Saturday, 16.02.2019
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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

Tenerife’s culture vulture
With twenty years service in his local Arona council, the newly elected island councillor for culture, Miguel Delgado, is surprisingly youthful despite his beard. I was intrigued to find out how a young junior schoolteacher from a San Lorenzo school ended up in charge of the Cabildo’s (island council’s) cultural office.

27.02.2004 -

“I trained as a teacher - I’m on leave of absence from the ‘El Fraile’ primary school in Arona.  However, these days it would appear that I’m a politician.  Things happen, because they happen.  I never set out to be a councillor or mayor and even less an island councillor.  You find yourself more and more committed.

“In the South in the 80’s, there was little or no cultural offer - no concerts, or exhibitions, or plays.  I was involved with everything to do with the school in the San Lorenzo valley and I was always stirring things up, especially with the children in my own classes, making the most of the opportunities to take them to exhibitions or performances in Santa Cruz.  Encouraging groups of young people in the local fiestas to organise music and folklore, art exhibitions etc. and from there, I found my slot.  In 1983, although it had never crossed my mind to present myself for public office, I was asked to put my name forward on an electoral list, with the socialist’s and I committed myself.  But, I only agreed on the express condition that I would be involved in culture, I had no interest or ambitions in anything else, not even in my wildest dreams.”

The rest is history, twenty years as a councillor only four in opposition, and the last six as mayor in the meantime switching to the CC (Canarian Coalition Party).

What made him want to change job?  “I kept committing four more years to public service, and four more until twenty years had gone by.  It’s obviously a great honour for any citizen to be mayor of his home town, but it’s also a great responsibility.  The party offered me the opportunity in 2003 to stand for the Cabildo, I thought it was a good time to move on, and here I am.”

As culture can cover such a broad spectrum and the Cabildo’s web page is a little out of date, I clarified what Miguel is responsible for.  Generally it’s to develop culture within the island, all over the island and especially for the young.  He has the responsibility for music, theatre, dance, libraries and the historical heritage.  “Honestly, heritage, culture, I’ve always liked this field, I couldn’t have found a better place to fit in, and now I’m trying to develop it as well as I can, within the limits of my influence and economic possibilities.  It’s not easy to allocate.  For example, Tenerife has 41 local orchestras - we have to encourage them.  They are creating healthy pastimes, developing abilities.  There are groups for theatre, folklore and dance.  We have to distribute limited funds between so many groups.  One of the major aims of this term of office is to set up a chain of dance schools, similar to the chain of music schools, to make all kinds of dancing tuition available to everybody, irrespective of their social or economic position.”

The Tenerife Auditorium has, despite continued criticism, become a major symbol of the capital city.  “It’s full nearly every performance and there are many European clients, especially residents.  There is even one tour operator who is offering mini cultural breaks, including entrance tickets.”  It will soon be possible to buy tickets via the web on or by phone from 902317327 and in the CajaCanarias cash points, as well as the Los Cristianos Cultural centre and the box office and Miguel hopes the scheme will widen to include the other cultural offers such as the Theatro Güimera.

“At the moment, the installations that we have, are what we’ve got to work with.  In the Auditorium for example, there are fixed programmes of music which occupy many weeks of programming, then there’s the opera which is another two months.  It’s important that the dates remain the same so that the clients can organise their calendars around them, but it means that the possibility of growth or innovation is difficult.  That’s why, long term, we would be looking for the creation of more centres and more decentralisation.  We want everybody to have access to the same level of culture and the distance we live from the capital should not be an advantage or disadvantage, although obviously, we can’t build an Auditorium in every town!”

He believes too that it’s important that we all contribute to the cultural offer.  “We’re a bit too used to ‘daddy council’, or ‘daddy government’ doing everything for us.  We should also support and encourage private initiatives such as the Tropicana or Carmen Mota shows in the South - incredible performances, or the private galleries and small private theatres like the Victoria Theatre in Santa Cruz.  They enrich the offer, it’s another option.” 

A major improvement to the library service is also in the pipeline, by the beginning of 2006 all the island’s library facilities will be linked, together with the resources of the CajaCanarias and the government.  Via the ‘mother library’ to be installed in the new Oscar Domínguez centre, library users will have access to any book within the network.  Long term plans will extend this service countrywide.  They would be delighted if foreign language books could be included, both for foreign residents and students.  So if you have any books in good condition that you don’t want, donate them to your local library.  Plans are also in hand to make the libraries much more dynamic spaces, with computers, internet connections, activities to encourage reading and music, video and DVD lending facilities.

Miguel is tremendously enthusiastic about the work the island council does in rescuing and restoring the architectural heritage of Tenerife.  Although there are many projects on the go, there is so much to do that they have to prioritise the most urgent cases.  Outstanding amongst the work in hand is the Padre Anchieta house in La Laguna, the Casa del Patio in Santiago del Teide, the “ecclesiastical jewel” of the Church of Amparo which opened its doors gain on the 27th of March, and the ex convent of Granadilla which will be a new library.  There have been criticisms of so much money being spent to renovate beautiful old buildings which then remain empty - that there is money to restore, but not to maintain.  According to Miguel, to obtain money from the Cabildo, one of the criteria they use is that they will be used.  “That’s fundamental.  Once restored they have to be given life, if they’re not used they deteriorate, before we begin the restoration, we want to know what it will be used for.”

Miguel hasn’t lost touch with his home town - he hasn’t moved from the south and continues to commute almost daily.  He looks back on his time in Arona with fondness and is particularly proud of the creation during his time on the council, of crèches for working parents, additional sports centres, a new shelter for victims of domestic violence, and the beginning of the new citizen’s advice bureau service which has grown and grown.  He sees his new job as, “A different activity, possibly without so much pressure, neither as strong nor as direct as a town mayor.  The responsibility covers a larger area, but in a smaller field.”

Meanwhile the cultural offer in the island continues slowly to improve.  There are a number of popular annual festivals, the ‘Cuenta Cuentos’ in Los Silos, a story telling event to encourage children to read, the Candelaria song festival, the La Laguna assembly of choirs in December and the ‘Spring music’ festival in Arona in April and May.  As a world first, an offer of a ‘historical film festival’ is being planned in La Laguna for May this year.

From San Lorenzo, to Arona, to Santa Cruz, I was interested to know if Miguel would be interested in going further in politics, particularly as his two daughters are now grown up.  “No, I’ve no political ambitions and never have had.  Things have just turned out this way, becoming involved then committed.  It’s important to remember, that there will come a time to make way for someone younger.  If the voters or even the Party, decide that it’s time I made way for someone else, well, that’s fine by me.  It would be something else if the Party decides my skills would be better used elsewhere, but I’ve no personal ambitions.  I have always understood politics as a form of public service.”

Notwithstanding over twenty years in the service of the public, Miguel Delgado is still full of an enchantingly contagious enthusiasm for his work.  Patient and knowledgeable but never high-brow, Miguel was a pleasure to meet and a joy to speak to.  His good humour and passion for his given task is evident, but the cultural future of the island of Tenerife will not rest easily in his hands, despite the financial restrictions, it will move, grow and develop as he continues stirring things up, but now, over the whole island.


By Sheila Collis

Gallery: Tenerife’s culture vulture
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