In the neighbourhood Polígono Sur in Seville, a new project has seen the light of day. Using culture as a starting point, Factoría Cultural aims for making social progress little by little. An achievable goal or a utopian idea?
“To me, this spot is very symbolic”. On the second floor in one of the rehearsal rooms at Factoría Cultural, the Artistic Director Amapola López, opens the window and looks at the rough landscape; the arid piece of land and the neglected apartment blocks.
“We are standing in this brand-new building surrounded by exquisite interior and fancy equipment, and then … this is where we are! And we’re trying to make those people living in the apartment blocks a part of our place. It’s so hard because they don’t even understand what it is – they think this is a police station. “ Amapola López is working for ICAS, The Institute for Culture and Arts, a unit belonging under the City Council in Seville.
A tangible contrast
Polígono Sur is a neighbourhood located only a couple of kilometres from the city centre of Seville. Despite the short distance, this area seems significantly different from the historic, fashionable and charming centre of Seville. The morning sunlight does its best to make the worn apartment blocks look slightly more inviting. However, the streets littered with garbage, the smell from it and the barking stray dogs wandering about are not exactly contributing to an idyllic image.
The Art Therapist Kristine Inez has worked in the neighbourhood as a part of her Master’s degree at the University Pablo de Olavide and describes Polígono Sur as a parallel society.
”This neighbourhood has nothing to do with the general view on Spain as a laid-back and enchanting country that most people have. It’s an autonomous society. There is no visible wall, but there is a mental wall surrounding the area. And when you cross the wall, you are entering another country. Really.”
Polígono Sur (popularly known as Las 3000 Viviendas, the 3000 houses) was built under Franco’s rule in the late 1960’s officially to accommodate the challenges regarding explosive population growth. The area was constructed by the Ministry of Housing of the city of Seville, and intended to house Seville’s poor and ethnic groups, primarily los gitanos, the gypsies. Within 10 years most of the apartment blocks were missing fundamental facilities such as hot water and plumbing installations after various acts of vandalism. Due to the gypsies’ proud traditions regarding Flamenco, the area is the most artistic part of Seville and at the same time one of the most marginalised, drug addicted and unsafe. The area is poorly connected to the centre of the city, encircled by highways and tracks, and only a few taxis would carry you further than the boundaries of the neighbourhood.
In the middle of the deprived neighbourhood, a modern, gleaming building with an impressive glass façade dominates the landscape. The inviting facilities at Factoría Cultural including a big concert hall, several rehearsal rooms and classrooms are available for the locals, for schools, artists, NGO’s and others with projects in the pipeline.
“We want to form cultural habits in the neighbourhood which is why we offer a wide range of cultural activities. Last year we had a programme with contemporary dance and puppet theatre, and one of the most recent projects was a collaboration with some of the famous rappers from Spain,” tells Amapola Lopez. That project consisted of a series of workshops where the rappers taught a group of young locals how to write lyrics and make music.
“In general, we are trying to involve young locals as an attempt to break the habits which they have adopted at home. The time we have to influence them is short, since it’s normal to get married at the age of fourteen or fifteen in areas like this,” explains Amapola López. Factoría Cultural opened in January 2018 and keeps developing in order to meet the needs of the neighbourhood.
“We also invite projects and festivals supported by ICAS to come to Factoría Cultural to perform and use our venue as an extension of the venues of the city centre.”
The main characteristics of the projects that are taking place at Factoría Cultural are participation and the feeling of coexistence. And this collectivist way of thinking is a philosophy that is infused throughout the organisation.
“It’s our mind-set and we want every process to be inclusive,” says Amapola López. Companies or other users lend the facilities at the centre – with emphasis on the word lend.
“They don’t rent it, they lend it for free because our policy is that they have to offer something to the neighbourhood in exchange; it could be an activity for the neighbours, a workshop, an open rehearsal, a show.”
Factoría Cultural is financially supported by URBACT, a European Commission programme that aims to improve cities around Europe and help them to develop sustainable solutions regarding economic, social and environmental issues. The URBACT network consists of local groups that learn from what they have seen elsewhere and build integrated action plans to address the respective challenges. URBACT is financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund) and the Member States. According to URBBACT, active inclusion is a key element in order to make long-term success; an element they also value highly at Factoría Cultural.
“We are very aware of the fact that the citizens must have a say in the matter since the decisions that are being made influence their lives. We asked the people living in Polígono Sur what they thought that the area needed. The answer was a cultural centre,” explains Amapola Lopez.
CULTURE AS THE STARTING POINT
The tour goes on at Factoría Cultural and Amapola López is now standing in the doorway to one of the conference rooms that they usually lend to the local NGOs.
“We want to make it clear that this is a cultural centre – not a social centre,” she says.
“One of our main goals is to connect Polígono Sur to the city centre of Seville. And yes, that is a social goal, but the vehicle is culture. It is very important that the work and projects we make have artistic creation and culture as the main focus.”
Due to the relatively short lifespan of Factoría Cultural, there isn’t much hard data available that illustrates the centre’s achievements. However, a statement from the beginning of 2019 shows that Factoría Cultural has conducted 63 activities of which nearly 6,000 people have participated. What is noteworthy is that more than half of the participants (4,100) are people living in Polígono Sur.
Factoría Cultural is working towards different strategic lines when developing new projects. Breaking the boundaries of the neighbourhood is one of them, and this happens by attracting people from the city centre to Polígono Sur.
“We are working on making Polígono Sur an extension of the centre and to commence some movement between the two parts of the city. One way of doing that is by introducing our concert hall as a venue for the festivals and events that are taking place in the city centre,” explains Amapola López. Another strategic goal is to enable the voice of the Polígono Sur and to start a debate about the challenges that Polígono Sur is facing.
One of the most recent projects that both attempts to attract people from the city centre and to raise awareness, is the project Campus. The project concerns contemporary art and with students from the city centre, artists and local agents from the neighbourhood all participating in the project. During the first weeks, the participants were given lectures on the situation in the neighbourhood, and the following weeks they collaborated on creating art that could cause a sensation and start a debate. The result was a series of advertisements that disseminated fake news saying that every apartment block in Polígono Sur was about to be demolished with the intention to build new, expensive housing that people already living in the area wouldn’t afford.
“The participants made big posters that pointed out the advantages of this area; It’s very well planned, it has a park close by, and so on – which is true and also somehow ironic. The aim was to shout out because the rest of the city is not giving a shit about what’s happening here,” says Amapola López.
“They wanted to investigate what it takes to make the rest of the city listen to this area. We are still evaluating and processing this project. The project actually succeeded in creating a debate; we got many different reactions, some were happy and found it refreshing, others were upset because they thought it was for real.”
Lucia Aragón is one of the students from the city centre of Seville who participated in the Campus project.
“For me, taking part in Campus was my very first time in this area,” says Lucia Aragón.
“Before I got here, I thought everything was danger and crime, but my experience with Campus has taught me to see the neighbourhood from another perspective. There are problems here, definitely, but there are also solutions. And Campus has given me the gumption to make a change”, Lucia explains.
“I think the most important thing here is that people with different backgrounds meet and discuss the area, and the collective way of working is really meaningful.”
CULTURE AS VEHICLE – ACHIEVABLE OR UTOPIAN?
As an art therapist, Kristine Inez believes that culture can lead to social change, however, she knows that Factoría Cultural is facing a big challenge.
“Seen from the outside, it is clear that a centre like Factoría Cultural has a long way to go in order to make a change in the neighbourhood,” notes Kristine Inez.
“The cultural centre is a good initiative, but it’s important to keep in mind, that in these kinds of areas you are dealing with people from a different culture who have entirely different objectives such as getting their children to school and managing how to put food on the table. And it’s a population group that is not prepared for change.“
During her Master’s degree, Kristine Inez was working with children from a school in the neighbourhood and there she became acquainted with the challenges they are up against at Factoría Cultural;
”As long as they are in school we can try to influence them and give them other practices. Sometimes I was thinking; we do our best to give the children other inputs and other qualities, but when it’s 5 PM, the children are back in the parallel society – back in their family patterns. When you think about that, our work and the effort that Factoría Cultural is making can feel somewhat useless.”
At Factoría Cultural, the managers are aware of the fact that is it very difficult to change decades of neglect, and in their opinion, claiming that they are already making progress would be almost arrogant.
Nevertheless, Kristine Inez is convinced that culture can make social progress due to its exceptional capacity for development;
“Art and culture can function as the medium for a conversation – a neutral focal point. It’s very clear that it’s much easier for people from these kinds of areas to talk about difficult issues when they don’t have to talk directly about their own lives,” which she has experienced with both children and a group of unmarried mothers.
“Cultural activities such as exhibitions and performances can help these marginalised people to become aware of the fact that they are living in a parallel society and the activities can make them reflect and discuss. Culture can give them the tools to understand their surroundings, and the discussions enlarge their vocabularies,” she explains.
Neither Amapola López or her colleagues are losing heart.
“We often have the feeling that we are not doing things fully as it should be done because we have to make compromises regarding time and the tools we have at our disposal,” she says.
“We made a decision about making a lot of things within the first three years to make some movement and to gain attention to the neighbourhood! It’s hard work and a slow process, but I’m relatively confident that we a little by little are making a difference.”