Deià And Art Tourism

Towards the end of 1906, Palma town hall caused some upset with the then nascent organisation for promoting Majorca's tourism. The Fomento del Turismo (Majorca Tourist Board) had been founded the year before. Palma was a member; the only town hall to be represented. All member associations and individuals paid subscriptions. These contributions were to provide the wherewithal for developing the island's tourism. The vision was of a destination to rival Nice and Cannes, but it would be a rival that offered a great deal more than the simple attractions of the French Riviera - a generous climate and sailing. Majorca had culture, not least its burgeoning reputation for art.

The town hall, a quasi-government of its own in those days as it still is, appeared unwilling to be pressurised by the tourist board into undertaking work merely to satisfy the ambitions for the new "industry of the foreigners". As such, it demonstrated what other town halls on the island were to. To put it bluntly, the town halls didn't really get it with tourism. So, in an act of some petulance, Palma decided to limit its contribution to the tourist board to a miserly ten pesetas per month.

As things were to pan out, the tourist board was able to exercise some political muscle of its own. It had friends in high places, such as Antoni Maura, the only Majorcan to have been a Spanish prime minister, and in 1912 one of its supporters - Antoni Pou - became mayor. In that same year, the tourist board invited five other town halls to become members. In terms of the current day, the five are notable for those which weren't invited. There was, for example, no Alcudia or Calvia. The five were Arta, Deià, Manacor, Pollensa and Soller.

With the exception of Valldemossa and Cala Ratjada (Capdepera), these five represented tourism as it was away from Palma. Of the five, only Soller and Pollensa had the real means for accommodating visitors, but they were otherwise all on the excursions routes that the tourist board was developing. Arta and Manacor had caves, Soller's train started in 1912, Deià and Pollensa were the principal centres for the island's art, and art was central to the island's promotion.

The role that painters played in this promotion is indisputable, and their works weren't solely confined to canvases. Two of the most prominent, Santiago Rusiñol and Joaquim Mir, were responsible for murals in Palma's "Ritz", the Gran Hotel that opened in 1903. The painters' connection is well known, but rather less known are the attempts to create a framework for exploiting art as a form of tourist attraction.

The groundwork for the industry of the foreigners is typically dated to have been laid in the final decade of the nineteenth century. But in 1880, a republican newspaper, El Comercio, had carried an article which proposed that private collections of art on the island should be opened to the public with the express purpose of their attracting tourists. The same paper argued that it was necessary to establish an infrastructure - to include art - in order that Majorca could compete with, yes, Nice and Cannes and compete, moreover, as a summer destination.

These were extraordinary proposals for different reasons. Firstly, they were made some fifteen years before celebrated articles began appearing which advocated the industry of the foreigners. Secondly, they considered summer tourism, whereas the emphasis was to initially and predominantly be on the winter. Thirdly, they placed art at the very centre of the promotion, yet art - as with the painters - wasn't to truly start to emerge until the end of the century.

The El Comercio proposals, normally completely overlooked when it comes to tracing the history of Majorca's tourism, were every bit as visionary as those which were to follow some years later. They also touched on the role of Deià within the framework of art that was being advocated. Deià had its "school" of artists in the same way that Pollensa did, yet it is Pollensa which enjoys far greater prominence for having been at the centre of that artistic promotion.

In 1920, again somewhat overlooked, the tourist board came up with the idea for what was referred to as "an important cultural project". This was for a permanent museum of art in Deià. Every painter who went to the village could exhibit at this museum. The estate of the Austrian Archduke Louis Salvador offered an exhibition hall at Casa Vives. It was, as far as I'm aware, the first museum dedicated solely to art. And in keeping with this art tradition, Deià is this weekend staging a Festival of Arts, an acknowledgement in a way of the village's place in art tourism development.

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