NEIGHBOURHOOD LIVES AND MEMORIES
A CITIZEN-LED LIFE HISTORY PROJECT CONNECTING THE CITY’S OLDER POPULATION WITH THEIR COMMUNITIES
The rapid pace of social, economic and technological change in cities over the past ten years is increasingly prompting reflections around the theme of community and identity. Within world cities, residents are becoming more curious about their area’s social history, as well as asking themselves who their city is for and where they fit into it.
Neighbourhood Lives and Memories is a life history project. It brings together older people’s memories of life in Lisbon to help towards an understanding of how a changing world affects people’s daily lives and their neighbourhoods. There is concern that while modern technology may seem to make us more connected than ever before, the collective memory of the older generation, who are less likely to have access to these tools, is in danger of disappearing. Neighbourhood Lives and Memories makes use of community library facilities to allow elderly people’s testimonies to be heard and appreciated.
Jointly organised by a number of community groups and organisations involved in caring for the elderly, the project works by collecting, preserving and distributing material which makes up people’s stories of life in the city. This ranges from interviews to photographs, correspondence, journals, printed materials and videos. Each person’s memories and life histories are shared in weekly meetings, called community memory workshops, led by technicians from participating libraries. These workshops have a range of important social, emotional and cognitive benefits for the people involved, contributing to the range of cultural activities available to the elderly, as well as supporting their health and wellbeing. This project is also positive and innovative in terms of bringing a type of enrichment activity which typically takes place in closed institutional settings, such as care homes, out into a setting where it can be enjoyed by the wider community, benefiting the whole city.
The project aims to reduce isolation and solitude among Lisbon’s elderly population, and encourage the city’s younger residents to take an interest in their community’s history. Launched in 2015 as a test pilot at two of the city’s largest libraries, and officially in 2017, it has already generated a wealth of oral history material through the video recording of interviews with elderly people. A further aim is to create an online digital archive of all the historical documents, such as photographs, letters and videos, which have been collected, alongside expanding the project into more libraries.
FESTIVAL OF POLITICS
PROMOTING POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND DEBATE AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE THROUGH A PROGRAMME OF CREATIVE EVENTS
It has long been recognised that cultural programming in world cities can increase community spirit and instil a sense of civic pride among local people. Cultural forms with a political slant can be used to draw people’s attention to specific topics. In a country which has faced a turbulent economy alongside a lack of interest in politics, low rates of participation and low public trust in institutions following ongoing reports of corruption, Lisbon has taken this a step further with the Festival of Politics.
The Festival of Politics is a two day programme of debates, workshops, films, art, music and children’s activities, aimed at increasing political engagement, as well as encouraging social change and critical thinking. It is devoted to demystifying politics, debunking the idea that it is something academic, dull and irrelevant to our daily lives. It began in 2017 as part of a wider City programme to commemorate the Portuguese Revolution of April 1974, and has now evolved into an annual event which involves both the public and the artistic community in politics. The Festival is designed to instil public trust by being primarily linked to cultural producers rather than to political parties, trade unions or NGOs wanting to promote their agenda. It uses cultural forms, such as multimedia and digital technology, to appeal to audiences who are not traditionally thought to get involved in politics. All activities, including film screenings and concerts, are free of charge. To make the programme widely accessible, all segments are translated into Portuguese Sign Language and available in Braille. There is a relaxed and informal atmosphere. For example, one Festival programme which included the opportunity for local residents to meet political deputies was organised in the style of a speed dating event, where each resident was given five minutes to ask questions.
Although the Festival itself lasts for two days, its programming is geared towards longevity, intended to generate extended debate and encourage long term social change. Rather than simply promoting cultural highlights of the two day programme, publicity for the Festival is designed to draw attention to a central and ongoing political theme. For example, the first edition focused around the problem of political abstention. Before and during the festival, proposals and ideas were collected on how to encourage more people to vote. These were then sent to parties with seats in the National Parliament. An eight page festival newspaper was dedicated to this central theme, with infographics and opinion pieces. The theme was also highlighted in television spots and social media postings, generating viral content. The same logic of legacy was followed in the second edition of the festival, dedicated to Human Rights. In 2017 the festival had 200 participants; in 2018 there were about 400. The use of multimedia has continued to be effective in gaining media coverage and generating viral content, ensuring a positive future for the event and putting its political themes on the national agenda.
URBAN ART GALLERY
REVITALISING THE URBAN LANDSCAPE WITH STRIKING LARGE-SCALE STREET ART
World cities now increasingly recognise urban art as both artistically valid and a boost to their cultural economies, especially as it lends itself particularly well to being shared by young people on social media. This recognition has been shown through policies aimed at protecting existing street art, and creating spaces for new art.
Urban Art Gallery is a citywide project promoting graffiti and street art in Lisbon. Organised by the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lisbon City Hall, it began in the city’s Bairro Alto neighbourhood following a drive to clean graffiti from buildings. It was then decided that a way to combat vandalism was to create a legal, structured space for graffiti artists, and a set of panels was installed in Calçada da Glória as an exhibition space.
The project’s key focus is conception and curatorship of urban art projects, including creating and administering proposals for new projects, and identifying new project sites. The remaining focus is on public awareness and engagement. Publicity campaigns have promoted street art via different media platforms to a diverse range of audiences, from the public to journalists and city leaders. Lisbon’s urban art scene has already received extensive national and international media coverage. Meanwhile, guided visits and workshops have been designed for audiences of different ages, particularly those from lowincome backgrounds. Through these activities, participants can learn about the history, techniques, and discourses of graffiti and street art. The project also supports academic studies, research and publications around the subject of urban art, for example, the book Porque pintamos a Cidade? Uma abordagem etnográfica do graffiti urbano (Why Do We Paint the City? An Ethnographic Approach to Urban Graffiti), published by Ricardo Campos in 2010. As well as creating new art, the project includes surveys of existing art. It aims to create photographic and videographic registries of urban art works carried out in Lisbon since 1974, and integrate them into a public database.
The project has been highly successful in encouraging urban art collaborations across the public and private sector. Reciclar o Olhar (Recycle Your Site) developed in partnership with the Direção Municipal de Ambiente Urbano (Municipal Urban Environment Office) involves creating art with the use of waste collection trucks and glass recycling containers, and is open to people of all ages, with or without previous artistic experience. Lata 65, chosen through the Lisbon’s Municipality Participatory Budget Programme, consists of council run workshops designed to introduce urban art to senior citizens. The MURO Festival, which began in 2015, brings street art to districts away from the city centre and helps to rejuvenate neglected areas. Urban Art Gallery has also partnered with the Google Art Project, a platform which integrates some of the world’s most recognised museums and galleries, and which recently created a section dedicated to urban art, involving 30 institutions from 15 countries.
In the long term, Urban Art Gallery seeks to continue to expand street art’s reach throughout the city, giving street artists more spaces to work. It also wants to continue to raise the profile of street art internationally. Rede Internacional para a Criatividade Urbana (The International Urban Creativity Network), created in Naples in 2011, was founded as a collaboration between Urban Art Gallery and other urban arts projects across Europe.