From fear to hope, from darkness to color. Once again Medellin shows why thanks to art and culture, among other aspects, it is considered one of the most resilient and innovative cities in the world.
The global health crisis that we are currently experiencing due to COVID-19 has forced governments, institutions and citizens to implement innovative strategies and be able to control the rapid spread of this pandemic. It is paramount to prevent the collapse of the health system and we are facing the uncertainty generated by this “new normal”.
Medellin, the second most important city in Colombia and capital of the department of Antioquia, is no stranger to the fear and uncertainty that a crisis generates. Its inhabitants have overcome adversity in the past by getting the better of ingenuity and culture.
Resilience, present in Medellin’s DNA
The desire to move forward characterizes more than 2.5 million people. This desire is carried in their blood, in their ancestral DNA inherited by the muleteers, laborers and peasants who populated the Aburrá Valley arriving on the back of mules crossing rugged terrain, always with the best attitude, joy, optimism and hope.
Maybe this is what keeps them from stopping, and that is how they also won the battle against fear and violence experienced in Medellin decades ago. Perhaps hitting rock bottom was the trigger to bring about change and realize that the transforming power is in its own people. Through culture, art, innovation, tourism and entrepreneurship, the city has managed to face adversity and transform it into a benchmark for urban planning, social transformation and citizen culture. (See more about this transformation process here).
Art and culture as a transformation strategy
“Unstoppable and impeccable” are the adjectives used by the Spanish journalist Toya Viudes to describe the city. In her travel blog, selected by the Spanish newspaper El País as one of the 25 most recommended blogs, she writes: “Medellin is a role model for development, urbanism, planning, investment, inclusion, education, equity, sustainability, resilience, solidarity and hope”. (Read the article here).
During the last decades, cultural awareness and training processes based on art, leisure, dance, music and poetry have been developed in the community. Social and cultural organizations, artists and community leaders have raised their voices, and their stories of struggle and empowerment articulated through street art. Enormous graffiti, murals and music expressions such as urban dance movements, deliver messages of citizenship, sense of belonging and cultural transformation. In addition they bridge meetings and encounters between different communities, promoting freedom of expression and sensitivity. “Art strengthens the roots, the identity, the coexistence, and the bonds of union of the communities that have been broken because of forced displacement and other war strategies”, explains the social researcher Germán Rey, in his article in the magazine SEMANA.
Dose of creativity against COVID-19
To confront the crisis caused by the pandemic, Medellin and its institutions use their creative, cultural and social power as a strategy to sensitize, educate, and generate changes caring for their citizens. The contagion control measures in mass transportation systems could be understood as conditioning factors for the Medellin Metro, but they became a tool for motivating the young emerging artists and for making their artwork visible to the public.
The city seeks to abide by the regulations of the National Government that prevent exceeding 35% of the capacity of the transportation system, through different creative and artistic actions such as the signaling of stations and vehicles to mark the physical distance. Thus, 10 urban artists painted more than 20,000 colorful graffiti tracks, arranged on the floors of several Metro trains, indicating the recommended location of the passengers to guarantee physical distance.
According to Adriana Sánchez, head of Social Management of Metro de Medellin, intervention on trains by urban artists is part of the pedagogical and training strategy that seeks to generate positive behaviour change, compliance and the adoption of new social norms coexisting within the transport system through art and culture.
“Despite adversity, we are reinventing ourselves and we are looking for new ways to accompany citizens. In addition, we are interested in maintaining relationships with the artists of the city. For this reason the creation of footprints around the Metro allows us to promote through art and culture, physical distancing, self-care and the co-responsibility of taking care of each other. We want to guarantee compliance with bio safety protocols to build trust within the transport system, because we are interested in the well-being of our users and the public.” says Adriana Sánchez.
The artistic intervention was carried out in a total of 6 days, while commercial operation was active, which meant a great challenge for both, the transportation system and the artists.
“The ranges of colors that we used were not the corporate tones of the Metro. We wanted very bright colors, very joyful and multiple combinations that we could create. When the commuters enter the train, the colors will have a positive impact on them, thanks to the vibrations that these tonal ranges bring”, says “La Crespa ”, a participating artist who has been dedicated to urban, plastic and scenic art for 10 years. Art rescued her from the harshness and risks of street life. In the beginning she made art out of necessity, now, art is an essential part of her life; she fights the difficulties and struggles of life with color.
“Art has a lifesaving capacity, it is another universe where people can enter in moments of risk or conflict. Even now during this crisis, people have anxiety or depression because they have not been able to work. Through art one can lower stress levels, it is a universal language that can help resolve conflicts.” she adds. Artists like her imprinted their personal stamp and left their mark on the Metro. Her technique and experience are evidently reflected.
Another artist “Leodos”, who also participated in the project, says: “The mark that each artist left on the city and the public was the reason why this initiative is recognized in other parts of the world. It went from being a requirement of the State, to becoming an artistic intervention where, on each trip the user is able to choose a different footprint to stand on. This takes the commuter out of the routine and invites them to stand on a different one each time, thus fulfilling the physical distance required.” Because the transformation and joy of Medellin are reflected in his art, he adds: “Unlike other cities in the world, in Medellin the community interacts with you while you paint on the street, the comments of passers-by fill you with energy, and make you connect again with the work. That is the most wonderful thing about painting in Medellin.”
Since 2006, Medellin’s Metro has worked in collaboration with local and national urban art collectives to intervene various influential areas of the Transportation System. Currently, there are around 140 columns and 8 intervened posts, 50 murals and 60 works of art in stations, including La Aurora, the urban art gallery of the Ayacucho corridor and the columns of the Line B viaduct.
The Metro has also been associated with urban art festivals such as Pictopía, which is held every year in the city, where local and international artists gather to continue contributing to the renewal of public spaces. To learn more about this festival click here.
These initiatives have been enormously welcomed by commuters and have been reviewed by experts as successful examples of collaborative work between the state and artists, and probably will be emulated by other massive transportation systems in the world. Therefore, it is demonstrated that Medellin is a city that truly understands the power of art and culture to achieve local development and social transformation to face crises such as the one generated by COVID-19.