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6Photo: Fondazione Manifesto
Poggioreale, Sicily, one of the towns destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. A public art project has helped to heal the region’s survivors, many of whom were still suffering from depression decades later.

I’ve blogged a lot about the healing power of various arts in various contexts, but I think this is the first post about what art can do for a traumatized region after a natural disaster. The story takes place in Sicily, where a 1968 earthquake flattened an already impoverished region.

Patricia Zohn writes at artnet news, “On a recent day this summer, I [descended] into the rural, arid Belice Valley. I was accompanied by Zeno Franchini of the Fondazione Manifesto, an advocacy group that leads tours of the region, which was devastated by the 1968 earthquake in Sicily. …

“More than the number of people who died (approximately 400), or the number rendered homeless (approximately 100,000), the earthquake exposed grave fissures in the socioeconomic and political fabric of one of Italy’s poorest regions — disparities that linger to this day.

“While thousands of earthquake victims lived outside Gibellina, an isolated agricultural community, in two shanty towns with barebones infrastructure, in 1970, the National Institute of Social Housing in Rome, determined, after numerous plans for reconstruction were abandoned, to build an entirely new city, a Gibellina ‘Nuova’ for the victims at a site 11 miles from the ruins. …

“By 1979, scant progress had been made due to government corruption, the Mafia influence, and red tape, and victims were still living in dire conditions. That’s when Gibellina’s flamboyant, powerful gay Mayor, Ludovico Corrao, invited a number of leading Italian and German artists and architects to participate in a rescue mission. …

“Though there was no budget for art or culture, Corrao had already begged and borrowed to found the Orestiadi performance festival, just outside the ruins of Gibellina, with the help of performers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Emilio Isgrò, an artist and dramatist, described a wind-chilled night of 1983

‘where artisans, sheep farmers, housewives, anti-Mafia judges and theater directors and personalities from all over Europe sat together to watch’ his performance in the festival. …

“The concrete Utopian city of Gibellina Nuova [became] an open-air laboratory for assessing the healing capabilities of public art. Today, 50 years since the earthquake struck, many look back on Corrao’s radical experiment in civic engagement, rehabilitation, and unification as a cautionary tale. But new efforts are now underway to realize a more pragmatic version of [his] utopian dream.

“ ‘The city needs to really become an Art Town,’ says Alessandro La Grassa, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research of Southern Italy, the organizational heir to the early activist efforts. He envisions it as a place ‘where artists live or stay and where empty buildings and spaces start to find a new function.’ …

“Today the region is a symbol of hope. A newly revitalized combination of social activists, municipal agencies, educational institutions, and private support is finally bringing the unique art interventions of more than five decades in the Belice Valley — and especially the city of Gibellina — to the attention of a wider public. …

“Tours of Poggioreale, Burri’s Cretto, and Gibellina Nuova are available until November 14 through fondazionemanifesto.org.” More here.

I wonder how public art might by employed to rebuild after a hurricane like Michael. Something for art leaders in Florida to think about.

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