The Catalan commitment to participation in a vital public life has given birth to a remarkable and resilient network of cultural associations that brings people together.
During the Catalan Renaissance, many wealthier Catalans created “athenaeums” with regular meetings to teach Catalan language, explore the arts, and enrich local community life. By the end of the nineteenth century, working-class Catalans had developed powerful unions to advocate for their rights in the industrializing economy.
These two social phenomena merged to create a culture of “associationism” where many Catalans belong to several culturally oriented non-governmental organizations. Even a small town of two thousand people may have seven or eight formally recognized associations, and some of these local groups have earned regional recognition for their artistic excellence. These local enterprises produce concerts of classical and choral music, celebrate historical dance forms, pass on traditional cultural expressions, and more. At the same time, they create a strong social fabric in which Catalans collaborate to sustain their local cultural life.
In recent years, these associations have admitted newcomers to Catalonia and provided them with an important informal avenue that facilitates their meeting and collaborating with a wide range of people. These NGOs also allow Catalans to use their skills to contribute beyond the home and workplace. Associations support ongoing efforts in Catalonia to nurture “social cohesion”—the links or ties that unite people even when they come from different backgrounds.