Sa Taronja founder Hartmut Usadel,
German painter and one of the early residents in the South West Area of Mallorca
Among future dreams are a truly sound-proof sound studio for the young local musicians who practice here, and facilities to welcome artists-in-residence and creative residential workshops. Lights and equipment for the theatre and the gallery are also on the list.
The struggle for funding is not over yet, and we are living in hard times. Money for culture is scarce or non-existant. The coffers of Majorca are empty, and the Association must look to its members and friends, and private business, for support. We believe we will find it. For what is life without culture? Our world would be a poor place without artists, without music, without inspiration. We are chained to an economic treadmill: but art can set us free!
Tina Horne and Hartmut Usadel
Sa Taronja's history is inextricable from the history of the wonderful place it is located, the 6000m2 ex-chicken farm at the end of the Calle Andalucía in Andratx. Sa Taronja, the association, would never have existed if one day in 1997 Hartmut Usadel, a German-born painter based in S'Arracó, had not stumbled on the property and seen its "For sale" sign. The semi-abandoned estate still had a few chickens pecking the dry earth under the orange trees between the long agricultural sheds, but it was already years after the heyday of the place, when 8,000 chickens supplied eggs and drumsticks to the village and the whole of Mallorca.
The farm had been started by one Guiem Reus Bosch, on his return from Cuba in the nineteen-sixties. In the early part of the 20th century there was much poverty and little employment in Mallorca, and many people left the island in search of jobs. From the Andratx area, many set sail for Cuba. Among them were Guiem Reus Bonet and his three sons Sebastian, Mateo and Guiem Reus Bosch. The father, like many other Andritxols, went into sponge fishing in Cuba. His sons each followed him out to the Caribbean when they reached 14, and found other employment. Guiem junior, born in 1906, got a job with the Casa Arechavala, a big rum refinery in Havana, and made his career there. He stayed until Castro came to power, returning in the sixties to Andratx. He had already returned once before, in 1935, and with his savings bought the old stone house for his parents. It was called "S'Hort de Baget" and it stood alone, surrounded by fields, some way outside the village. His father ran it as a kitchen garden. When Guiem junior returned definitively, he bought the adjoining land down to the stream and sank his money in a chicken farm. He erected the three industrial barns that still stand today, and stocked it with eight thousand chickens. The business was a success, and he ran it until his retirement in the eighties.
In the intervening years, Andratx had expanded. The Calle Andalucía now ran from the town to the old farmhouse, and neighboring houses had sprung up. Guiem Reus became frail, and spent his last years in an old people's home near Palma. A caretaker looked after the property and kept a few chickens that ran free, unlike the miserable battery hens that had preceded them. The family put the property up for sale. And then Hartmut Usadel found it…..
A man not lacking in vision and the energy to realize his dreams, but without the financial means to do so, he went looking for partners to enable him to buy the property and turn it into a cultural centre. A couple of years earlier, he had tried to buy the abandoned castle on the hill, Son Mas, with the goal of setting up an international art centre and school. But the town had other plans for it, and Son Mas was destined to become the town hall, the Ayuntamiento of Andratx.
Now these long shabby industrial barns, built in the 60's, and the almost 300- year-old old stone farmhouse captured his imagination. Dreaming of a gallery and cultural centre where Majorcans would mix with foreigners, drawn together by a common love of art and music, he managed to enthuse another painter friend, Jorge Bascones, who convinced his brothers to join him in the venture, and the deal was made. While the Bascones worked on plans to develop part of the property, Hartmut pulled up his sleeves and went to work.
He laboured to change the abandoned sheds into a theatre, gallery, studios and heavenly gardens. He founded the non-profit association, Sa Taronja. Rosebushes were donated by one friend, furniture and basic equipment by another. His green thumb worked miracles, and his artist's eye created enchanting corners, like the patio of the old house (now the restaurant Limón y Chelo). But the punishing workload and insufficient money, combined with a disappointing lack of interest from the local authorities, discouraged him. His partners, unable to get the licences they needed, also lost interest in the property and decided to sell out. It looked as if the dream was over, until he managed to convince another friend, Tina Horne, to get involved.
Hartmut always had a steadfast vision. "People should come here to dance, to paint, to make theatre and sing…. Hopefully Spanish people, Majorcans, not just the foreigners…", was what he wanted. He dreamed of a group of young volunteers who would take up the reins and push the project forward.
"It is they who will benefit in the long run," he said, "because this is a great place to launch unknown painters, to give a platform to young musicians and actors."
Tina agreed. But it was easier said than done, and a mountain of problems faced her. The authorities were not helpful; licences were not forthcoming; Majorca does not have a cultural funding programme for independent arts centres; and in a village, it is difficult to attract an audience for culture. Young people will give their time now and again, but not work long hours, week in, week out, without pay. It has been an uphill struggle.
But somehow, over the last few years, certain things have fallen into place. Despite the constant under-funding, the centre has grown and flourished. Licences, have been obtained. The Association has gained friends in high and low places, made peace with its neighbours, and become a fixture on the Majorcan cultural scene. Andratx has benefited from the publicity Sa Taronja's events have generated, and the town hall collaborates with the centre. The artists and musicians of Majorca and Europe have come to love the special character of the stage in the chicken-house and its multicultural, enthusiastic audience. The garden that Hartmut planted has matured, the roses are blooming, and the old house becomes older, gracefully (though it desperately needs a new roof). Guiem Reus died in 2004. Hartmut has retired and opened a gallery in S'Arracó. And Tina is still attempting the impossible.