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Case studies

Enhancing the urban environment in Madrid’s peripheral districts

Artists, designers, community groups and local government worked together to improve public spaces in Madrid’s peripheral districts. The initiative has:

  • Developed an inclusive commissioning process
  • Produced work that reflects local identity
  • Produced a significant number of new public art commissions from local artists
  • Given community associations the chance to programme and manage new spaces
  • Generated profile and momentum.

This project addresses a view widely held by Madrid’s citizens that arts and culture are something exclusive, not part of their everyday lives. Spending cuts to arts and culture across Europe have compounded this view; cuts lead to a decrease in arts production, which reduces participation even further. By concentrating on Madrid’s peripheral districts, this project also aims to address an existing imbalance between cultural provision inside and outside the city centre.

The initiative to improve the urban environment in Madrid’s outlying districts was part of the city’s Strategic Plan for Culture 2012-2015. In addition to physically improving public spaces that had fallen into disrepair – thus generating local pride – the initiative also supports local artists and initiates new creative spaces. Most importantly, however, the intitiative aims to improve social cohesion and strengthen local community relationships using inclusive creative projects.

Artistic interventions in the suburban district of Tetuán took place in 2013, followed by the districts of Usera and Villaverde in 2014; plans are in place to extend the initiative to Madrid’s remaining outlying districts in the coming years. The management of each project includes representatives from Madrid City Council, the Municipal Council of the district involved, creative professionals who will work on the project, and neighbourhood associations.

The process begins by identifying the sites most in need of attention and the issues they present. Artistic collaborators are then brought on board, potential improvements discussed, and areas for action defined. Subsequent improvement work, be it on empty plots of land, public squares, walls or building facades, is carried out with significant community involvement; this shares responsibility and shapes a positive local identity for the site. Involving community groups also taps into social networks that may identify further positive ways to use a site, or potential new spaces for creative projects in the vicinity.

June to December 2013 saw the growth and development of the Tetuán Landscape Project, designed to improve the urban landscape of Madrid’s Tetuán district. Following some exploratory sessions, a working group was set up to manage the project, comprising artists, creative collectives working in architecture or landscaping, and representatives from the General Directorate for Urban Landscape and the Municipal District Council. The project focused on four key sites owned by the municipality, with guidance from the Town Planning department as to land use classifications, and involved the work of at least 12 creative practitioners.

Installations on the Plaza Leopoldo Luis transformed the large hard landscaped square with a large-scale wall mural and colourful structures that provide shade. A vertical play structure constructed from recycled materials transformed a smaller hard landscaped square. Outdoor flooring, seating and green walls were installed on a vacant plot between buildings, and then handed over to a local community group to develop into a small public garden that hosts community events. The fourth Tetuán project took over a larger piece of vacant land, installing colourful murals, outdoor seating blocks, an outdoor stage and raised beds for planting. This site became an active community garden, hosting workshops including vegetable growing, furniture-making and children’s creative writing, as well as music and puppetry performances.

The involvement of so many creative practitioners inspired numerous interventions in Tetuán, giving the project sufficient scale and profile. The active participation of community groups not only gave the installations relevance, but also ensured their function extended beyond the decorative to create something useful for local people.