Within minutes of hitting Lisbon’s streets, you’ll notice the prominent presence of graffiti on the walls and shutters. For many cities around this world, such a high spray-rate would present a enforcement problem, indicate a theme of ‘anti-social’ behaviour, maybe make you feel a little unsure of the folk around you, but this is not the case in Lisbon. There is something about the mix of Lisbon’s colourful tile facades, pot-plant covered balconies and out-of-window washing lines that works so well with the graffitied streets.
But this urban style is no accident, and it sits comfortably with the history of art in Lisbon’s public spaces. Following on from the tradition of Lisbon’s famous tiled buildings and impressive mosaics in city metro stations, the city of Lisbon has embraced the role of graffiti in the community. Rather than scrubbing the walls clean and waiting for Lisbon’s youth to repaint, the local government has channelled the bold urban creativity of graffiti culture into a community-based, proactive municipal marketing campaign of sorts.
In 2008 Lisbon’s city streets were enlivened with the colours and quirks of street art requested by the local government. Initially requesting larger-than-life works scaling multiple storeys, the Heritage Preservation department of Lisbon City Hall gave breath to Galeria de Arte Urbana (galeriaurbana.com.pt) Calçada da Glória, an open air space designated for the graffiti. The project was intended to break the recurring cycle of vandalism and cleansing, revive the some of the derelict city structures, and embrace the personality in Lisbon’s streets by engaging some of the best street artists around.
Since then, an ongoing acceptance of graffiti has been harnessed through ongoing municipal support and projects, in what has been described as innovative guerrilla marketing. Government approved works on recycling trucks and street containers were as hailed a successful public education campaign for the importance recycling and city tourism has been largely focused on the open air gallery that Lisbon has become.
Of course, the local government has not allowed a free-for-all graffiti pass, still directing the spray by insisting that two key conditions are met: the building decorated is intended for redevelopment, meaning the art is a temporary delight, and that the building owner is okay with the artwork. Four times a year the Crono project, in association with Urban Art, brings in world and local artists to do some ‘urban curating’, which involved choosing government designated sites for the continuation of this dynamic street art culture.
The streets and stations of Lisbon still exhibit the more gritty side of graffiti in the form of tagging and shop-front vandalism, but Lisbon city reports a much lower level of tagging since urban art projects have started.
The success of the urban art approach has been both applauded and criticised. Many of the locals seem to appreciate the colour and flavour, believing it hides dishevelled city structures and encourage pride in the community. On the other hand, critics say the project funds would be better directed into restoring the blocks of abandoned buildings and working on a solution for the long-standing fixed-price rental model that has been blamed for such widespread disrepair.
To see some of Lisbon’s most impressive displays of street art, wander the labyrinth district of Alfama, the night-life hub of Barrio Alto and check out the Galeria de Arte Urbana.
The lovely painted streets of Lisbon can take days to explore as you are drawn into a colourful world of urban culture. Why not rent one of the apartments in Lisbon and take your time exploring all that this dynamic city has to offer?
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