Street Art, Public Space and Transformation of the City: The Mini-project Organised by CHIEF (UPF) and B-Murals

Author: Julia Nuño de la Rosa – Universitat Pompeu FabraBarcelona

Some months ago we enjoyed the presentation of the resulting projects from young people participating in the Street Art Workshop co-organised by CHIEF (UPF), the Youth Centre Garcilaso and B-Murals in Barcelona city. By showing a series of photographs from the five workshops, explaining the dynamics of the different days and letting young people themselves present some examples of their work, artists RiceVisuals and Mario Mankey gave attendees an insight into the project and explained the intentions of the different workshops.

During this project – our first mini-project from the UPF-CHIEF team – young people were also able to understand first-hand the intrinsic values within the culture of urban art: the idea of ​​collective and public art, rethinking the common space as a centre for debate, even the importance of discussing new approaches for discussing public space.

During the meetings, participants could familiar themselves with the procedures of preparation, thinking and realisation within the creative processes in intervention projects of the Street Art world.

Barcelona and Street Art

During the 90s Barcelona was a reference within Europe for graffiti and urban art and hosted works from many internationally recognised artists. The rise of hip-hop culture and young B-boys who occupied public space with dances, graffiti and diverse artistic expressions, together with the permissiveness of the authorities and the transfer by the City Council of walls in public spaces such as the subway stops “Drassanes” and “Plaça Universitat”, converted Barcelona into one of European capitals of graffiti. This led to the creation of murals that initiated a proper “Barcelona style”, such as the graffiti “Safari Spray, created in 1988 by Frank Trepax. At this time, artists from different cities arrived in Barcelona, such as artist Keith Haring from New York who created his legendary mural against AIDS in 1989 in the square “Salvador Seguí”.

However, in the 2000s urban art was banned in the Catalan capital. In 2006, Barcelona passed a municipal ordinance prohibiting the performance of any action that visually altered public space or any public equipment, and therefore both graffiti and urban art were prohibited. During these years, under the excuse of “the visual degradation of urban space”, murals of great artistic value were not respected and uniformity was imposed, supposedly in order to “protect” a space that was, on the contrary, used for advertising and commercial brands that generated high benefits. The anthropologist Manuel Delgado affirms that in these years the City Council took advantage of the situation in order to legitimize a model that “sought an image of social coexistence that favoured the ruling classes, eliminating any other form of appropriation of the urban space through disqualification and convincing the dominated citizens of its supposed neutrality”.

Mural “All together we can stop AIDS”, by Keith Haring, originally located in the Plaza de Salvador Seguí (1989), in a reproduction on the walls of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (2014).

In 2007, associations of artists and creative projects began to emerge. They highlighted the importance of urban art and disconnected it from vandalism, defending its cultural and social dimension as well as the function of the conservation of public space.

The artists began to unite with the objective to develop common projects and negotiate with the institutions in order to obtain legal spaces to paint. One of the examples is the Stencil Meeting Diffuser, organised by the collective Diffuser that invited a hundred artists to paint various murals in the district of Horta-Guinardó, claiming abandoned and degraded spaces for the city. Another important project is the Persianes Lliures, born with the idea that merchants cede their store blinds to the street art creations of urban artists.

Finally, as of 2011 the administration recovers the dialogue with some groups of artists and participates in projects such as Murs lliures (2012) or the urban art festival Us Barcelona (2014). That same year the administration recovered one of urban art emblems of the 90s: the mural of Keith Haring. In this sense, the organisation of the Open Wall Conference at the Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) in its 2016 edition, raised in its debates one of the hottest issues of public space: “conserve urban art?” And claimed that “we should continue to open walls so that anyone can legally paint them and invite several artists from around the world to visit the city and paint a mural.” In this context, artistic entities such as Rebobinart or Diffuser appeared as relevant actors in the paradigm shift in the perception of artistic interventions in the public space. The creation of the project B-Murals, based in the cultural centre Nau Bòstik, one of the most important urban culture spaces in the city, will go a step further in the recognition and positioning of urban art as an element of cohesion and social transformation of urban space.

Mural by the artist Jofre Oliveras for the Nau Bòstik murals. 2019. Photo: B-Murals
Mural by artist Jofre Oliveras for the Nau Bòstik murals. 2019. Photo: B-Murals

The mini project by CHIEF (UPF) and B-Murals

The collaborative project between CHIEF (UPF) and B-Murals had a clear intention: work together with different entities in order to develop a participatory and artistic process with a group of young people from the neighbourhood La Sagrera, where the Nau Bòstik is located, one of the non-formal spaces of cultural promotion that was analysed in the CHIEF project. The community vision of the B-Murals project, together with the activities of a multi-purpose space such as the Nau Bòstik, and the trajectory of a youth centre of reference in the neighbourhood, such as the Espai Jove Garcilaso, offered us the opportunity to engage in an artistic project with a clear educational and transformative vocation. Its objective, thus, was to create collaborative networks between cultural entities in the neighbourhood and to put young people in the centre of attention. Thanks to the CHIEF (UPF)-B-Murals miniproject, young people participated in a process of artistic creation together with two recognised urban artists, RICE Visuals and Mario Mankey, leaving a mural imprint in the urban space that they share.

The mini project offered 5 participatory workshops, between July and October 2019, focused on mural painting and graffiti techniques. The young participants were able to learn first-hand which steps to follow during the creative process, the team collaboration and the previous preparation of the themes and concepts behind each artistic intervention. In addition, young people have approached the history of the neighbourhood and its evolution of urban art and got to know emblematic spaces such as the Nau Bòstik. The issues raised in the workshops reflect the concerns of young people, such as the evolution of urban culture in the city, the transformation of urban space, climate change, feminism or the history of the neighbourhood La Sagrera.

For the young people’s expressions of their concerns, the participation of the artists RICE Visuals and Mario Mankey was crucial and resulted in a large mural that Mankey painted on the walls of the Nau Bòstik. This street art intervention is closely linked “to the environment and territory” and remains as a direct result of a collective process in which “artistic action converted into a tool of change”.1

Mural painted by Mario Mankey for the CHIEF-B-MURALS project on the walls of the Nau Bostik, Barcelona



About the author

Julia Nuño de la Rosa, is a researcher in the Political and Social Sciences Department at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), and in the department of Law, Moral and Political Philosophy of the University of Barcelona (UB).