Gràcia has a reputation of being an area rife with hidden gems. Due to the nature of the narrow pavements, which all life forms in the neighbourhood pass along the edge of, passers-by could be expected to fail to spot some diamonds while keeping their eyes on the pavement. Dark exteriors mask many dens of local talent, where music and art are waiting to be revealed to a curious glance inside. With no neon lights or sign announcing its presence, El Local leaves its door wide open. This art association thrives on local and international exchanges, and is run by an owner keen to make people feel at home.
Those who step into El Local and ask the owner, Lidia Aguiló Rumbeu, what she sells, get a quick reply: “Illusions!” All is certainly not what is seems here, and part of Aguiló’s daily work is setting the record straight. Despite curiosity, many people shy away from an open door to art. “If anyone asked me I’d be the first to admit I’m no art expert,” she exclaimed, smiling.
In fact, she had not even considered her present career until her daughter spotted an empty premises in Gràcia, and asked, “Wouldn’t you like to have your own local?” The presence of the Dubliner (Irish Cultural Centre) a few doors down gave Aguiló sufficient encouragement to try. Within a month their proposal to set up an art association in a former Italian restaurant had been accepted. They didn’t have any capital, so they renovated the interior themselves. After five months spent painting and laying wooden floors, El Local was ready to open in 2004.
El Local’s starting point was as a space that would act as a bridge between local people and art. By joining the association and paying €3 a month, anyone can make a proposal for using the space. There’s no catch. This is a venue which artists and musicians can use without having to pay upfront. “We operate on a drop-in-and-ask basis, whether it’s exhibiting art, photography, illustrations, or performing poetry, theatre or music,” said Aguiló. If accepted, the individual or group can transform their temporary home to their creative hearts content. It may look like a gallery from the outside, but be warned: this is not an art-for-profit establishment. Artists who enter with euro-tinted glasses may feel the territorial bite of a defensive owner. Those who enter humbly meet Aguiló’s willingness to accommodate or find plan B. Such as collaborating with the monks across the road to host classical/folk and rock concerts in the cloisters. Her aim is to establish links within the community in which she grew up.
Because she is from the neighbourhood, Aguiló brings a realistic attitude to the job. She knows that success doesn’t come just by being friendly and helpful, you have to accept the highs and lows. You can have a month that's more successful than ever, yet you still struggle to pay the bills. You can begin to feel established, yet you live with the constant fear of losing your license. The fate of neighbouring venues, banned from playing live music, or shut down by the local authority forces this self-confessed art rookie to take a philosophical approach: “I just take each day at a time.”
Luckily, for El Local, it’s a case of so far, so good. The programme is expanding and the membership is rising. So, the next time you pass, go in. It’s always possible to be inspired or informed, and better yet, you might get a gig.