During our visit to the Colombian city of Medellín in the winter of 2011, we witnessed firsthand how a city once infamous for its decades of violence and civil unrest had transformed into one of the cultural capitals of South America. Inspired by this transformation, we set out in the months that followed to develop a community service project through which we could utilize our diverse academic backgrounds and experiences with art and architecture to raise awareness of this exciting cultural climate.
We knew straight away that we wanted our project to be an art gallery, but we had several other goals in mind:
- To establish a space that could be incorporated seamlessly into the other cultural development projects that have been flourishing in the city;
- To initiate programs that would actively reject the cultures of violence and economic inequality that still remain in the city;
- To create a gallery space that would circulate ideas rather than sell art;
- To create a dynamic venue that would engage both young artists and citizens of the community in representing the vibrant facets of their own culture.
During Medellín’s period of cartel-related drug violence in the 1980s and 90s, gated shopping malls became the center of the city’s public space. At this time, malls provided the public with the ability to gather within the safety of heavy surveillance and armed security.
But now that the city is moving out of this violent period, cordoned-off commercial spaces like these malls are counterproductive to the creation of a peaceful culture. Malls stand as a site of division between those who can spend and those who cannot, and in so doing create the desire for excess that exists at the root of violence.
Our aim is to re-center everyday public life away from the divisive space of the shopping mall. For us, creating a new type of store means creating a new type of exchange: an egalitarian exchange of cultural ideas that brings community members together rather than dividing them.
Located in the central neighborhood of Belén, La Tienda Medellín will be a non-commercial art gallery and community center. Inspired by the early work of the artist Claes Oldenburg and the utopian ideas of the Russian Constructivist movement, we have framed our gallery as a tienda (“store”) because we wish to weave the cultural production of art into the fabric of everyday life while subverting the socio-economic stratification of most commercial spaces.
The goal of our storefront art gallery is to simultaneously transform what it means to be a store (a quotidian site of exchange) and what it means to be a gallery (a space in which art is displayed) by collapsing the two ideas into one another. We do not plan to sell anything at our gallery. Instead, we intend to promote a local “cultural economy”: a forum wherein artists and citizens can exchange ideas, opinions, and representations. In addition to promoting cultural activity locally, a major goal of our gallery is to raise awareness of Medellín's art scene internationally through the press surrounding our project.
Art is often seen as an elitist interest reserved for a small group of privileged collectors and aficionados. But, with this project, we would like to promote interest in the arts amongst citizens from all walks of life.
The day-to-day operations of our gallery will consist of three main initiatives:
- The curation and display of small-scale exhibitions showcasing the work of South American artists. We have been in touch with many Colombian artists who have expressed excitement towards participating in our projects and exhibitions. From our conversations with them, it is clear that Medellín would benefit immensely from an expansion of its contemporary gallery culture: both to harbor its local artists and to host artists from other South American cities. Unlike most galleries, our exhibitions will not focus on the commercial exchange of art objects, but rather on the unique cultural exchange of ideas that art can facilitate.
- The organization of community events centered on public art workshops, music and dance performances, and film screenings. We plan to host diverse arts events (as well as openings for each exhibition) that will bring citizens of Medellín and members of the art community into dialogue with one another and with South American art. It is crucial for our project that the atmosphere at La Tienda remain open and dynamic so that visitors are encouraged to return regularly and that each visit provides an opportunity to interface with a different group of individuals.
- A series of interactive art projects designed by local artists, the goal of which will be the production of art objects that are activated by public participation. At La Tienda, we do not want to stay within the boundaries of the traditional relationship between artists and the public. Instead, we will prompt artists to create works that can be physically disseminated into the community by the visitors themselves. For example, local citizens will be encouraged to take serially produced art objects home and install them in their neighborhoods. An artist might also design an installation that calls on students from the local schools to help in its construction. We will then display the works of artists as well as artworks that have been produced by the public to create a feedback loop of artistic exchange between different members of the community. In this way, La Tienda will function as a hub for cultural dialogue rather than as an isolated space for the display of art.
Our pop-up gallery is scheduled to open in the June of 2012. We are currently in the process of fundraising. With the support of cultural institutions and charitable donations we hope to gain the funding we need to realize this unique and exciting project.
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