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Spain’s new King could mean good things for the country’s arts

Prince Felipe has shown his commitment to culture with an award-giving foundation started when he was 12 years old

The Spanish architect Rafael Moneo received an award from HRH the Prince of Asturias in 2012. Photo: © FPA

Prince Felipe of Spain chose a cultural awards ceremony as the occasion for his first speech after his father, King Juan Carlos, announced his abdication on Monday. The future King’s speech stressed his commitment to the unity and diversity of Spain—but the Prince has demonstrated a track record of interest in the arts as well.

The Prince of Asturias and his wife are regular visitors to the Arco Madrid fair, following a tradition started by his mother, Queen Sofia, who has attended Spain’s leading art event since its earliest years.

When the heir to the throne was just 12 years old, he established the Prince of Asturias Foundation to support a series of annual awards promoting culture, sport, humanities and sciences. Some of the winners of the Prince of Asturias Award for Arts include Richard Serra, Sebastião Salgado, Eduardo Chillida, Antoni Tàpies and most recently Frank Gehry. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the programme in 2006, the foundation invited the Brazilian architect and award laureate Oscar Niemeyer to design a multi-purpose arts centre in Avilés, a small industrial town in the northern Spanish province of Asturias. The centre was completed in 2011, but it has been shadowed by criticism from the start.

Earlier this week, the Irish writer John Banville was named as the winner of the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, just two days after King Juan Carlos I announced his abdication. But will the new King Felipe VI present the award in October, or will it be given by his oldest daughter, the Infanta Leonor, who will inherit his title? It is not clear what will happen to the non-profit organisation after the Prince assumes the crown, but the director of the foundation, Teresa Sanjurjo, said at the press conference for the awards that “although it is a bit early to give answers, if changes have to be made, they will be easy”. Regarding the future Princess of Asturias, she added, “the Infanta Leonor is eight years old and her parents will decide whether she will attend this year’s awards, but if she comes, she will be well received”.

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