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Madrid city profile | city data
  • Madrid is taking a new approach to cultural policy, emphasising access, participation and decentralisation
  • ‘Microtheatre,’ a new cultural form developed in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, is now spreading worldwide
  • A new ‘greening’ plan will help the city cope with the effects of climate change

City data: Key facts

Geographical area: 604.31 sq. km

Total population: 3,166,130

Total national population living in the city: 7%

Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 32%

GDP (PPP) million: US $175,504

Creative industries employment: 9%

Madrid has long been a centre of rule for Spain. In the 9th century, the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate constructed a fortress on the site which is now occupied by the Royal Palace of Madrid. The city became the capital of a united Spain in the 16th century, and under the Hapsburgs experienced a cultural golden age which included the work of Velázquez, El Greco and Cervantes.

In the twentieth century, Madrid was shaken by the Spanish Civil War. From 1936 through 1939 it was under siege by Franco’s forces. Under Franco’s subsequent dictatorship the city grew dramatically in population, due to economic growth that drew migrants from rural areas. Madrid remained the capital of Spain after the return to democracy in 1978.

Today Madrid has a population of nearly 3.2 million; the metropolitan area has over 6 million people. After a boom in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Madrid’s population is now decreasing slightly. However, it is projected to grow over the coming decades, despite a decreasing national population and the fact that emigration remains higher than immigration. Around 20% of Madrid residents are foreign-born, with the greatest number of immigrants coming from Ecuador, Romania, and Bolivia.

Traditionally, cultural funding has focused on the city’s great institutions and heritage attractions. Madrid is rich in art museums, with its ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ including the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia National Art Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The Royal Palace of Madrid, whose site dates back to the ninth century and architecture to the eighteenth, is the largest royal palace in Europe and contains a rich collection of art and artifacts.

Madrid’s city politics have been shaped by the anti-austerity protests of 2011, in which millions of citizens participated. Since then there has been a new emphasis on citizen participation and widening access in the cultural sphere. The city aims to move from a top-down focus on large public institutions to a bottom-up approach which focuses on civic actors and small cultural producers. This model will mean that public policies are carried out by citizens, as independent projects which use both public and private institutions as a support structure.

Efforts are being made to decentralise both urban planning and cultural provision, involving citizens in discussions about the future. The outer parts of the city currently have a limited number of cultural facilities. To respond to this need, and to implement its wider cultural programme, Madrid plans to create a number of District Cultural Centres. The Cultural Centres will be involved in deciding the final shape of the programme itself.

The new ‘Madrid City of Care’ plan focuses on human rights, including the rights of disadvantaged minorities, the right to public space, and giving policies a gender perspective. It prioritises processes rather than outcomes. The city’s cultural programme, like other programmes, is being delivered across a range of different departments including urbanism and environment. This is based on the belief that public policies are strengthened by being delivered across city government as a whole.

A vibrant self-organised cultural life has developed in Madrid beyond the scope of government funding or public policy. During the period of austerity after the 2008 economic crisis, ‘microtheatre’ became a popular art form in Madrid, and it has remained popular. It offers intimate, brief, sometimes participatory theatre experiences in small venues which often sell ‘memberships’ rather than tickets. Venues include Casa de La Portera, Microteatro Por Dinero, Esconditeatro and Siluro Concept. The genre of microtheatre has now begun to spread internationally.

Collective venues have sprung up which provide space for cultural production, including visual art, music festivals, theatre or cinema, meetings and seminars, book fairs and occasional concerts or shows. Some of these are independently run, such as Patio Maravillas, which since its founding in 2007 has been based in two different squatted buildings in central Madrid. Other social centres, although managed through collectives or participatory democracy, receive government funding. La Tabacalera is an eighteenth-century building which used to house a state-owned tobacco company. Before the 2008 economic crisis it was planned to become a new National Center for Visual Arts. Instead a large part of the building has now been granted, on a rolling contract, to a collective of artists to be run as a ‘Centro Sociale Auto-Gestionado’ (self-organised cultural centre).

Madrid is becoming a greener city. Currently it faces high air pollution levels, which the city is addressing through new measures to ban cars from the city centre when levels are particularly high, as well as permanent restrictions on non-resident parking.

In the future Madrid will face much hotter and drier weather as a result of climate change, combined with a higher risk of flash flooding due to storms. The city’s new ‘greening’ plan will respond to this by expanding parks, creating green space in city squares, and supporting ‘green roofs’ and walls. It is also continuing a regeneration programme for the Manzaneres River. A new park was opened by the river in 2011 after an urban highway was buried underground.

There is change and development among the city’s large cultural institutions as well. A new €160 million Museum of Royal Collections will open in 2018, housed in a new building near the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. Meanwhile an addition to the Prado is planned to open in 2019: the ‘Hall of Realms,’ a seventeenth-century palace, will add around 15,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Madrid has a rich cultural heritage. After years of austerity, it is now moving from a focus on large cultural institutions to a new approach which emphasises participation, access and decentralisation. Responses to challenging economic circumstances – such as ‘microtheatre’ and collectively-run cultural centres coming out of the squatting movement – have now become a permanent part of the city’s cultural life.