An Open Walls movement?

In answer to RJ Rushmore post “What and where are open walls?” here’s my point on the open walls issue.

I’m going to focus on major cities, mainly Barcelona, my hometown.

I won’t talk about smaller ones, such as Terrassa (200K people, 30 min from Barcelona, with a good set –20 exactly- of completely free walls available for everyone, without any application or selection process) or Valencia (1M people, Escif’s hometown and where common sense seems to dominate street life and allow a lot of art to be placed on walls, just by talking to building owners.

I also think of some south american cities, such as Buenos Aires, with a pretty organic way of functioning in the streets. Artists just choose places where they don’t bother anyone or directly ask the owner to paint with any problem.

These two situations are similar to what was happening in Barcelona in the late 90’s. graffiti was not legal but it was not prosecuted (well, if you were not tagging a police car…), untill the law changed at the end of 2005. By 2006, the entire city was buffed, people was being highly fined and graffiti / street art scene was heavily wounded, having to move to the outskirts and forget to paint nice murals downtown.

But focusing in this zero tolerance context, shared by most cities worldwide, yet by 2008 we were running the first “open wall” in Barcelona, thanks to having done a stencil festival (Difusor2007) and used that specific wall for artistic purposes. This very first project, named Galeria Oberta (Open Gallery) allowed anyone to download an authorisation and paint at the spot, 24/7, anonymously (only the user has got the personal data, whilst cops, authorities and ourselves as organisers get only a notification that an intervention will be done at a certain date. The rest of the data is encrypted and stored).

After shutting this project we started openwalls.info. Same philosophy, with more spots and the will to grow along the city.

From 2007 we got in touch with other people that were having similar ideas: Tristan Manco invited us to join Banksy’s Cans festival, well known for the artworks of its two editions (stencils and graffiti) but less by what I believe is another important thing about that festival –beside being front cover of The Times-: set up the first free legal wall in London, still working in Leake St. Also swiss based legal-walls.net, which was only an open database of available spots, and sometimes not fully reliable, but still a good guide for painting legal almost anywhere; Le Mur in Paris was active, but not open. Pedro Soares, who started independently a good project in Lisbon, GAU, now in the hands of the Mayor’s Office but still doing quite a good job, sometimes in collaboration with Vhils related Underdogs gallery. Also Marcus Willcocks and Lorraine Gamman at the DACRC (University of the Arts London) have been (and still are) doing a long term research on how to deal with the graffiti issue. Devon Ostrom, in Toronto, showing, here, how independent public art can be founded through a tax on outdoor advertising. And many other efforts I know less well, for example in Sydney, Australia.

In the first edition of the Openwalls Conference -2011-  we tried to gather some of these people (Zaragoza’s Asalto have an openwalls like program since then, so does another local organisation in Barcelona), and set the basis for upcoming conversations.

The same have been doing people at DAC, with the Graffiti Dialogues and the Graffiti Sessions (having GSA crew giving a hand to paint some walls on this last remarkable event).

And it’s this same spirit we seeked with the second edition of the Openwalls Conference (2014): putting to work up to 40 public workers from the Barcelona City Hall in a workshop on independent artistic interventions, in a series of public talks with festival promoters such as Monica Campana from Living Walls, Teresa Latuszewska-Syrda from Urban Forms

So, yes, it’s difficult to paint in highly regulated cities, but there are starting to appear some chances thanks to the work of small organisations that are working as a hinge between artists and public policy makers. Obviously, we are far from having the work done, but seeds are there.

The next challenge is not only to make a manifesto, but to settle down a fair modus operandi for artists, developers and public space itself.