Monday 10 January 2011

Winnipeg, Bilbao and Valencia

I didn't have a chance to read the Winnipeg Free Press this weekend, but I did see the front page. Actually, I saw half of the front page through the window of the news paper box, but I believe that makes me qualified to comment on it's content.

What I saw appeared to be a comparison of Winnipeg with Bilbao Spain. Winnipeg, with its Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Bilbao with its Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum. Perhaps some sort of high-level comparison can be drawn there, but to expect that the CMHR will have the same kind of impact on Winnipeg as The Goog (as they call it on the streetz) had on Bilbao is, I believe, somewhat optimistic. Extremely optimistic, actually.

Firstly, "Canadian Museum for Human Rights" is not nearly as catchy a name as "Guggenheim".
Secondly, Bilbao has the advantage of being located in warm and touristy Spain. People don't travel to Spain just to visit The Goog. They travel to Spain to be in Spain, and while they're there they visit The Goog.
Thirdly, people generally don't like to see depressing things when they're on vacation.

If you want to make a comparison with a Spanish city, there is another one you should consider: Valencia. Yes, Valencia .... Mediterranean yachting hotbed and home of a Formula 1 Grand Prix race, tasty oranges, and paella.

Valencia has a cluster of architecturally unique venues called The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias). It includes a science museum, an opera house that looks like a storm trooper helmet, botanical gardens, a cinema/planetarium, a indoor sports arena, and Europe's largest oceanographic insititute. Coincidentally, these buildings are all located immediately adjacent to a cable supported bridge (puente l'assut de l'or) that resemblances our own Esplanade Riel.

In fact, when I posted the above pic two years ago on a personal website for friends and family, I had the caption:

This is the brand new International Museum for Human Rights that they just finished building in Valencia. Haha. Just kidding.

Some more pics:

Bilbao is probably a more appropriate comparison with Winnipeg, because Valencia was already "on the map" before these things were built. But my point is ... do I have a point? Ya, I guess I do. I guess my point is, interesting architecture and architecturally unique venues are common, but rarely do they have the impact of the Guggenheim. You don't often hear of people talking about the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, or of any number of other weird and wonderful buildings throughout the world, in the same way that they speak of The Goog or the Sydney opera house.

Now, I don't know what the piece in the Free Press was concluding, but I just want to caution about getting your expectations too high. As stunning as the CMHR may turn out to be, it is highly unlikely that it will be marveled over as one of the greatest masterpieces of modern architecture like the Guggenheim was, and it is even more unlikely that the impact will be near as great.


Just for fun, here is one other pic that I took in Valencia:


The Traveler said...

The other side of the article was the difference in the cities attitudes theres positive ours negative

The View from Seven said...

Another thing that works in Bilbao's favour is that it's an affordable weekend getaway from someplace like London. EasyJet's current price for the Friday night London-Bilbao flight this weekend and a return flight late Sunday including 1 checked bag and insurance: £117.50 ($181.60 Cdn.)

Someone from Calgary wanting to fly to Winnipeg this weekend would have to pay more than 2.5x as much. WestJet's current price for a Friday night Calgary-Winnipeg flight and a return flight late Sunday: $483.26

And as you mentioned, it's warm in Bilbao, with a forecast high of 21C under sunny skies this coming Saturday...

RM said...

And as you mentioned, people seldom want to see something as depressing as the contents of the CMHR will have while on vacation. While on a 7 week tour of Europe, I didn't go see a Concentration Camp. I did go to the Holocaust Memorial, but I was in and outta there in about a half hour. I was on vacation. No one is coming to Winnipeg BECAUSE of the CMHR, but they MIGHT go see it while they're here. (I did go to Cologne JUST to see the Dom Cathederal though, so sometimes, if convenient, people might go a little out of their way to see an important architectural work.)

cherenkov said...

@chum: Anybody who says I have a bad attitude can suck it.

@7: That's pretty sweet .. 21 and sunny. Good point about the flight costs.

@RM: "if convenient"... Winnipeg isn't just a little out of the way from many places. But .. some people will go out of their way to see it I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Peanut, but I don't think you can compare Valencia to Bilbao. Yes, Bilbao is warmer than Winnipeg, but it was not a tourism draw for a long time because it was largely an industrial centre that lacked tourism infrastructure and was perceived as dangerous because of terrorist groups like ETA. Valencia, on the other hand, gets even nicer weather and more tourists by virtue of the fact that it's right on the Balearic/Mediterranean coast.

Visitors to Spain had plenty of other options of places to visit rather than a steel-producing hinterland where hardcore Basque separatists occasionally blow up cars. In fact, they still do - what's remarkable about the Guggenheim is that it draws so many international visitors. The Guggenheim competes with five world class, cross-this-off-your-life-list art museums within a day's train ride: the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and the Picasso and Miro museums in Barcelona. All of those cities have much more going for them tourism wise than Bilbao, which is why the whole "Bilbao effect" is a relevant thing to look at when you're looking at building a significant national museum in Winnipeg. Frankly, that was the whole point of the comparison.

If you want to make a salient comparison between Valencia and Winnipeg, however, it's possible to do so with another major landmark. Just point to this:

Great pics, by the way.

cherenkov said...

Hi Curtis. Whatcha been up to?

I do understand the point, and acknowledge that Bilbao is a more appropriate comparison. My purpose of bringing Valencia in -- other than as an excuse to post photos -- is to make the point that, of all the unique museums out there, very few get the kind of attention that the Guggenheim does. If you were to pick up L'Umbracle from Valencia and plop it down in Bilbao instead of the Guggenheim, would you still have seen the Bilbao effect? Ditto with CMHR. You might see it to a much lesser degree. I think Bilbao is the extreme example of what can happen.

the Stiff Rod said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA.....there is not much I can add.

Anonymous said...


Not much - things are good.

I agree with your point about what goes there perhaps not making as much difference. As someone with a background in economics, you would probably appreciate the fact that what gets Bilbao and the Guggenheim so much attention is that it benefits from a first mover advantage. As one of the first places that adopted what's come to be known as the "cultural flagship" model of urban revitalization, it gets the glory for being one of the first places in the world to adopt such a strategy.

Besides the fact that the "Bilbao effect" is expected to diminish over time in that city, one of the obvious criticisms of this model, is that cities that copy this blueprint and build the second, third, or 15th internationally-renowned attraction such as this may not get the same bang for their buck as the first-mover in this particular marketplace.

Heck, even Frank Gehry himself is a skeptic of the theory:

For further reading (sorry, but you require a subscription for some of these):

Beatriz Plaza, "Evaluating the Influence of a Large Cultural Artifact in the Attraction of Tourism: The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Case." Urban Affairs Review 36:2 (2000), 264-274.

Plaza, "The Bilbao Effect," Museum News, 5:86 (2007).

Maria V. Gomez and Sara Gonzalez, "A Reply To Beatriz Plaza's 'The Guggenheim-Bilbao Museum Effect,'" International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25:4 (2001), 898-900.

Davide Ponzini, "Bilbao Effects and Narrative Defects." Cahiers de recherche du Programme Villes &
territoires. Paris: Sciences Po, 2010.

cherenkov said...

Thanks for the links.

(note: your last comment got caught up in my spam filter, hence not appearing right away.)

reedsolomon.matr1x at said...

You know what, people are always saying Winnipeg is cold and Winnipeg has mosquitos and why should anyone want to come here, but they're not thinking like salesmen. Winnipeg, nay, the province of Manitoba needs to embrace the faults and repackage them as positives. I mean, people go to Churchill just to see the polar bears and experience the tundra and quietude and beluga whales. It's all marketing. -50 Celsius? Why, that's a balmy 223.15 Kelvin! Come see the world famous floodway .. have a flood festival, take a picture with floaty the piece of floating driftwood. sell popcorn.. rides.. I dunno. I'm sure there are people who do this for a living. Hire the people who convinced me that seeing Batman and Robin in the movie theatres was a good idea. Whoever, as long as its not the room full of idiots who came up with Spirited Energy.

Double Em Martin said...

"Thirdly, people generally don't like to see depressing things when they're on vacation."

I don't know if I'd bet too much on that -- its undoubtedly true for some, but I think a large number of people want to see interesting things while they're on vacation that they can't see anywhere else, even if they're also depressing.

When I was 12, for example, the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. was one of the first places my family visited (and it was stunning). If you check its visitor stats and demographics, they suggest pretty strongly that it's a significant tourist attraction, even though I still remember it as one of the most crushingly sad places I've ever spent four hours in.

There are also a lot of museums / tourist spots that are depressing but also historic -- Auschwitz, Hiroshima -- that people make extra effort to visit.

CMHR doesn't have the advantage of being on an infamously historic spot, or being in a city or region that draws huge amounts of tourism anyway, so those examples are by no means reliably predictive. But what little precedent there is for large museums about sad things suggests that if its content is compelling enough, it will attract an audience.

unclebob said...

I have noted over the past few weeks a downward change in the bustle of the CMHR site. I also noted they are looking for another communications person.I wonder if they have hit a cash crunch?

cherenkov said...

@MM: thanks for the comments. Did you go to Washington specifically to visit the museum?

I have a hard time seeing people set their vacation destination based on a museum like CMHR, but I could be wrong. Places like Auschwitz are different because they are actual historic sites. The scene of the crime, not some recreation.

The other thing working against CMHR is subjectivity: moreso than most museums, deciding what goes in and how that is portrayed could be very contentious, and that concern could deter people from visiting.

@Bob: you don't think it's just a usual winter slow-down?

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