Guggenheim Bilbao would never have been built….

I’m sure that more than one eyebrow will be raised by such a bold title as it is widely accepted that after nearly 20 years Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is such a resounding success. We must not forget, however, that in its embryonic stage, severe criticism rained from a great number of social, political and economic players of the time.

Undeniably, the idea of such an enterprise as The Guggenheim Museum was a huge risk on behalf of some public institutions, and it was indeed an undertaking which initially got off to a rocky start. But it was thanks to the brave people in those institutions, who with foresight and fortitude, followed a strategy of promoting an umbrella image of the city, which in turn, literally put Bilbao on the map. And it paid off. The result was a source of pride and a sense of belonging for the residents of Bilbao, something which has spurred a new dynamic of economic activity, ultimately fuelling the profound transformation of Bilbao we can see and enjoy today.

And let us not forget the situation at the time when the green light was given to the Project: a serious economic crisis, extremely high unemployment, and many companies experiencing financial distress; all this, against the backdrop of political violence in our land. It is for these and other reasons, why we must truly value that commitment by our institutions.

Now, there is one feature that sets this Project apart from the rest; namely, that in addition to the budget allocations for the construction of the Museum itself, a long-term commitment to finance the museum activities was put in place. Moreover, many private players were involved, and solid management practice was employed. A pleasant change, therefore, to the numerous new infrastructure projects which, sadly, never get off the ground due to a lack of foresight in terms of what is required to both properly manage them, and keep them up-to-date.

Therefore, all this begs the question: What would happen today if a similar opportunity were to arise with the Guggenheim? Would we commit to seeing it through to completion? Given the socio-political environment we currently find ourselves in today, I sincerely believe that the project would not be undertaken.

Alarmingly, we are settling into a culture which advocates that governments avoid risk-taking at all costs, especially where development projects are concerned. Instead, they are expected by the citizenry to focus on day-to-day matters of attending only to social issues, essentially staying in micromanagement mode. All the while, they allude to 'extenuating circumstances and a culmination of factors' to cover up what is evidently a poorly understood concept of their true role.

Evidently, what the public wants is administrators, and not executive managers who can contribute to building the future; but as Robert Kennedy pointed out: "Building the future is the only reason for government to exist."

Read the original article in El Economista. (Spanish)

Sabin Azua

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