Reflections on listening, art and identity.
BAM! has always worked with cultural organisations that mostly operate in urban contexts. However, our network has been expanding for a few years, leading us to collaborate with organisations working in smaller, outlying and sometimes remote locations.
Ph. Antonio Di Cecco, courtesy of C.A.S.A. Cosa Accade Se Abitiamo
This trend began in the pre-Covid years and has accelerated with the pandemic, in line with the centrifugal forces that have led to a growing focus on areas far removed from cities.
Over the past year, in particular, we have found ourselves facing new challenges in what are called “inland areas”, even supervising activation, participation and communication projects in mountainous areas, otherwise known as “highlands”.
These are unique and diverse territories that have long been at the centre of lively public debate and significant political initiatives. We have therefore decided to share some reflections based on our experiences, convinced that we can continue to learn from these areas.
1. Listening and involving the people who live in the areas
“If you want to do something for an area you have to be on its side”
– Anna Rizzo, I paesi invisibili
When it comes to planning, the first rule is always to get to know the area. Every place has its own history, consolidated dynamics and particular needs. This is especially true of inland areas. It is possible to implement more direct engagement dynamics, shorter networks and closer dialogues in small settings.
Because of this, the first step is to involve the people who live there and the players who work there, whether they be economic, institutional, social or cultural. As Anna Rizzo writes in her book I paesi invisibili:
“One of the problems that has submerged the debate on inland areas is that of coming up with and planning ways of living and economic strategies without identifying a specific context, a province or a municipality, mistakenly thinking that a plan can be applied to any area.”
Getting to know the shared memories of the lands and settlements involved in your plans is not only a good idea to bring the work to fruition, but also a unique opportunity to discover incredible stories.
For example, did you know that Marie Louise Jeanneret, joint owner along with her husband of an important gallery in Geneva, decided to set up an Experimental Art Centre in a village in the province of Savona, in Boissano, in the 1960s? That’s right! An art centre where prominent artists such as Andy Warhol, Rothko, Pomodoro and Alberto Giacometti visited and worked over the following decades.
This is not as well known as it ought to be, and we only found out when working on Avanguardie a Ponente, a project supported by the Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation through the ‘In Luce’ call for proposals, which aims to promote the cultural identities of the Ligurian inland areas. We promote this project together with Amici di Casa Jorn, MiC-Soprintendenza ABAP delle province di Imperia e Savona, Fondazione Agostino De Mari and Dialoghi d’Arte.
‘Avanguardie a Ponente’ has taken us to Boissano, Calice Ligure, Cosio D’Arrosci and Terzorio to organise participation workshops with its partners. The local people who got involved spoke to us about the places they love, telling us stories of world-class artists who have lived there, conveying their needs and putting forward ideas for making their areas more attractive.
In three municipalities involved in the project, a series of events dedicated to the local people and anyone else interested are taking place at the moment, aiming to revive those memories and to enhance the historical and artistic heritage hidden in the village streets. Find out about forthcoming events organised as part of the ‘Avanguardie’ project via this link.
If, on the other hand, you would like to learn more about the theme of enhancing inland areas through artistic and cultural projects, read more below about the two webinars promoted as part of ‘Avanguardie a Ponente’ on the theme of “Remote places and high lands: what regeneration is possible?”
Cultural regeneration for villages and “high lands”: plans, cases studies and networks, Thursday 8 September 2022
Territorial marketing for difficult lands: examples of storytelling and branding, Thursday 15 September 2022
2. Art and culture as levers for promoting local areas
A second point we wish to emphasise concerns the role of art, architecture and cultural activities as levers for promoting local areas. Once again, these are not projects drawn up around a table and dropped on areas from above, but works, installations and initiatives that are born and developed with the active engagement of communities.
One good example is Frontignano Art Walks, an artistic-cultural itinerary that promotes reflection on the significance of living in the highlands, and it does so through the creation of public art works within the Monti Sibillini National Park, in Frontignano di Ussita (MC) to be precise.
The project came about as a result of work in partnership with the local community, carried out by Sineglossa (leader of Frontignano Art Walks) during the editing of the Nonturismo guide.
A number of reflections on the meaning of living in mountain areas today arose as a result of this engagement, inspring the design of public artworks that will be developed within the built-up area of Frontignano and in the neighbouring territories with the involvement of local craftsmen and using eco-sustainable and recycled materials.
Once completed, the works will become part of a new walking itinerary that will link the installations, making its way past houses, forests and panoramic views, and establishing a dialogue between nature and culture, landscape and history. The itinerary will become part of original tourist packages, designed for a public aware of responsible tourism and the combination of nature and contemporary art.
“ … footpaths and villages form a whole, and out of this whole we could establish a form of regeneration that is more consistent with the spirit of the village, with the desire to re-inhabit them, while also opening up to forms of tourism.”
– Paolo Pileri, ‘Borghi e sentieri assieme: la ricetta della rigenerazione’, in Contro i borghi
3. Relaunching villages by rediscovering their local identity
Work in inland areas is always based on a process that recurs every time and that should be highlighted to prevent it being taken for granted: the rediscovery of an area’s identity.
Rediscovering the identity of an area can mean uncovering a dormant heritage to be revitalised, but it can also mean finding a new common thread linking village events, the shared stories of a community and expressions of artistic heritage. Only on this basis is it possible to develop new narratives underpinning innovative revitalisation strategies.
Find out more about the projects described above:
- Anna Rizzo, I paesi invisibili, ilSaggiatore (2022)
- Filippo Barbera, Domenico Cerosimo and Antonio De Rossi (eds.), Contro i borghi. Il Belpaese che dimentica i paesi, Donzelli Editore (2022)
- Mario Rigoni Stern, Le vite dell’Altipiano. Racconti di uomini, boschi e animali, Einaudi (2015)