Posts Tagged ‘sicily’

Photo: Case 1-Euro.
A small town in Sicily decided to sell decrepit houses for almost nothing to see if someone would fix them up. It’s certainly bringing in more curious visitors.

Sometimes getting something for nothing may cause a recipient to be careless with the gift, as in a story I read a few years ago about a guy who built and donated a home to a homeless woman who let it run to ruin.

Other times, wonderful things happen.

Harrison Jacobs writes at the Washington Post, “If someone said you could buy a house for a dollar, your reaction might be disbelief. That was how Rubia Andrade felt when she read a news article in 2019 about towns in Italy selling properties for one euro.

“ ‘Obviously, your first thought is that this can’t be true. I needed to see it in person,’ said Andrade, a Brazilian American who works in California’s solar industry.

“Andrade booked a flight three days later and drove to Mussomeli, Italy, a hilly town in central Sicily with about 11,000 residents that had recently launched a program selling hundreds of properties in the run-down historical center. …

“The 1-euro housing program was first proposed over a decade ago by TV personality Vittorio Sgarbi. Then the mayor of Salemi in southern Sicily, Sgarbi proposed the idea as a way to save the town’s crumbling old quarter. The idea has since caught on in 34 municipalities across Italy.

“But it was only in the past few years that it captured the global imagination when articles about towns launching similar programs on the island went viral. …

“While some houses sold through these programs are livable upon purchase, most are little more than four medieval-era walls. Roofs are caved in, and floors are torn up. Many are filled with dead pigeons or other vermin. Prospective buyers who haven’t done research are usually surprised by the conditions, said Toti Nigrelli, the deputy mayor of Mussomeli.

‘We tell people to come here first because we don’t want any surprises. We want them to know what they are getting into.’ …

“Though the official cost is 1 euro (around $1.14), fees and closing costs can typically run up to 3,500 euros (or almost $4,000). Then, you are required to renovate it within a designated time frame — typically three to five years — or forfeit a sizable deposit, usually around 5,000 euros (or $5,709). According to Nigrelli, towns use the deposit to ward off speculators and ensure buyers renovate the properties instead of letting them sit. Renovations cost anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 euros, depending on the house’s size and condition and the renovation style. Most end up spending 20,000 euros to 40,000 euros, Nigrelli said.

“None of those complications deterred Andrade. She initially purchased a 1-euro property and returned that summer to renovate. Since then, she has bought two more and become an evangelist, returning every few months with friends, family and even Facebook acquaintances to help them with the purchasing process.

“ ‘Even with the fees and the cost of the renovation, it costs less than a timeshare in the U.S.,’ Andrade said.

“While Andrade first saw the 1-euro program as a cheap way to own a vacation home, she now has bigger plans: to help revive the town. Andrade and her son are converting their three properties into an art gallery, a wellness center and a restaurant. She plans to move to Mussomeli permanently.

“She’s far from the only one. Danny McCubbin is one of about a dozen foreigners who bought 1-euro houses in Mussomeli and now lives there full-time. McCubbin, an Australian who worked for celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for 17 years, bought a 1-euro house with the intention of converting it into a community kitchen to provide meals to vulnerable people. He crowdfunded over $30,000 last March for the project.

“Complications due to the pandemic delayed renovations, but he has since purchased an 8,000-euro house to live in and rented a storefront in Mussomeli’s piazza.

“Since launching the Good Kitchen this summer, McCubbin has become an unofficial ambassador for the 1-euro program. …

‘“The townspeople thought I was opening a restaurant. They didn’t understand the concept,’ McCubbin said. After he partnered with local charities to host picnics and baking parties for orphans and those dealing with mental health issues, locals got the idea.”

More at the Post, here.

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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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