How can Art bring the Dead back to Life?

We went to the southern Sicilian town of Favara a while back.

The historic town centre looked like a slum in Chad, or perhaps the most bombed-out district of Damascus. There were wooden boards and scaffolding around the derelict houses, to make sure pieces of masonry didn’t land on the cars. There were hoardings to keep pedestrians from walking too close.

We arrived in the dark, which made it all extra-scary.

“Why did you bring me to this dump?” I asked Hubby under my breath.

“I’ve heard it’s wonderful,” he replied.

We entered a bar through the back door – in Sicily they often open the back to let a refreshing breeze cool the whole place down. When we emerged through the front door, we found ourselves in a vast, grandiose piazza reminiscent of Piazza San Marco in Venice.

There were glamorous bars all around. There were spotlights set into the pavement running from each immaculately planted flower bed to the next. The town hall had a flawless facade and brand new flags hanging from it. It was enchanting.

“OK, you’re right,” I conceded.

“This isn’t the part I was looking for,” he said, asking more people for directions. “I want to see the Farm Cultural Park.” And we dived back into the scary streets.

Dead and Decaying

In the historic district of Favara, once upon a time, the houses were all set around seven cosy courtyards. Then economic depression came to town, the younger generation moved to the big cities or far from Sicily to find work, and the old people died. Their empty houses started falling down, until not one of them was worth more than the price of a Mars Bar.

A local notary named Andrea Bartoli hated to see his hometown so tragically unloved. He decided to buy up all the abandoned houses around one of the seven courtyards and restore them to an inhabitable state. He could only afford to put in the minimum essential facilities – plumbing, and a roof.

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Then he started inviting local and national artists and photographers to stay in them as his guest; he would host them free of charge, but on condition that they produced a piece of art, or decorated the house.

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A flash of Inspiration

Gradually the derelict old houses of Favara became a unique art gallery, called the Farm Cultural Park. The art is both inside and out. Some of it looks like advertising posters or other parts of the normal paraphernalia of any town – until you take a closer look. Everything is done with a sense of irony, irreverence and fun.

A space in the central courtyard has been turned into a vegetable garden for local children to cultivate plants and learn to respect the environment.

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They’re not real street signs. The top one says “Urban transformation in progress” and the bottom one says “Greeting other people is obligatory”

 

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I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a major fan of modern art, but the way they do it in Favara is different. Seeing it in a town gives it a context which is entirely lacking in an art gallery. It has a relevant and thought-provoking message, it brings its sense of humour along, and it makes you want to join in.

You can join in, actually. While using the public toilets, for example, you watch an art installation with films of Steve Jobs giving motivations speeches to university students.

You see many images intended to make you think. What is this image saying to you?

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This is a “world map” of Favara

It has inspired the locals to fix up many other parts of the town, too. We walked through a beautiful garden which a group of local volunteers created out of what was once an unofficial rubbish dump.

All the people who take care of the galleries and contribute to the community projects are volunteers. We were shown around by these absolutely charming young ladies:

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There is also a shop where local artists can sell their work: here are some “magic medicines.”

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The town Comes back to Life

The project has inspired many locals to join in, beautifying the city whilst expressing themselves. The people of Favara had given up, but this new, never-ending art project has brought the town back to life – and given a new life to all the people who live there.

This most important thing about Favara, for me, was that it’s all so much fun. I came away feeling invigorated and injected with the joy of life myself.

This story of economic ruin and abandonment is playing out in countless old towns across Sicily. I wonder if any others will find a way to be born again?

16 Comments Add yours

  1. cindyfisherwoman says:

    Fantastico!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Favara has been on my list since I read about it long ago. Now more so. The model is a great one. There are other towns in ruin that could benefit from artisan and artist visits. Ortigia has a residence for artists coming to work in Ortigia – slightly different, but together with the Impact Hub, really welcoming to outsiders. I love this entrepreneurial spirit. It’s exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I didn’t know there was a similar project in Ortigia. I loved the regeneration and flourish of activity that I sensed in Ortigia. It has a vibe and energy that you rarely find in Sicily.

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  3. Diane C says:

    I was there last summer. It really is an amazing little corner of Sicily!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful! I am in a permanent state of distress over the dying and decaying small towns in America and to see something like this – such a brilliant and innovative concept – gives me hope!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this kind of project might also help some of the poor and criminalised parts of American cities if done the right way, perhaps? What do you think?

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  5. Veronica, what an inspiring post and what a great mutually beneficial partnership between artist and city. This could be replicated in so many different places.

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    1. yes, I can think of about 100 towns right here in Sicily that could do with this kind of movement! …and so many others around the world, as you say.

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  6. Malla Duncan says:

    This is amazing! And how modern art should function. I’m not a fan of art galleries where things are too closely collected in room after room. I like to see art as part of life! Here’s another reason to visit Sicily! As humans we are empowered to improve our environment. Those that don’t are…suspect. Bravo to these people!

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    1. It was honestly the first time I have seen modern art and loved it – because the message or each work spoke out loud and clear and the context gave it all a purpose.

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  7. How neat is this, it looked like it was a lot of fun and that you guys had a good time. I too like when modern art is done well, and has you thinking long beyond the actual visit. I would love to see this elsewhere in Italy!

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  8. Ann McCabe says:

    just love the creativity and motivation.

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  9. cat9984 says:

    Reblogged this on Adventures in Cheeseland and commented:
    And now for something completely different. I love this type of urban renewal story.

    Like

  10. Ellen Hawley says:

    I’ve never been a fan of modern art, or ironic art, or whatever you want to call it, either, but like this, with a light touch and a sense of humor? It’s wonderful.

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    1. That’s exactly how I reacted to it as well!

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  11. markbialczak says:

    Refreshing and uplifting piece, TSH. Thanks for sharing the story and photos.

    Like

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