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Case studies

Imagine Madrid

• Since the economic crisis, citizens have been transforming the city landscape through self-organised initiatives, and expect greater openness from government institutions

• Imagine Madrid is a participatory programme that involves local residents and networks in creating artist-led interventions in public spaces

• A pilot phase has highlighted the need for public institutions to develop new cultures and ways of working that can respond to the complexity of social needs

What was the challenge?

Since 2008, Madrid has been suffering from the effects of an economic crisis. This has created massive youth unemployment, reaching nearly 40% for people under 25. As a reaction and resistance to this crisis, there has been a flowering of collaborative and self-organised initiatives that have sought to equalise access to cultural participation, particularly on the outskirts of the city. A young and precarious generation of architects, cultural producers, anthropologists and sociologists are transforming the urban fabric in new and creative ways, yet functional cultural infrastructure remains scarce.

These independent initiatives have changed the expectations of city residents, creating a new pressure on public institutions to become more open and democratic. Without developing new forms of collaboration, government and state cultural institutions would be unable to learn from these initiatives.

What is the project?

The Imagine Madrid program takes an ‘urban acupuncture’ approach to issues around public space and cultural infrastructure, collaborating with local residents and cultural networks to create concrete, artist-driven solutions and interventions. It takes an experimental approach, and seeks to recognise and make visible a wide range of cultural practices and grassroots projects with valuable knowledge to contribute. It is based on the assumption that the public are able to identify problems and generate solutions in their own neighbourhoods.

The programme was initiated by the Madrid City Council and it is administered by the Culture Department. The Intermediae programme – a laboratory for art and social innovation based at Matadero Madrid, a leading municipal cultural centre – facilitates the delivery of the projects.

How does it work?

In 2013 the first phase began, with three pilot projects based in five different Madrid neighbourhoods: Paisaje Tetuán (in Tetuán), Paisaje Sur (in Usera and Villaverde) and Paisaje Vallecas (in Villa de Vallecas and Puente de Vallecas). This phase ended in 2015.

Each project included a number of different artistic interventions in the urban landscape. These interventions were shaped through open working sessions, bringing together local cultural groups and neighbourhood associations with a participatory approach that relied upon a ‘shared diagnosis’ of needs.

Interventions so far have included the creation of mural art in partnership with a school and with a local market; the creation of an urban garden with gathering space and art projects; an open-air cinema managed by local people; the construction of diverse structures used to activate empty and underused spaces; and cultural programmes driven by local communities’ interests, desires, and memories.

What will happen next?

In 2017 Imagine Madrid will launch an open call for further projects, designed based on experience from the pilot phase of the project. This second phase will include fourteen sites in total. Ten will be chosen by the Culture Department in partnership with the Urban Regeneration Directorate, which provides supporting analysis and strategic planning. The other four will be left open to be decided by the proposals that are received.

As the programme scales up, one of the main concerns is the necessity that all of these projects will need to become sustainable, evolving beyond the end of the project period. There remains a need to apply new models of public-social management to develop support programmes and infrastructures for the innovative local practices and initiatives that have become a part of Imagine Madrid. The Cultural department is working with the Urban Regeneration and Environmental departments to better articulate the resources invested in each location, and to develop projects that take a ‘circular economy’ approach.

What has been learned?

• The original goals and timetables for Imagine Madrid were too ambitious. In the future, more space and time will need to be allowed, both for citizen participation and for management of the project by city government.

• This kind of project requires a great deal of coordination and communication between the public, neighbourhood and cultural organisations, and various government departments. Public institutions also need to develop new cultures and ways of working that can respond to the complexity of social needs.