Up to seven million people are expected to take part in Forum Barcelona 2004, writes Yvonne Gordon
An ambitious new international event, the Universal Forum of Cultures, opened on Barcelona's sea front this week. Up to seven million people are expected to visit the massive event which is staged on a site that, since 1999, has cost €2.7 billion to develop. Running until September, Forum Barcelona 2004 aims to address some of our biggest global concerns, from environmental and cultural problems to the conflicts of war.
The first forum of this kind, its main aim is to deal with the Earth's major problems. It hopes to offer a new and creative space for people from throughout the world to reflect on cultural and social conflicts through debates, congresses, music and festivals.
Forum Barcelona 2004 is based on three themes: cultural diversity, sustainable development and peace. According to the forum's deputy general manager, Erik Hauck, it is the first time an international event links these three themes. It is hoped participants will discuss how to shape a world in which people and nature can co-exist in harmony. By creating a cultural event, Hauck says, they have tried to create an environment where people will feel comfortable and relaxed, and this should help dialogue.
Forum Barcelona 2004 is a joint initiative of the Barcelona city council, the Catalan autonomous government and the Spanish government. Hauck says the organisers hope to attract more than seven million visitors and they compare the scale of the forum to the Olympics or World Expos.
The organisers hope the forum, which has the support of the 186 UNESCO member countries (including Ireland), will take place every four years. Cities in Canada, Japan, South America and Europe have expressed an interest in hosting the next Forum in 2008.
Individuals, civic organisations, educational and cultural institutions, professionals and religious groups have been invited to take part.
Irish musicians Kíla will play two concerts at the Forum in July. The group, which regularly plays at world Expos and the WOMAD festivals of world music, arts and dance, and recently performed at the European Day of Welcomes concert in Dublin, believes differences in the world's cultures should be celebrated.
"The more homogenous music gets, the more boring it becomes," says band member Colm Ó Snodaigh. "It is amazing to watch people from different cultures playing music. Music is great to bring people together. It is a great leveller."
Ó Snodaigh says that by participating in the forum, Kíla hopes to show how strong Irish culture is. By singing in Irish, they will show how "small languages" can be used to communicate. Other Irish activities will include demonstrations of hurling and Gaelic football in the exhibition of traditional sports. Meanwhile, the audio-visual exhibition on different languages and culture, "Voices", will include the Irish language.
Forum Barcelona 2004 has links with many international organisations and will tie in with events such as the World Youth Festival, the World Volunteer Conference, World Refugee Day and World Environment Day as well as various conferences.
Brian Trench, head of Dublin City University's School of Communications, is organising the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference at the forum in June. This is the PCST's eighth conference and Trench says the forum provides an attractive context in which to hold the conference, because of its main theme of cultural diversity.
"Barcelona has defined itself as a city of knowledge," says Trench. "It is an extraordinarily vibrant place."
For further information and event programmes, see www.barcelona2004.org