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10th edition of Bairro das Artes: This is not the end

It’s the tenth and final edition of Bairro das Artes. Ana Matos and Cláudio Garrudo, who created the idea for this event, consider that the mission has been fulfilled. The city changed and a new dynamic was born. The cycle has now come to an end, but another one begins. This is not an end – they assure, in the text that closes the last catalogue.

Interview with Ana Matos and Cláudio Garrudo

Carolina Machado I’d like to take a step back, perhaps longer than what is usual in an interview centred on Bairro das Artes. What relationship did you have with this neighbourhood, before Bairro das Artes, almost a decade ago? What brought you here? What connected you to Lisbon’s seventh hill?

Ana Matos – Cláudio and I had a very strong relationship with this part of the city, mainly with Bairro Alto. I’m the owner of Galeria das Salgadeiras in Bairro Alto since 2003. At that time, when I was preparing a piece of information for the website, I realized that the largest number of galleries in Lisbon was on the seventh hill. There were about forty galleries with a regular activity, most of them located here. I didn’t know that, even though I was quite familiar with the gallery world. I was visiting different galleries, but I had never noticed that reality. And I thought I probably wouldn’t be the only one. In conversation with Cláudio, we decided to create a kind of White Night. Since we had a very strong relationship with Bairro Alto, the heart of that event, we called it Bairro das Artes. It was the realization of that fact and the will to gather the galleries located here. We wanted to allow people to visit several inaugurations simultaneously in extended hours – as it happens during the White Nights, in several cities around the world.

Cláudio Garrudo – Going back to your question, the relationship I have with this area of the city… I would call it umbilical. I was born right in front of the Chiado Museum, I lived here for many years – until three years ago – and in different parts of the seventh hill. It’s a natural relationship. Later, that relationship became stronger through the collaboration with Galeria das Salgadeiras, in a project I had with Paulo Taylor – “I Love Bairro Alto”. With the utmost desire to present to people what was unknown in contemporary art in this part of the city. As far as Bairro das Artes is concerned… We’ve never limited the concept to Bairro Alto only. It’s something connected to this whole area of the city, where there’s a triangle: between the National Museum of Contemporary Art [Chiado Museum], Arpad Szenes – Vieira da Silva and Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar. This triangle has dozens of artistic spaces.

AM – This area possesses another trait that led us to create Bairro das Artes. It has always been deeply associated with its artistic practice. Several artists had their workshops here. Now, unfortunately, due to problems of another kind, that reality is not that present. But it has always been a very artistic, bohemian neighbourhood, with an interventive voice, connected to the newspapers… It had an interesting density and depth.

CM – It’s clear that Bairro das Artes is part of your desire for dialogue and sharing. How did you materialize this idea? Is it a recovery of the concept of artistic community on an urban scale?

AM – This project was undoubtedly born from this desire to disseminate contemporary art. The first edition had only galleries. The genesis of Bairro das Artes is associated with galleries. That congregation was necessary. I wouldn’t say that it’s an artistic community. Yes, artists always come first: we owe everything to them and it’s because of them that this event takes place. The goal was perhaps to create a more cooperative spirit among the galleries. To create an event where the various audiences could circulate between galleries. People find it difficult to get around just to see an exhibition, an inauguration. But suddenly, they could, in one night, see seven or eight inaugurations on a pedestrian route… It was one of the premises of the Bairro das Artes: a pedestrian route. Nowadays, it has grown and is almost a marathon. But this idea of having a walkable neighbourhood always remained as one of the event’s characteristics. Even to attain a more cooperative spirit: between the congregation of the galleries and the promotion of the artists that these galleries represent or collaborate with. Then, we started to have other requests. Basically, it was to create that spirit of community. But I wouldn’t say artistic, since, in fact, artists…

CG – I’d say a community of cultural agents…

AM – Exactly

CG – …which provides audiences with a sort of dynamic that wouldn’t have been possible any other day. Everyone wins: audiences, cultural agents, artists. This networking also motivated us to launch these two projects and the association [Isto não é um cachimbo].

CM – According to the information published, Bairro das Artes intends to be inclusive, open; i.e., democratic. In what way does it contribute to the involvement of the sort of public that is not that familiar with the cultural activity and the artistic scene?

CG – I believe that it has contributed to that democratisation. All these initiatives are free. In other countries, in this type of events, galleries and museums pay a fee. The board of the association established that the initiative would be free: for the public and for the cultural agents.

AM – During the evening of Bairro das Artes, the admissions to the Chiado Museum are also free. We want that to happen. The ultimate goal is to be free.

CG – A few years ago, some people didn’t enter the galleries because they thought there was a fee involved. They asked: “Can I come in? Do we have to pay for it?”. That never happened again. Nowadays, the audiences – even those outside the artistic milieu – feel much more comfortable. They visit the spaces. They may like it or not. If one piece doesn’t touch them, another one can. But they feel part of the whole thing, they feel at ease in these spaces and on the route – which ends up being everyone’s.

CM – You have witnessed that involvement from those who aren’t part of the scene.

CG – Yes.

AM – Yes. For some years now, we’ve had a group of volunteers, distributed throughout the different parts of Bairro das Artes. They draw people’s attention: “This is happening, if you like to visit… Now, at seven o’clock, there’s an inauguration, a conversation with the artist”. They lead people. In recent years, we have begun to feel a great mishmash of audiences. Sometimes, you say “mishmash of audiences” just to strike a pose. But it’s really true.

CG – We have witnessed people on the street marking the guide of Bairro das Artes: “I’ve visited this!”.

AM – Yes, like a passport: “I’ve been to this one!”. In the beginning, it was possible to visit every single one of them. Nowadays, we don’t even recommend it. The meaning takes its toll a little bit.

CM – Lisbon has changed with tourism and gentrification. How is this change reflected in the event’s production and reception? Is it possible to involve both the local and international communities?

CG – The local community, yes. We have done so. How has this local community come into contact with the international one? We are at an early stage, although we feel… There are people from outside, who organize other festivals. They invite us and they come here. But we still don’t have any measurable data.

AM – Last year, for example, the artistic proposals coincided: they addressed the subject of gentrification, of what is happening in the city. The involvement of the Order of Architects ends up making that very evident. They know more about city-related subjects, about what it is turning into. Production-wise, we make bilingual materials and have some contacts with the international press. Many tourists participate. After all, the concept of the White Night is very international and cross-sectional. Those who like contemporary art already know about it. We sensed that in a particular year: people came here on purpose to visit Bairro das Artes. But we don’t have any concrete data.

CM – On the verge of the tenth edition, the time has come to reflect on what has been achieved. What was the most relevant contribution to the cultural activity and artistic scene of this “symbolic triangle”?

CG – To present to the public several artistic proposals in the very same evening. Making them easily accessible and shareable. After ten years, I believe that the formation of audiences is the event’s great added value.

AM – That’s quite visible. If we look back, to the beginning… Not only because we have gone from fifteen spaces to thirty-five – some, however, have closed or gone to other parts of the city. The number of spaces and people has increased tremendously. Last year, there were a lot of people. They come to this part of the city on purpose, to see the inaugurations, the finissages, the launches, the conversations. These are people who end up coming back during the year. That’s the most important thing. It’s not only the number of people during Bairro das Artes. It’s also knowing that, of those people, a percentage… In my experience, I confirm that people come back and will continue to. These brand-new audiences have critical mass, an analytical capacity, they can give rise to young collectors, with cultural habits… All this is the event’s added value.

CG – I think it’s a cycle. When we created this initiative, there was no event focused on contemporary art and with these characteristics. After ten years, it’s time to reflect on new cycles.

CM – What can we expect from Bairro das Artes in the future?

CG – A cycle has come to an end.

AM – Ten years. It’s a decade. It was a difficult but pondered decision.

CG – The mission is accomplished. The city has changed.

AM – The two main objectives are fulfilled: to create audiences and show that there are many galleries here, with an immense artistic production, that there are museums, schools… Bairro das Artes exists permanently and will always be Bairro das Artes. But the city has changed. Now, there are other spaces, other neighbourhoods, with their own dynamics and programmes. After ten years, we consider the mission accomplished. The time has come for something else to emerge.

CM – Can Bairro das Artes be transformed into something else?

AM – On our part, as an association, we are always ready to collaborate. We have other projects that we want to present, probably next year. Always based on a policy of promotion and democratisation – giving more tools to bring audiences closer to contemporary art, in Lisbon and in the country. All this remains true. Bairro das Artes, as a project and event, ends.

Not to be missed, on Lisbon’s seventh hill: the last Bairro das Artes on 19 September, between 6 pm and 10 pm.

Carolina Machado (Lisbon, 1993). Graduated in Painting at the Faculdade de Belas-Artes of the University of Lisbon (2011-2015). Post-graduated in Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (2016-2017). Master's degree in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies - Art and Political Cultures by the same institution (2017-2019). An intern of the colllection of Caixa Geral de Depósitos at Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos – Culturgest (2017-2018).

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