In the city of Taranto in the south of Italy, whether or not to let a street artist loose on the side of your home has now become an avid discussion among locals. The street art project T.R.U.St., Taranto Regeneration Urban Street, aims to transform Taranto into an open-air art museum and bring art to the people – quite literally to the sides of their homes.
For the citizens of Taranto, street art is not completely new. Last year the district of Paolo VI was decorated with two giant murals. The Acclavio library now has a mural dedicated to Taranto-born political journalist Alessandro Leogrande. Close by, a larger-than-life mural of US basketball legend Kobe Bryant looks down from the side of the sports club PalaRicciardi.
The power of paint
The arrival of street artists in Paolo VI was initially met with suspicion by residents more used to perceiving graffiti as vandalism than art. But as the days progressed and the murals started taking shape, the mood changed to one of genuine interest. By the third day, the magic of street art was in evidence. People passing by would stop to talk to the artists. Local children even spent entire days watching the murals take form.
For a neighbourhood that normally only felt a spotlight shone on it for all the wrong reasons, the murals gave the residents of Paolo VI a real sense of pride in their city. That’s why this year the decision has been taken not to put the artworks on civic buildings – but to take them out to the city’s peripheral areas and involve the most important people in any city – the people who live there.
From bare wall to international artwork
Private buildings and groups of citizens can apply to the Municipality to have their walls changed from an anonymous surface into a new work of art. With some internationally well-renowned street artists already involved, including Tony Gallo, Alice Pasquini and Dimitris Taxis, the project has become a source of lively conversation. Because as you can imagine, if you’re going to let the walls of your home become a living art work, you and your neighbours are going to have some opinions about it.
The Council of the City expects the Street Art project to put Taranto on the tourist trail and contribute to several high-profile international events, including Taranto’s bid to become the Italian City of Culture in 2022 and the 20th Mediterranean Games, which are going to be held in the city in 2026. To date, it has invested the phenomenal sum of over 3.5 million euros in the project – making it one of the largest art projects for urban art in Italy.
As Taranto is one of the less prosperous towns in Italy with unenviable unemployment rates of up to 50% in some parts, you might question the value of investing in a street art project. But Tourism and Cultural Industry Councilor Loredana Capone has no doubt about the benefits the project will bring.
“The artistic dimension can give heart and soul to a neighbourhood, spark emotions and involve residents in the experience. The project will generate a fantastic cultural, artistic, urban, social and even touristic impact in the Taranto area,” she enthuses.
Improving social mobility
For the Taranto neighbourhoods involved in the project, the visual face lift may lead to benefits that can be felt for generations to come. According the ‘broken windows’ theory one visible sign of vandalism, such as a broken window, increases crime and disorder, which affects both inhabitants and property values. By improving the visual appearance of buildings, the project can contribute to lowering crime rates, attracting new residents and increasing property prices.
Street art is not the only way Taranto is trying to make their city more attractive. Their extensive urban transformation programme is among the most ambitious in Italy and includes an initiative, where new residents can buy apartments at only €1. This offer is based on strict commitment from the new owner that they appropriately renovate their new property and live there. Renovation is high on the agenda in Italy, with the 110 percent ‘superbonus’ announced on May 26, 2020 as a way to encourage families to upgrade their own living conditions and make use of EU incentives. Wide spread renovation in Taranto will create a host of local jobs and elevate the region’s infrastructure, while also improving the quality of life for those who live, work and learn in these spaces. Not only will renovation refresh the look of the city and boost property prices, improving the energy efficiency of the older buildings will reduce the energy they use by more than 50 percent. So locals save big on their bills while reducing their CO2 emissions and contributing to Italy’s climate goals.
Whether or not the street art project can raise property prices remains to be seen. But as Taranto citizens continue to debate the merits of letting their homes become a living art work, you sense how the project can bring people together. Every time it’s discussed, people are focusing on the future of their homes, communities and the city itself. Exactly as it was hoped they would.