Street Art

Ideas and Issues

Torino  Somehow we had discovered the Museo d’Arte Urbano (MAU) or Urban Art Museum, the first of its kind in Italy, and a fascinating demonstration of the use of art and street artists to focus on the rejuvenation of a working class neighborhood in Turin. Their own description of their project indicates that 70 some artists and neighborhood volunteers participated in a self-funded project that produced 147 different works on buildings and walls throughout the community that they describe as “Borgo Campidoglio, which was born in 1853 like a working-class neighborhood. This area still maintains its original structure, made by low houses and narrow winding streets.”

There is no building or office. No tickets or museum shop and cafe. We caught the #9 tram and got off at the border of the neighborhood according to Google Maps and started walking down a main street of sorts past multi-story apartment buildings and churches, until we saw a low slung set of cobbled streets and figured we were close. Then almost magically we saw walls with designs here and there, and windows painted over colorfully, or with whimsy, a design, or sometimes a message.

We cut into the neighborhood near a small park with benches indicating that they had been part of the MAU project, some mimicking other artists like Mondrian and others original. There was no overarching direction or collaboration in the theme or placement of the murals that we could tell. We walked from block to block often in surprise at seeing something painted behind us after we had walked by or in an area we didn’t expect. Some of the murals were signed, but most were not.

We were actually somewhat surprised that most of the works seemed apolitical. Under the influence of Bristol’s Banksy and most street artists in communities in the United States, we expected more of the works to have a message or some critical content. Of course we didn’t see all of the pieces in our random walk, but did see more than one-third. We probably could go back again and tackle another part of the neighborhood and see a completely different set of works. The UAM website says that they regularly renew the art, which may mean that the content changes over time as well. Perhaps the neighborhood itself wanted the work to to be brighter, more colorful, and less critical, since the works are on someone’s house, so it would be right for them to have a voice. It’s hard to tell.

What is easy to tell is what a difference it makes to a community. I think of the murals that have enlivened our own neighborhoods in New Orleans from the fence of our building and the wall of St. Claude Fair Grinds Coffeehouse to others throughout the Bywater and even the Marigny. Some hardly survive a season, while others seem permanent. For the most part, similar to Torino, they are free of graffiti, as if through there is an unspoken street artist code at work.

It would seem that similar self-generating and regenerating “museums” of urban art could be cobbled together in many cities bringing excitement and liveliness to lower income and working neighborhoods. Doing so might also help protect them and assure their survival and identity in the face of gentrification and other assaults for the future.

The benefits seem obvious, and what could be the harm?