with some additional support from the city. 365 Algarve is a programme initiated by the Secretaries of Culture and Tourism. Without its support this Birthday Party and many other events in the Algarve between October 2017 and May 2018 could not happen.
The idea is to attract more tourists outside the beach season and give them something to do after seeing the sites and playing their round of golf. But I think there is another, implicit, objective, and if it is not an official objective, it could be a welcome and highly needed by-product.
Too long the Algarve has been a generous colony of the capital, providing tourists with sun and sea. The resulting income was and is welcome, but not much is given in return. Lisbon traditionally neglects the southern part of the country. It already has everything, right?
But the infrastructure (EN 125!) is visibly weak, there are no jobs outside the tourism industry (apart from fruit picking in the estufas that spoil the same beauty of the Ria Formosa that the Algarve Tourism Bureau is trying to sell abroad), there is no cultural life to speak of.
During the summer season tourists have no reason to complain: there is plenty of popular entertainment. But if they follow the government’s suggestion to come in the off-season as well, they will find there is nothing for them to do. Once they have seen the sights, the churches, the monuments, they are done. There simply is nothing.
To keep the tourists happy, the government wants to stimulate the arts in the Algarve with a relatively small amount of money. This will also contribute to creating a healthier cultural infrastructure, more awareness not only among visitors, but also among the population itself. A grassroots initiative like the Festa dos Anos de Álvaro de Campos involves hundreds of people.
Arts and culture in the Algarve are mainly in the hands of amateurs and their associations. Their activities are to the largest extent modestly kept behind closed doors: they are not produced to entertain more than a local public of friends and acquaintances. Now they get a chance to improve their skills, create a new audience, perhaps show their products outside their small circle of friends, gain a wider view, learn from criticism and, who knows, present their work in other places in Algarve and the rest of the country, thus becoming less modest and shy, and more confident.
365 Algarve offers an opportunity to do some groundwork that in time may produce a more solid humus layer for the arts in the region. It is important to begin creating a cultural infrastructure for the future and this is a good beginning.
For the visitors, surely, but in the first place for the Algarve population itself. Let there be more theatre companies, small and larger orchestras, exhibition spaces, and more people will learn to understand the value of the arts.
More exposure, more awareness: it is a long and perhaps difficult process, but given time it might be beneficial for tourists and local people alike.