2004 Universal Forum of Cultures

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Aerial view of the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures

The 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures - (Catalan: Fòrum Universal de les Cultures, Spanish: Fórum Universal de las Culturas) was a 141-day international event that took place in the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona (CCIB) and its surrounding venues, Barcelona, Spain from May 9 to September 26, 2004, and was the first edition of the Universal Forum of Cultures. The open space used by the event is now a public park called the Parc del Fòrum.


Show "L'Arbre de la Memòria" by Els Comediants, during the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures

The 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures was organized by Barcelona's city council, the regional government (the Generalitat de Catalunya), the Spanish National Government and UNESCO. It was conceived by its prime mover (Pasqual Maragall, then Mayor of Barcelona) as a way of promoting the city's burgeoning tourist industry in the wake of the 1992 Olympic Games, which were also held in Barcelona. The forum was also politically useful, given the mayor's earlier failure to deliver on a 1996 promise to secure an international exposition for the city.

The official aims of the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures included support for peace, sustainable development, human rights and respect for diversity.

Mikhail Gorbachev at the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures

The forum hosted more than 40 international conventions (participants included Juan Antonio Samaranch, Mikhail Gorbachev, José Saramago, Felipe González, Rigoberta Menchú, Angelina Jolie, Robert McNamara, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Lionel Jospin, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Romano Prodi and Salman Rushdie, among others), performances, markets, games, 423 concerts, 57 street performances, 44 theatre, dance and cabaret companies, 20 circus acts and over 20 exhibitions.

Josep Acebillo was named Director for Architecture and Infrastructures of the Forum. The events were held at the eastern end of Avinguda Diagonal, a main cross-city artery. The seaside area was developed to house the event. It covered 30 hectares between the Barcelona Olympic port and Sant Adrià de Besòs, and culminated the urban regeneration programme started for the 1992 Olympics. The new site comprises a convention center, central plaza, parks, auditoriums, a new port and a Forum Building (designed by architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron).

In the framework of this Forum, the 4th Porto Alegre Forum of Local Authorities for Social Inclusion was held, which approved the Agenda 21 for culture on 8 May 2004.


The forum showed four thematic exhibitions, intended to achieve a renewal of ideas and attitudes toward the 21st century, by undertaking a careful analysis of cultural diversity, sustainable development and the conditions for peace:


Sculptural photovoltaic plate in Forum area

The broad business concept shaping the forum was largely drawn up by ESADE. The link between the forum's commercial sponsors and the business school can readily be appreciated by comparing the companies listed on ESADE's Board of Trustees and those featured on the forum's web site. The strong business orientation apparent in the organization of the event gave rise to considerable local controversy in both the run-up to the forum and during the event itself. Several NGOs argued that they were frozen out of the decision-making process as the original Forum concept was radically altered to cater to corporate interests.

The campaign against the forum took many forms. One of the biggest demonstrations consisted of a seaborne invasion by anti-Forum protesters [2] landing in makeshift rafts. This dealt a serious blow to the event's carefully groomed media image, particularly when Jordi Oliveras, the forum's Director-General was kicked by a demonstrator and Miquel Miró, the Director of Operations, was hit over the head by one of the forum's security guards. The "invasion" was widely reported in the press, despite the fact that major newspapers, radio and television stations had been co-opted into the forum under a special media consortium agreement.

The choice of some speakers at the forum's "dialogues" also sparked protest. An article in one of Catalonia's mass circulation dailies argued that Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (former President of Bolivia and a keynote speaker at a Forum conference on development problems in South America) was a less than ideal choice. Lozada had a major stake in Bolivia's highly polluting Potosi mine and the previous year had taken a flight to Miami while the Bolivian military machine-gunned striking miners at home.

The forum also attracted the ire of demonstrators when the organizers refused to condemn the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fact that several of the forum's sponsors had significant stakes in the arms industry further exacerbated protests.

Critics pointed to the $2.3 billion price tag and commercial sponsorship by multinationals ENDESA, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Telefónica, and Indra with dubious reputations in the Third World. Several groups also criticised the massive property and coastline destruction involved in building the forum site. In addition, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and Amnesty International, withdrew from the forum project in protest. This may explain why the forum fell so far short of its projected attendance figures for the 141-day event. The forum expected 5 million visitors but the official final attendance figure was around 3.5 million. Independent estimates of attendance were significantly lower.

The place today[edit]

The central plaza and the open space surrounding forms a public area called Parc del Fòrum, and is now home to several massive events around the year, including the Primavera Sound Festival, Summercase, the Catalonia April Fair and the most popular concerts in La Mercè.

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