Transforming urban spaces through art
Why use art as a vehicle to face social challenges? What can artists teach to organizations and people who move around urban spaces? Finally, what is gained by giving way to art in spaces usually destined for other functions?
The rapprochement between the artistic world and the functional world may seem contradictory at first glance: art is usually associated with creativity, innovation and inspiration, while in the corporate world, values such as reason, efficiency and utility predominate; the home environment, for its part, is associated with warmth, tradition, predictability.
However, these values do not have to be mutually exclusive; there is, rather, a synergy generated by bringing them closer together. Today, the borders between these universes seem to be increasingly porous, leading human beings to coexist in a single creative sphere, in which we move freely, thanks to this ‘bridge’ made possible by art.
In the City of Knowledge, these considerations are no longer just theoretical, but are also the subject of special attention. If you’ve visited us in recent years, you have surely been able to observe a multiplication of initiatives bringing art closer to visitors and users of this space; artistic expressions are merging with the environment. Almost without realizing it, there is art around you, but not as a simple decorative background. Here, each artistic intervention contains a message that communicates a story, that tells us a reason why.
Artistic expressions on campus take different forms, some are well-known like festivals, concerts, exhibitions, works of art, etc., but they also occur via artistic interventions, with signage, sculpture, and urban art.
Murals on campus have emerged in different ways, coloring it with vibrantly painted spaces, and above all, leading people to reflect on different subjects. This is key to understanding the meaning of the artistic intervention with murals in the City of Knowledge.
According to the Culture and Community Manager, Davinia Uriel Abad: “at the Foundation, we analyze each space, working together with the artists and the requesting organizations or entities,” so that the context that generated the idea of the mural can always be honored. “There must always be a reason why, a sense for what you want to capture in space,” she added.
There are currently a total of eight urban art murals on campus, made by artists working locally and internationally. Although many of them occurred organically, “each responds to different initiatives and needs,” Uriel Abad points out.
Among the most visible, is the one occupying the Southeast wall of the old Clayton military base prison, today a free space where, among other things, the third edition of the Nomad Art Festival was held, a project that takes use of unemployed, empty spaces in Panama and transforms them into temporary galleries that exhibit different types of artists, visual and musical.
The mural contributed to make this space more dynamic and was carried out by various artists under the name of the Canvas Urbano collective. What’s the story? The design is peppered with ecological messages, as part of an awareness campaign to protect the environment.
Davinia explains that each space is analyzed and that each design is previously evaluated, which makes the realization of the murals an opportunity to energize spaces on campus. This is the case of the mural in front of the 215 building, near the area that has been informally called in the City of Knowledge “the creative block,” due to its proximity to places like El Lunario and the Feroz Brewery.
Davinia explains that each space is analyzed and that each design is previously evaluated, which makes the realization of the murals an opportunity to make spaces on campus more vibrant. This is the case of the mural in front of building 215, near the area that has been informally called in the City of Knowledge “the creative block,” due to its proximity to places such as El Lunario y Cervecería Feroz. The City of Knowledge Foundation granted the artistic freedom necessary for its realization, but participated very closely in the curation of the creative proposal, evaluating how the mural would be before giving the green light for its realization. “The need for the intervention may come from the artist, a group or the Ciudad del Saber Foundation itself, so we are constantly analyzing spaces where these initiatives can be carried out,” adds Uriel Abad.
The last of this series of murals was commissioned by the United Nations (UN) in commemoration of the Day Against Gender Violence, and painted by two artists chosen by the organization: EvaDe and Andi Soto. This mural, predominantly orange in color, represents the struggle of violence against women, is currently in the space where the Urban Market is held. The inspiration behind the creation goes in direct line with the UN Women-run campaign, which seeks to end violence against women and girls globally by 2030.
Another important aspect about the artistic interventions on campus is that the spaces are renewed, they continue telling stories; the City of Knowledge is, after all, a historical site. In addition, since the objective of these is to respond to a community need through art or to revitalize a specific site, the murals may change.
“The urban artist assumes that much of his work is ephemeral,” explains the person in charge of Culture, partly due to the nature of the art form, but also because this type of art is exposed to elements of climate and time, which can deteriorate it. In general, the Foundation reaches an agreement with the artist or group that includes an exhibition of the mural for a maximum period of one year, “although there are murals that have been visible for a longer time,” says Uriel Abad.
That said, the City of Knowledge Foundation continues to promote art with meaning, through murals, but also other forms of art with a conscience. According to Davinia, the idea is to intervene the space artistically with other formats and not only through murals; seeking to make the opening so that this is also done in an architectural way, installations, sculptures, signs, etc. For this reason, the cultural spokesperson encourages those artists interested in communicating something in said space, to present their proposals for evaluation at the Foundation.
The most recent urban intervention was born motivated by the health crisis the entire world is facing. The message has been written in a graphic intervention of two large areas in the quadrangle of City of Knowledge campus, as a visible and constant reminder for the members of the community. In the midst of this difficult time, the message of “ENTRE TODOS” serves as testimony to the power of resilience and solidarity, while reminding us of the importance of continuing to recognize the value of the encouraging lessons that are emerging in the post-COVID world. Of these lessons, perhaps one of the most important ones, lies in understanding that the new normal is only acceptable if it’s one we co-create together, through our combined efforts; and if we are able to come out of this problem being better: stronger and more confident, but absolutely more mindful, more caring and more humane.
Marjoury Casís, architect in charge of the “Entre todos” campus intervention project, explained that while the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed many challenges, it has also inspired exceptional levels of compassion, creativity and collaboration. “We are proud that this intervention of the campus’ physical space – which has had an extraordinary impact thus far- is an embodiment of lessons learned, new ideas and innovative solutions that take our community beyond crisis-mode and towards a sustainable future, by working together,” she said. Without ignoring the realities we face, “it is clear that we need a positive message that emphasizes the need for cooperation.”
The artistic interventions found in the City of Knowledge are just one example of how art reconditions and beautifies our urban spaces, and also of how it becomes a universal element, integrating cultures and people, moving us to reflect and, why not, relearn how to rebuild the world. The next time you are on our campus, we encourage you to discover its works of art – the hidden ones and the most visible ones – always keeping in mind the use of masks, social distancing and good hand hygiene.