The Commissioner for the OEIRAS 27 Bid, Jorge Barreto Xavier, talked to Oeiras Valley about the different fronts of Oeiras’ bid for European Capital of Culture 2027.
The Municipal Director and Commissioner for the OEIRAS 27 Bid, Jorge Barreto Xavier, talked to Oeiras Valley about the projects to be developed by the Municipality of Oeiras under the bid for European Capital of Culture in 2027.
Read the interview and find out about the different fronts of the Oeiras 27 strategy, from the idea of transforming Oeiras into an urban ecosystem to the exploitation of the county’s distinctive heritage. Commissioner Jorge Barreto Xavier also explains how the executive of Oeiras City Council sees the cultural sector as an essential aspect of the municipality’s strategy for the next ten years.
Commissioner Jorge Barreto Xavier, the bid for European Capital of Culture 2027 is one of the major commitments that the executive of Oeiras brings to this new term of office. What can the people of Oeiras expect from this bid?
We hope that the Oeiras27 project can contribute towards providing structure to a new cycle of development in the county of Oeiras. In this new cycle, Oeiras aims to transform itself into a green and blue city.
We are not talking about a city in administrative terms, but a city in conceptual, organic terms, in terms of life: The city as a space for citizens.
A land that corresponds to a place to live, to work, to learn, to enjoy culture, to rest, and all this developed with a high degree of fluidity, mobility and proximity. Here, culture plays an absolutely central role. It serves as the foundation and cement for building the city of Oeiras.
“We want this to be a winning bid, but it also represents the strategic positioning of Oeiras for the next ten years”
Oeiras27 is a bid to be named European Capital of Culture, of course, but, at the same time, it is an active contribution towards this contemporary idea of land use planning.
When we make a link between the tangible and the intangible, when we connect people’s living area with the meaning of their lives, we are contributing towards classifying the region, towards its repositioning in the context of the metropolitan area of Lisbon and its national and international positioning.
We want this to be a winning bid, but it also represents the strategic positioning of Oeiras for the next ten years.
The Portuguese are accustomed to seeing culture as the poor cousin of the various state and local authority budgets. What lies behind this strategy in Oeiras of major cultural investment, and what message does it send to the other central and local authorities?
In fact, in percentage terms, municipalities spend much more on culture than the Ministry of Culture. The sum of spending by Portuguese municipalities on culture is significantly higher than the Ministry of Culture budget.
The municipal budget is dedicated to developing the cultural fabric of the county, developing events and programmes, activities of every kind, whether educational, amateur or high culture.
“Here, culture is not seen as an expense, but rather an investment”
Happily, Oeiras is a county with a very rich cultural life. What we are seeking to do now is consolidate it – both in terms of programmes and structures – so that we can make a leap forward, which forms part of this integrated development strategy.
The message that can be conveyed is that the investment in infrastructure and programmes we are making does not view culture as something to be done just to make up the numbers.
Here, culture is not seen as an expense, but rather an investment. An investment in infrastructure and in people: in those who live here, in those who visit and in those who may visit in the future.
The bid launched by Oeiras is based on five strategic fronts. Starting with the urban ecosystem front, could you explain the idea presented of creating various central plazas in Oeiras and how they will work?
The Oeiras27 project has an umbrella concept that covers all the others, which is the idea of an urban ecosystem. This idea is entirely consistent with the idea of a green and blue city, which is basically the defining parameter for the systemic work to be undertaken during this term of office.
Today, unfortunately, we are experiencing a climate emergency. We cannot remain in a state of denial, with the idea that climate change does not exist and has nothing to do with the life we lead. This has been, and is being, clearly demonstrated. We are going to have very serious problems in our lifetimes, and we are going to leave even more serious problems for future generations.
Changing this involves changing our cultural life. Culture is not only arts and shows, but also the way in which we look at the world and ourselves. The contribution we wish to make is by helping to view the region in a different way.
“An urban region does not have to be an enemy to the ecosystem”
An urban region does not have to be an enemy to the ecosystem. Urban regions can be urban ecosystems: spaces of balance between humans and nature.
Today, over 60% of Europeans live in cities. Cities account for a significant portion of pollution and the phenomena that cause damage to life on Earth. It is also in cities that decisions are made that affect industrial, agricultural and food production.
What we want is to contribute towards outlooks and behaviours in the urban space, with specific activities that have a cultural dynamic, but also this environmental aspect.
Parque dos Poetas and the Templo da Poesia are landmarks in Oeiras. Using these sites as a starting point, how do you intend to celebrate literature and poetry, and what other initiatives are being prepared in this respect?
Oeiras has very striking opportunities with respect to poetry and is home to Parque dos Poetas. This park is the largest of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe. It is an asset that we must value in conjunction with our population, as well as within the context of the metropolitan area of Lisbon and at national and international level.
To do so, we have taken Parque dos Poetas as one of the centrepieces of the Oeiras bid to become capital of culture in 2027 and of the projects we are developing. So, the activities have already begun to happen. This month the Art of the Word Exhibition has started, which is precisely a project related to poetry and the development of language associated with the various arts. The first international poetry biennial is going to take place in Oeiras too. These projects will be implemented in the runup to 2027.
“It is a work of construction focusing on language, through poetry, but which forms part of an identity strategy”
In conjunction with schools, we are also developing a series of projects that address editorial viewpoints or the presence of poetry in public places. The Templo da Poesia and Parque dos Poetas are at the heart of these programme dynamics.
It is a work of construction focusing on language, through poetry, but which forms part of an identity strategy. An Oeiras identity is obviously plural. Oeiras is a county with 117 nationalities. We want the various languages and forms of expression of these languages to appear in the project and we want to cover all generations and the region as a whole.
This bid brings with it the construction of new auditoriums, cultural centres and museums, as well as the upgrading of other existing facilities. What is this modernisation and the introduction of new facilities going to mean for the cultural life of Oeiras?
I believe that it is a highly significant change that adds a lot to what Oeiras has already achieved. We are talking about this magnificent site, the Marquês de Pombal Palace. A palace that the Council has preserved and restored.
The proposal made is that we can also advance to the creation of a museum of art, science and technology here. A project with elements of museology associated with research and education, in partnership with research centres and companies in the county. We believe that we are in the process of developing a highly competitive and valuable venue for residents and those who visit us.
This is one of several projects in progress. We may mention the Bateria do Areeiro, which is going to be transformed into the first unit of the Tejo Museum, at the Mosteiro da Cartuxa monastery. It will play host to a contemporary art centre geared towards an array of visual arts activities, on the former site of the Intermarchê, in Porto Salvo. This venue is being prepared to be a major hub of creative industries under the areas of art, science and technology and under the projects we are preparing for the creation of the Linda-a-Velha cultural centre, which will feature a 1,400-seat auditorium and will be one of the best equipped halls for the performing arts in the country.
“We are using this bid as a catalyst, but this work will go well beyond that”
All this is associated with the series of plazas that will link the region at various points in Oeiras, like a kind of network node in the organisation of Oeiras’ idea of a city.
Open air activities will be planned for these plazas featuring cultural activities, recreational activities, but also meeting points for debating civic duty, the state of the environment or to hold decentralised municipal meetings…
Facilities with huge possibilities, which will have associated technology, screens and sensors that will allow people in one plaza to watch a show taking place in another, and joint projects to be carried out in the different plazas, among other ideas.
From the facilities we are creating to the urban design guided by this idea of a green and blue city, the county will gain a lot, regardless of whether or not our bid to become European Capital of Culture 2027 is successful.
We are using this bid as a catalyst, but this work will go well beyond that.
The exploitation of the cultural heritage of Oeiras, whether tangible or intangible, as well as public access to that heritage, will be one of the major crusades of this bid. What are the Council’s major goals in this respect?
With respect to tangible cultural heritage, we have 12 km of riverfronts and seafronts, which play host to the largest number of naval fortifications of the Barra do Tejo coastal defences which, taken together, represent the largest series of naval fortifications in the world.
Oeiras having the most significant number of these fortifications, we are working on restoring this heritage, also linking it to the existence of one of the first two aquariums in Europe, the Vasco da Gama aquarium.
Furthermore, we have the consistent restoration of religious heritage buildings. We have the work to restore the Fábrica da Pólvora da Barcarena, the so-called Fábrica de Cima. Added to that, we have the restoration of the Convento da Cartuxa convent, the work underway at Quinta Real de Caxias, Casa de D. Miguel in Queijas, and many other projects under development. This is highly significant work.
“We want people to get to know this heritage better. We want to publicise it and make it more widely known”
Associated with all this non-movable cultural heritage, we have movable cultural heritage, which includes sculptures, paintings and other kinds of heritage items, which it is in our interest to protect and place a high value on.
After that, we have the intangible cultural heritage: religious traditions, military traditions – Oeiras has had a very significant military history over the centuries – fishing traditions, sports traditions – Oeiras has the largest sports complex in the country, the Jamor complex, the City of Football, but is also very involved in roller hockey.
Despite not being prominent in the area of surfing, Oeiras has various people closely linked to surfing, its seafront, and also major intangible cultural heritage associated with this sports activity. We must also mention our culinary cultural heritage.
We want people to get to know this cultural heritage better. We want to publicise it and make it more widely known and this will also have a very significant economic impact.
In relation to naval heritage in Oeiras, we already know that one of the main goals involves upgrading various fortifications and opening them up to the public. What more can we expect under this aspect of the Oeiras27 bid?
In terms of naval heritage, we indeed want to work on the shoreline that is managed by the municipality. We expect this area to grow, as there is a legitimate expectation that the areas under the management of the Port of Lisbon will be taken over by the Municipality of Oeiras.
We also want to increase the dynamism of the underwater heritage. The Tagus estuary is one of the biggest graveyards of ships in the world. Entering Barra do Tejo was very difficult due to the local currents, orientations and the limited times at which entry was possible, which caused many shipwrecks. As is well known, Lisbon was a seat of naval power for centuries, so there is therefore a lot of work to be done, whether in terms of underwater exploration, tourism, diving or investigating the historical evidence of all this material.
There is also enjoyment of the river, which needs to be enhanced. Cooperation with Farol do Bugio lighthouse and all matters relating to learning sports, recreation and use of the river require improvement.
Around two years ago, you were appointed Municipal Director of Education, Social and Cultural Development of Oeiras City Council. What is different about this role from others you have occupied in the past, such as councillor, and what is your assessment of your last two years of work on behalf of the population of Oeiras?
I have been fortunate. There are aspects that have to do with competence, but, in this case, I was fortunate to be invited by the mayor to occupy a position here in the Municipality. I had already been a councillor here for 20 years and after I performed various duties at national and international level, both in the public and private spheres.
It is a happy homecoming, and I am very glad to be working again on behalf of Oeiras and its people. However, during the performance of my duties, I, like so many other Portuguese, faced a significant challenge, as I arrived in September 2019 and the pandemic became known in January 2020.
Obviously, in the area of culture, relational dynamics are absolutely essential. What we have been doing is strategic work, which did not stop, on the contrary, we managed to put in a lot of groundwork, which we are now putting into practice. Oeiras City Council also managed to maintain much of its cultural programme, besides that which had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Municipality of Oeiras is a flagship at national level in terms of providing public services, but those who do things well always want to do things better, and that is the cultural hallmark of Oeiras”
With regard to the other parts of my role as municipal director, as in the area of education or social services, I believe we have proved ourselves very capable. Oeiras managed to offer a hands-on response to the pandemic, thanks to the political leadership and the work of the entire staff of managers and employees.
If we mention the areas of Sport, Youth and Tourism, which also fall under this municipal division, we were able to do consistent work, but there were negative impacts we had to overcome. But even so, we did not neglect to prepare for the future.
We are all anxious for a post-pandemic period in which we can work together in a closer and more integrated manner. I think we can provide even stronger public services than we are providing. The Municipality of Oeiras is a flagship at national level in terms of providing public services, but those who do things well always want to do things better, and that is the cultural hallmark of Oeiras.