"If it doesn’t leave a mark on the community, it will be meaningless"
Interview with the citizen-commissioners of the Concomitancia Care Legacy: Friends of Pasatiempo Park and Asociación Roxin Roxal.
For the Concomitancia in the Galician town of Betanzos (A Coruña), mediator Fran Quiroga is working with the citizen-commissioners at the Association of the Friends of Pasatiempo Park and Asociación Roxin Roxal to care for something that is an intangible and key part of a community: its heritage. In this interview they talk about their love for their town, their commitment to the project, and the long road ahead, which they hope will continue to bring them together through their commitment to taking care of the artwork.
What do you do for a living and what is your link to Betanzos?
ÁNGEL ARCAY: I'm originally from Betanzos and I’ve moved back here after twelve years in Santiago de Compostela. I’ve always lived in Galicia or Portugal. I do many kinds of work in this precarious life, at the moment I’m a tourism officer with Vimianzo City Council on the Costa da Morte. A colleague and I recently set up a guided tour service here in Betanzos, and I’d like to find work in the world of archives, which is what I studied and worked in most of my life.
ALICIA PARDO Y MIGUEL CARNOTA: We live in the A Mariña region, in Paderne, near Betanzos, and we moved here by chance. We were looking for a house in a village and this opportunity came up. We’re not from here, but we liked the area. We’re teachers and we work in the vicinity, I (Alicia) in Bergondo and I (Miguel) in Pontedeume.
“It's almost village life, we all know each other, which has its good and bad sides. In terms of heritage, I started working with Pasatiempo Park almost by accident. We’ve been working as an association for three years now, some people are in favour of what we do and some are against, so I guess you put your reputation on the line”
Betanzos is the capital of the comarca, it has a population of around 12,000 and a spectacular historic centre. What’s day-to-day life like?
MC: It’s like any other town, I suppose. Betanzos locals grumble about the same things as people who live in similar small towns: the fact that everybody knows you... It’s a comfortable place, pleasant, with good services. But the local heritage is in a very poor state of conservation, not just the Park but also the historic centre, and it’s a shame because it’s a beautiful place.
AP: It’s a good geographical location, very scenic, near the estuary, for example. Although the poor rail connection to the city of A Coruña and Ferrol is regrettable. Betanzos is a beautiful town, but the historic centre is neglected.
What does Pasatiempo Park represent to you?
A: I may be missing that romantic aspect of childhood memories that many other people have, but I do remember going there a couple of times in the 1990s, when it was restored. Later it was just one of the attractions of Betanzos, I guess because there are caves in it so we could go with friends and mess around a bit. In fact, the idea of the association arose because a guy from A Coruña spent four years compiling information about the park in a blog. I was intrigued by the fact that the park was practically unknown. As a result, a group of people got together and the project started to get more interesting.
The Association of the Friends of Pasatiempo Park and Asociación Roxin Roxal both focus on the Park’s heritage, right?
A: At the Friends of Pasatiempo Park we’ve mainly focused on reaching out to younger people. We created social media campaigns aimed at getting local residents to understand and identify with the place. Sometimes we went a bit too far, but we wanted to grab people’s attention.
“Roxin Roxal is an association founded in 2005 to promote the tangible and intangible heritage of the comarca of Betanzos. It was a way to self-organise in defence of Galician culture and language. We wanted the local community to actively experience our heritage, to enjoy and value it”
Why did you start your association and what milestones have been achieved along the way?
A: The trigger was a landslide in the park, which raised social awareness because the City Council kept it quiet for several days and there was quite a lot of anger in the press. A meeting was held in the town’s bookshop, and it was quite tense. That same day, we decided to apply for heritage protection. The association was formed a few months later to try and get the Park restored and actively promote it so that people would start to respect it. There are many ways of looking at the park—from the historical or educational perspective, or as art and architecture—, so we organised working groups in which everyone explained the park from their point of view.
MC: Our main feat has been the day-to-day work, the continuity, and the tours we organise, which are a great success.
AP: They take place all year round, it’s a huge ongoing process. We take a very broad approach, we try to ensure that each tour covers all aspects: everyday life, the past and present, a living, global look at heritage, not just the cultural site but also how local people relate to it. That’s what sets us apart. An average of around 100 people participate in the tours, although it has all become more difficult in the current situation.
Have you organised public activities with the community?
A: There were some really great moments, such as the Romeria Indiana celebrating the founders, which was more successful than we expected, and the guided tours for groups that we’ve been doing since the 125th anniversary of the Park. We applied for heritage protection in March 2017, and in October 2018 there was another landslide and the Park was closed, so the programme of activities was interrupted just when we were reaching a lot of people. With the pandemic we are forced to pull back and stay home, so we dedicated our time to organising all the information we had compiled and publishing a book on the history of the Park. In 2020 our application was approved and the park was put on the cultural heritage register.
AP and MC: We’re a social and educational association and we belong to networks—such as Rede do Rural, Vía Galega, Fundación Galiza Cultura and Rede polo Patrimonio Cultural—and platforms such as Salvemos O Iribio, against the push for wind farms. In fact, we organised a round table on the topic of this outrage, you can see the video of the session here (in Galician). Together with a trip to Ireland and the development of our association’s powerful web archive, other milestones include a foray into audio-visual production in the form of podcasts. In fact, Fran, you were the first guest in our recording room.
FRAN QUIROGA: I’m a huge fan of radio.
How did the opportunity to become part of Concomitentes come up?
A: I knew Fran, our mediator, from other things and I remember the day he rang me to talk about Concomitentes. I know the project has been successful in other countries, but I was always a bit pessimistic about its implementation in Betanzos. In fact, I still feel the same way, although I’m more hopeful now. There’s not much institutional support, we depend on the City Council because Pasatiempo is a municipal park. We’re making small steps, but it’s difficult. This could add value to everything we’ve done over the last few years: if the messaging is clear it can have a far-reaching impact. Like in the first activity with did with Concomitentes, when people from MUSAC contemporary art museum came and others who talked about related projects. If half of what was said that day actually gets done, I’d be happy.
AP and MC: Through this guy called Panchi, also known as Fran.
“There are many ways of looking at Pasatiempo Park, so you also approach in a totally different way. Some visitors think of it as an outdoor classroom or a heritage site. But this is a way of bringing together the ideas passed on to us by the García Naveira brothers, who emigrated to America, made a fortune, and decided to do all these works when they came back to Betanzos, not just creating the park. By understanding Pasatiempo Park you can also understand what they did in Betanzos, which also links us to the rest of Europe at the time. Pasatiempo Park is a more cosmopolitan cultural asset that can reach a different audience. It is a different kind of heritage, not traditional culture, and it’s the only one of its kind. It makes us unique, that’s why I think people are starting to value it, especially young people, but not the City Council or public officials”
What does the concept of heritage and legacy mean to you?
AP and MC: Heritage is what past generations have passed on to us in many senses. It’s our responsibility, we want to identify and recognise values from the past, with a commitment to passing them on. But it’s increasingly difficult. We’re a nation that endured colonisation and there are very few remains in reasonable condition of its ravaged past, its roots and origins. There’s a sense of urgency: we can’t put off saving what little is left. We’re a generation without connection or education. It’s a twofold challenge: to save the past and transmit it.
How can art help you to look after those roots and take responsibility for them?
A: Art can be the link between the whole heritage of Betanzos and Pasatiempo Park. The original park was 90,000 square metres and now only a seventh remains. One of the actions we’re considering would take place in an area that used to be part of the Park: it would be something that has nothing to do with the original Pasatiempo, but makes people wonder why it’s there. Art would be a doorway to the past, or to something under our feet that we can no longer see.
“It’s possible to do things, regardless of the artwork that ends up being made, simply because of the bond that is created between people. That’s why the process is key, because art helps build networks, bring about collaboration”
This project brings together a large part of your local community. How did this collective work go? What conclusions would you draw?
A: The pandemic made everything harder, and people to dropped out. When we did organise activities—like Vino del País and a guided walk—they worked really well. But it’s difficult to keep people involved in such a small place. To achieve what we hope to in the lower part of the park, we’re going to need a lot more engagement, we need to explain what we’re trying to do. Even when it comes out in the press, people don’t understand the whole idea of making a work of art. The reason for this awareness-raising and messaging is that we don’t want people to see the artwork as a “tacked-on extra” but rather as part of the legacy of the García Naveira brothers who created the park. Which is now being passed on by the local community.
AP and MC: The project gave us the opportunity to meet people like the Association of the Friends of Pasatiempo Park and the traditional music group Pesquedellas. In fact, it brought together people who are now organising a node of the Rede do Rural network in Betanzos. We need more spaces that bring us together, it’s hard to believe that we didn’t know each other before. We need to be more united.
What do you think should remain once the project is finished? How do you feel about the responsibility of taking care of the artwork?
A: We’ve been talking about carrying out an intervention outside the grounds of Pasatiempo Park. That would require future maintenance, which will depend on us and on the public administrations. And we can’t vouch for them. I’d like people to remember the whole experience we’ve gone through together, but above all I hope that the people who haven’t participated in the process will go down to the Pasatiempo and realise that it’s a community project, and that it’s part of the park. We will also have to explain why we’re supporting expenditure on a new contemporary art work when the Park is in ruins and not open to the public.
AP and MC: We hope it becomes a permanent work, and that it is managed in a way that preserves the collective spirit. Maintaining what you have done is often more important than the actual work itself. We will have to breathe life into the work so that it allows us to remain connected, so that its maintenance maintains the link between people. In fact, I (AP) think that would be the deeper meaning of the project: if it becomes a one-off work that leaves no human or social mark on the community it would be meaningless. If the locals feel a bond with the work, they will want to care for it, or demand maintenance if the public administration ends up looking after the resulting artwork.