By Jordi Baltà Portolés (@jordibalta) | The Music School and Arts Centre of L’Hospitalet, (EMMCA) is a public center created in 2005, which seeks to democratise access to culture by offering multiple opportunities for participation in cultural  activities and artistic education. The musical education offer is particularly noteworthy, but the center also offers dance and theatre, and participates continuously in activities in collaboration with other social, cultural and educational organisations in the surrounding area.

With about 270,000 inhabitants, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat is the second most populated city in Catalonia and has some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Europe. The city has seen in education and culture two central elements of its development strategy, a line in which EMMCA plays a very important role.

In fact, the centre’s good practices have earned it several awards at local and European level: for example, the European URBACT programme considered the EMMCA a good practice, for its contribution to social cohesion through the development of the arts. The center is also currently leading a European knowledge-sharing project on music education and social inclusion in urban settings.

In this sense, EMMCA can be seen as contributing to the achievement of several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included in the United Nations 2030 Agenda, in terms of equal access to education and the enhancement of cultural diversity in learning (goals 4.5 and 4.7), the promotion of social inclusion and equal opportunities (10.2 and 10.3), and the encouragement of partnerships to contribute to development (17.17).

We talked about EMMCA’s work with its general coordinator, Raül Brenchat.

Can you explain the origin of the EMMCA, and what characterises the center?

The EMMCA was born in 2005, at a time when L’Hospitalet didn’t have any public arts education school. The project aimed to increase the number of students in arts education and to make educational and cultural activities available to the whole population.

In a context marked by high population density and diversity, as a result of the arrival of many migrants at various historical moments, a public arts education center cannot be only for a few, but must reach as much of the population as possible.

In practice, this means having an offer open to practically all age groups, and collaborating with many other centers and organizations. Until last year we had students ranging from the age of 4 to the elderly, and now we are starting to work also with groups from 0 to 3 years old. Overall, the EMMCA currently has more than 2,500 students. Among them are several classes from the 11 primary and secondary schools with which we have ongoing programmes of collaboration.

In music education, inspired by the experience of other European cities, we are committed to an innovative model of a centre for training, creation, production and dissemination, which is linked to cultural, educational and social policies, and which combines activities outside school hours with activities in several local schools and educational centres.

The methodological elements that characterise us are based on the group as the natural learning environment. The courses that focus on the learning of a music instrument are practice-oriented and place emphasis on the ensemble as the backbone of learning, which, at the same time, serves to develop competences. We learn music, dance or theater in order to play, and we play them in order to share them.

These distinctive features of the center, which were established from the beginning, have continued to form the basis of our work.

Talking about collaboration with schools, how is it organised?

One of the key ideas is that in order to reach such a large and diverse population, you have to carry out activities outside your headquarters. Thus, in 2005 the “Fem Tàndem” program was created, which promotes collaboration between cultural and educational agents. It began with a collaboration between EMMCA and the Pau Vila school, a nursery and primary education center located in the neighborhood of La Florida, an area with a great diversity of origins, and has progressively become a municipal program in which many other agents participate. 

In this way, EMMCA teachers carry out educational activities in music, dance or theater in educational centers in various districts of the city. And the students of the school groups that participate in the programme are also from EMMCA. The pedagogical methodology that we apply in these centers is the same as in the EMMCA headquarters, combining instrumental and ensemble practice. Classes are held within school hours, and communication and relationship with the schools are very positive.

When children finish their cycle in primary school, they can continue their musical education at the EMMCA headquarters, where they can meet students from other neighborhoods of the city. Having started at school facilitates interest in continuing to practice, and makes it possible for young people who would not otherwise coincide or collaborate with each other to meet.

Furthermore, thanks to these collaborations with schools, we have managed to ensure that the composition of the EMMCA student body, according to origin, is on the whole the same as that of the population of L’Hospitalet, something that we believe testifies to the work done in terms of inclusion and diversity.

What challenges do you have to face in this process?

For us a key moment is to get young people to make the step from their school to follow their training at the EMMCA headquarters. To achieve this, three main barriers have to be faced: one related to distance, another to the price of education, and the third to the cost of instruments.

The Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation supported the project for four years in order to have a social education figure to accompany the teachers of some schools and facilitate dialogue with families, with a view to encouraging continuity in artistic education. A key issue in this continuity is the acquisition of the instrument, the cost of which can vary greatly depending on the instrument in question. In the first year of education at headquarters, the instruments are provided, and families are progressively encouraged to buy one.

Regarding the barrier posed by the price of the courses, this is an issue that is being worked on with the City Council, with the aim of being able to reduce the cost. Finally, issues related to the distance to the center are difficult to resolve, as the territorial structure of L’Hospitalet itself, and the existing transport networks, make communication within the municipality somewhat difficult.

On the other hand, we share with other educational agents the work aimed at reducing school dropout rates. For example, there is a school that used to offer only primary education and now has secondary education as well, and this has allowed it to increase the number of years of schooling and for students to continue their dance training for longer and in some cases to move on to the EMMCA headquarters, something that would have been unthinkable years ago.

The very name of the EMMCA makes it clear that this is not only a school, but also a cultural center. What does this dimension translate into?

Yes, each year we organise or participate in approximately 200 to 250 cultural activities: concerts, exhibitions, festivals, performances, etc., although now there are fewer, due to the pandemic. One of the effects of this involvement in different activities is that it provides a gateway to the cultural life of the city for many families, something that probably would not happen without their involvement with EMMCA.

Many of these activities are carried out in collaboration with organizations of all kinds: from the educational centers and cultural organisations of L’Hospitalet, to scientific and health institutions such as the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) or the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), with whom we have participated in joint activities, for example.

Is there any collaboration that you want to highlight in particular?

There are many that I find very interesting, but there is certainly one that serves to explain the whole project. The Banda Provençana is made up of members from different places: those who have learned a wind instrument at school and then continue to learn at the EMMCA’s main premises, those who come to the EMMCA from the hand of their families, teachers from the center, amateur musicians from the city, traditional ensembles, and folk culture organizations representing either Catalan culture or that from other places, such as the bagpipes of the Casa Galega and the grallers and gralleres of Bellvitge [i.e. players of a traditional Catalan music instrument, similar to a shawm].

Starting from very diverse origins, the Band has developed a repertoire based on the recovery of the popular culture of L’Hospitalet and the integration of other elements. All this is presented on the occasion of the opening of the local Spring Festival, putting music to the local festive imagery. It takes place every year since 2012, and has become a new local tradition. Last year, a record was released with the compositions used each year, giving students the opportunity to enter a recording studio for the first time.

Thank you very much for this conversation and we hope that all your work continues!