Pepe loved the movies. His father had several rooms, although never more than one at a time. He set up his first cinema in Cuevas del Almanzora (Almería), in premises that he rented from a mining company in Las Herrerías. Later he had another in Almenara and one with a terrace in Pulpí. A hit. Pepe was born there, in 1959. The boy was in charge of the candy stand, collecting the tickets for the session and the projection booth. There he spliced and prepared the film reels with acetone and cigarette paper. His father bought lots of movies in Madrid and Pepe accompanied him to the city. While he was negotiating what he would screen next season, he was waiting for him at the Prado Museum.
Pepe didn’t know how to play football, but nobody knew cinema as much as he did. Not even in his office in Plaza del Rey. When the film sector approached the Ministry of Culture to demand more attention and aid, the talks lasted longer than normal because it was inevitable that their memories would be mixed with the claims of an industry that the PP had penalized until suffocating it with 21 VAT %. The legacy of one of the best Ministers of Culture, who died this Monday at the age of 63, began in that movie theater and took shape as Councilor for Culture in Pulpí, at the age of 18.
Pepe Guirao was the minister who lowered VAT on cinema, who worked hard to regenerate the SGAE, who wanted to reform the Heritage Law, rehabilitate the INAEM, which had an agreement with Carmen Cervera and her collection, who recovered the Directorate General of the Book and managed to get the Congress of Deputies to vote unanimously in favor of the creation of the artist’s statute. He was an exemplary minister because he had a plan and he wanted to fulfill it. They gave him a year and a half and it was insufficient. President Pedro Sánchez fired him in January 2020, without giving explanations and without foreseeing the dark future that awaited the sector with the COVID-19 pandemic. How important his experience and knowledge would have been to help overcome a crisis that swept the industry beyond repair.
a quiet guy
They didn’t steal Pepe’s wallet, they stole it from culture. “In a year and a half he connected with the people of the culture, but not with the feuds. They want weak ministries to do and undo at will, ”recalls one of his most direct collaborators in those days. He prefers that his name not be known but remembers how he confronted, for example, Gregorio Marañón and Bertrán de Lis, Marquis of Marañón and president of the Royal Theater and member of the National Heritage Administration Council, who wanted to set up an untouchable emporium appropriating of the Zarzuela Theater. Guirao stopped the feet of someone who, in forty years of culture in democracy, had never dared to set limits. “He was a quiet guy. When things went wrong, he didn’t break down. He had a lot of nerve. He was a man of common sense and compromise. It was very rare to see him out of his boxes, ”recalls his collaborator and friend.
He left Pulpí on his way to the Diputación de Almería as head of Culture, where he was in charge of taking maximum care of the poet José Ángel Valente. He collected her mail. In 1988 he moved to Seville, where he held the position of General Director of Cultural Assets at the Junta de Andalucía. Until 1993 he was in charge of the Andalusian historical heritage and of resisting the real estate interests that tried to destroy everything. He created the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage and experienced his first tensions as a politician committed to the public sphere and culture. He then made the Madrid leap: he was one year director of Fine Arts at the Ministry of Culture, but Carmen Alborch appointed him director of the Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum to put out the fire that the institution suffered. He remained there until 2001, when he raised La Casa Encendida, for Caja Madrid. On June 13, 2018, Pedro Sánchez calls him to take charge of the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
“Pepe was elegant and with an extraordinary waist to face all challenges. He took the baton of culture in very complicated circumstances, not only because of Huerta. He hatched a project to take off his hat, which had never been seen before in the Ministry. There was a project. He knew how to fight and defend it until they cut off his management, ”says another of the people who accompanied him in Culture. She says that he had a vision and a mission, a commitment and did not lavish the means. He was a worker, not an ornament. He had come to work and fix the messes of the previous teams. “He doesn’t deserve more for comparing him to others. He really was the best, without comparison, ”says the source.
gestures and diplomacy
He was a politician of gestures for those who wanted to see them. Guirao invited the Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero, to his inauguration. It was a nod of thanks for proposing to the president and because he knew that she was the one who had the solution for most of the problems in the sector. After years of war with Cristóbal Montoro (PP), the Treasury made peace with Culture. When he handed over the portfolio to José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, his substitute, he only asked for one thing: to sit down and listen to the sector. In April 2020, two months after that recommendation, the cultural protests forced the Government to listen to their demands that no one heeded.
Guirao, a philologist by training, was convinced that culture was a refuge for thought, reflection and the well-being of the population. In the midst of the financial crisis, in 2011, we held a meeting at La Casa Encendida. There he commented that he was concerned that society understand that culture was everyone’s business, not just administrations and public money. That is why he believed it essential that culture should not dedicate itself to attending only to the problems of culture. He was a faithful defender of public service, of a mission that guaranteed the viability and social projection of culture.
“The cultural manager, as a mediator, is someone who mediates between two worlds: that of creation and the public. He has to be at the service of both, that is his project. Managers must be invisible so as not to use the institution in a personal way and with a single line of speech”, Guirao said at that meeting. This idea brought him many disagreements with museum directors determined to turn an institutional project into a personal odyssey. “If you work for yourself and for your idea, you are not working for the institution, because you are putting it at your service,” he maintained. That was José Guirao, the cultural manager who put himself at the service of the community.