(Leer en Español…)
So I’m actually one of those people who defend the role of the public sector and speaks with a lot of scepticism about the private sector in the making of cities. Have you ever heard of gentrification? Don’t get me started… I don’t know about you, but the way things are going in large scale urban development makes me nervous.
City life is so beautiful when one can enjoy it in a collective way because at the end of the day, what makes a city, is its people. I mean, come on, what is the first thing you do when you go to a park in your city? You relate to other. You sit down on the grass, bench or whatever surface, look around and observe. The kids playing with a football, the students with a frisbee, the cute ancient couple on the bench across from you, the young sexy looking guy with the dog, or the sexy looking girl in her jogging outfit. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I do know that you can’t deny how fun it is to check out all the odd looking characters that roam the streets of your city.
Yet in many places, like Bogotá, not everybody is getting to enjoy city life in the same way. Not everyone gets to be an observer or the observed in peace, many get kicked out because they don’t look the part, yet they are in a public, and I repeat public space. In many cases, the access that people have to city spaces that are clean, safe and protected depends on how much money they have, or look like they have. Considering a city’s virtue and richness comes from those who dwell in it and that public space is by definition supposed to promote inclusiveness, participation and freedom of expression; the fact that only those who have enough money can enjoy its virtues, is seriously concerning.
Many of the places that are feeding this system of exclusion have been built and designed by private companies (and this is not to say that the public sector doesn’t play a part in this).
The 3 Frencheteers
So, following my long rant about public space, I want to show you something that has made me sceptical about my scepticism.
About 5 years ago, 3 frenchmen in Bogotá decided that the city centre needed a place where people could come and enjoy culture in many different ways without having to go to the expensive Modern Art Gallery, the expensive language school or the very expensive concerts that the city often offers; where big, hot-shot artists could come and give cheap concerts or exhibitions but also young debutantes could take a risk and show themselves and their work; or where people could have a reason to get involved in local cultural activities, by chance or intention. The centre needed a space that would contribute to the rich cultural scene that the city of Bogotá has, but has yet to be further discovered, particularly by those who are not directly involved, like me! Or you!
The adult playground: Introducing… A 6manos.
Christophe Vandekerckhove, despite his name which is difficult to pronounce, is one of the three charming frenchmen who came to the rescue of the neighbourhood’s cultural scene, describing the project as an idea that ‘took its shape as it went’.
‘El puro hasard!’ (Spench) says Christophe. It used to be a parking-lot in the middle of town. Today it’s a dynamic little restaurant-bar-art-gallery-shop-concert-hall-and-many-other-things. The idea being that it be a place for everything, kind of like a shopping centre but in a cultural sense, hence the shopping-cart logo (apparently).
When I first walked in, I looked around and couldn’t help but smile like an idiot. I felt like a child in an adult body…but not out of place. It was strange. You kind of have to go there to get what I mean. Or maybe you’ve felt like this before? It’s a great feeling, you should definitely go there.
Having interviewed Christophe, it turns out that not only has 6manos had an impact in the neighbourhood by providing a space where locals can observe and admire young musical or artistic talents, taste delicious food, learn new skills, languages and exchange experiences; but they have also participated, in the making of similar initiatives, for example by working with the Ministry of Culture to develop and implement the ´Corridor of Culture´ policy and strategy in Bogotá; an attempt to maintain and develop symbolic spaces in the city, through their revitalisation and appropriation, promoting cultural activities in an attempt to recuperate their significance.
Sceptical about my scepticism
So yes, A 6manos presents an example of a project driven by a set of individuals who aimed to have an impact in the promotion of the neighbourhood´s cultural experience, participation and development. And guess what? They are technically private sector! (But in my defence, definitely a very generous private sector who wants to collectively share its space, a rare thing!). It’s also an exhibit of how public policies and strategies can learn from, particularly due to its effectiveness in implementation, private sector projects. I stand, somewhat, corrected.
When in Bogotá…
Also check out Las Nieves, once a fabric factory abandoned for 25 years, until its owner transformed it in to a series of open art studios and spaces of exhibition. Today, two generations of artists have used the space and every year it opens for exhibition in October.
Its entrance is hidden in what seems to be a very inconspicuous place, particularly for an art studio of its category. Although, having said this, you could also argue it was a perfectly evident location for an art studio of its category. It all depends on how you view artists and whether or not you approve of their love for drama and egocentrism (sorry artists! I like to think of myself as one too, so I’m allowed to say this).
As you wonder in, take the ancient elevator that can still be controlled by a lever (this was very exciting for me). Check out Carlos Blanco‘s studio, he is one of the co-founders of the space.
Carlos works with air, paper and shades. He has exhibited all over the world and works here, along with 14 other artists.
Las Nieves gives you a very special opportunity because not only are these studios open for exhibition but they are open for the public to meet the faces and unique characters behind each piece of art.
Entering an artists’ studio is like entering an artists’ soul. It’s where they keep all their ideas, secrets and mistakes! Yes, artists make mistakes.
Another place to check out is El Parche. A duplex within a partly abandoned building turned in to an artist-residency which is also an art gallery. All-in-one.
Once again a relatively difficult door to find. This second project provides a space where young student artists are invited from different parts of the world to prepare an exhibition based on works done with local communities. The original group, El Parche, is from Oslo, Norway.
These spaces don’t onIy support emerging artists, but they can also be a link to a wide network within the art scene of the city. There is a huge network out there, you just need to know where to look and I don’t recommend starting with the guidebook.
It’s our space, enjoy it!