By KATY MCLAUGHLIN A version of this article appeared April 5, 2013, on page D6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Spanish Artists Flock To the U.S..
In February, Guillermo Laporta, a flutist and theater director from Madrid, packed his bags, said goodbye to his family and friends, and moved to New York, where he hopes to work on Broadway and mount his own multimedia homage to the city. “I can’t wait to start a new life,” said Mr. Laporta, 27, who ran his own theater company in Spain and toured with orchestras around Europe. “I don’t feel nostalgia at all for Spain. All I feel is a desire to go.” In the past, Spanish artist émigrés to the U.S. like Mr. Laporta were true rarities. But today, as a result of the economic crisis gripping Spain, Mr. Laporta will find a growing community of his countrymen and fellow artists waiting for him. In 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency approved petitions for 65% more Spaniards with extraordinary talents—a visa category that includes a wide range of artists—than in 2006, when the Spanish economy was strong. The number of Spanish immigrants of all professions in the U.S. has grown by 10% since 2000, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Spain is among the hardest hit of European economies. Its unemployment rate is 26%, forcing many Spaniards to move abroad. In the first half of 2012, 44% more people left the country compared with the year prior, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute.
“It’s an exodus,” said Marta Sanchez, a Spanish film distributor who lives in Brooklyn. “It is a terribly sad situation that very talented people have to leave their country. Although I am not sure if it is sadder to stay in Spain.”
Among the most accomplished Spanish artists settling here is Cristina Pato, a Galician bagpipe player known for interpreting Miles Davis. Ms. Pato, who lives in New York and tours with Yo-Yo Ma, this year released an album, “Migrations,” referencing life away from her native soil. She has played at the Kennedy Center and New York’s Jazz Standard. Almudena Carracedo, a filmmaker from Madrid who now lives in Brooklyn, won a 2008 Emmy for a documentary “Made in LA,” about Latin American garment-industry workers. Ms. Carrecedo is currently in Spain shooting documentary footage for a film about the impact of the Franco dictatorship, a project geared to a U.S. audience and funded by American institutions.
Playwright and theater director Emilio Williams was celebrated in Spain, where he won a top writing award, produced a successful commercial tour and was profiled in the national media. In 2011, he decided to move from Madrid to Chicago because “it was so much easier for me to create my theater company and to raise money here in the U.S. “In May, Mr. Williams will produce “Tapas for the Mind,” a series of short plays and films by Spanish writers and directors, at Chicago’s Instituto Cervantes.
Martin Rosete, whose short film “Voice Over” was nominated for a Goya award, Spain’s equivalent of an Oscar, initially came to the U.S. on a two-year scholarship. When it finished in 2009, he decided not to return home. “I love my country, but career-wise, the U.S. has more to offer me, and vice versa,” said Mr. Rosete, who is currently shopping for his first feature-film project.
American cultural history has long benefited from artists and intellectuals fleeing crises in their own countries. Hollywood films, Broadway plays and American novels were greatly enriched in the 1930s and ’40s when musicians, writers and directors fled Nazi Europe. Russian artists, such as ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov, fled Soviet Russia. Cuban exiles gave rise to salsa music and Latin jazz.
A play produced by the Spanish Artists in New York collective. The flight of young artists to the U.S.—combined with a broader brain drain from Spain to other countries—could also put a dent in the country’s rich cultural scene, which enjoyed a renaissance in the early 2000s.
Other Southern European countries are seeing a similar flight of young talent to countries with stronger economies. But far fewer are coming to the U.S., where visas are hard to secure. In fact, there were fewer Greeks, Italians and Portuguese of all professions living in the U.S. in 2011 than in 2000, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. Immigration experts say other Southern European nations already have large communities in the U.S., due to immigration in previous generations. So their countrymen don’t see the same need to secure difficult visas if they can visit and network within existing communities.
Historically, Spaniards largely migrated to Latin America because of language and cultural ties. Between 1870 and 1930, four million Spaniards emigrated to Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and southern Brazil—while only 120,000 came to the U.S., according to Jose Moya, director of the Forum on Migration at Barnard College in New York.
During Spain’s civil war and nearly 40-year dictatorship, artists and intellectuals largely immigrated to Mexico, where the leftist government welcomed them. By the 1960s, Spaniards looking to leave preferred other European countries and Spain’s own economy improved enough by the 1980s that emigration slowed to a trickle.
Today, the U.S. is an increasingly appealing destination for Spaniards because of the country’s fast-growing community of Spanish-speakers, said Rubén Rumbaut, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine.To be sure, immigration from Spain, of both artists and people of other professions, is still relatively small: There are currently fewer than 100,000 Spanish-born people living in the U.S. Last year, 537 visas for Spanish citizens in extraordinary-ability categories were approved, up from 325 in 2006. Not all artists come on these visas, so the total number is hard to estimate, according to Spanish embassy officials.
Those artists who come are often banding together to promote their work in collectives. In 2011, the Spanish Embassy launched a social network for expat artists called Spain RED. It helped museums, galleries and other cultural institutions identify about 900 Spanish creative professionals living in the U.S. In 2010, Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo, a theater director and actor from Madrid, formed Spanish Artists in New York, when he noticed a “big wave” of fellow Spaniards moving to the U.S.
“We keep hearing from more artists. They want advice on how to get a visa, what jobs do we have here,” said Mr. Garcia-Bustelo, whose group has 32 members. The group, which mounted a play on the expat experience in late 2011, plans a chamber music festival later this year and a play by Spanish playwright Alfredo Sanzol in New York next year.
Mr. Laporta, the flutist, said he hopes working in New York will be easier than Spain. When he formed his theater company, Cre.Art Project in Madrid in 2008, Spain’s regional theaters still had government subsidies that allowed them to finance his shows. In recent months, theaters offered 60% less to contract with his company, making many productions impossible, he said. In addition, a tax on theater tickets recently shot up to 21% from 8% previously.
Some Spanish artists have already benefited from their move to the U.S. Bubi Canal, a photographer, sculptor and video artist who has exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, moved to the U.S. two years ago and just completed a solo show at New York’s Munch Gallery. Gallery owner Lillan Munch said she never would have discovered Mr. Canal if he had stayed in Spain.
“I’ve never had a Spanish artist before,” Ms. Munch said. But after she caught Mr. Canal’s work at an exhibit in New York, “I knew I had to grab him.”