Like many people who live in the centre of Bogotá, my relationship to this part of the city is a bubbling pot of mixed emotions. Here, danger, chaos and urban decay live side by side with beautiful colonial architecture and some of the capital’s most important cultural landmarks.
It seems that the urban regeneration is advancing at a painfully slow pace. Aside from the construction of new apartment blocks and the recently pedestrianized Séptima, on the surface, it can feel that nothing much changes in this part of town. But once you scratch below this paradoxically chaotic, yet static surface what’s uncovered is a fluid and continuously changing human landscape. A part of town where, amongst other changing elements, one can discover a vibrant community art scene.
The ‘Casa B’ (Cra 2Bis No. 6D- 30, proyectocasab.org) is one such space. A colonial house turned community cultural centre in the Barrio of Belén, the project provides an impressive variety of cultural, scientific and educational projects for children in the area.
Workshops on photography, astronomy, theatre and performing arts; a garden patch which simultaneously functions as a cinema; and a library, are just some of the activities and spaces available to the local kids for free. The centre places a high value on mutual respect and understanding, in the words of one of the two founders, Dario Sendoya: “We value most of all mutual understanding, between all of us involved in making the project work, with the local children and the community. With that understanding we aim to discover where exactly each of our life paths can unfold.”
In fact, one of the benchmarks of the project’s success has been the children’s own expression of their envisioned future. In a short documentary filmed in the initial phase of the endeavour, the children’s imagined future careers were limited to professions in the police force or military; now children speak of becoming carpenters and scientists, amongst other professions.
A short walk northbound across the other side of La Candalaria leads to another flourishing cultural centre, L’Aldea (Calle 12 No. 2-17) aldeanichocultural.org which like Casa B found its home in a colonial house. Upon entering you’ll find yourself in an impressively ample yet intimate central room, replete with armchairs, hammocks and comfortable seating areas. With a central position just north of the Parque de los Periodistas, the centre sees a buzzing traffic of young people.
Founded in 2012, aside from a number of regular and diverse activities, such as a film discussion group and Friday night free concerts, the centre is used for meetings by local social groups, or anyone else in need of a get-together space. Silvia Leiva, the centre’s coordinator describes L’Aldea as “a self-managed cultural project”, and believes strongly in the transformative power of art as a motor of change for the individual and community as it is “a way to understand, navigate and give meaning to our lives”. Silvia’s dream is to “educate future community arts managers” so that the L’Aldea can serve as an impetus for further cultural growth in the community.
Two doors up from L’Aldea, and in yet another colonial building, La Redada (Calle 17 No. 2-51, laredada.org) is home to what founder Santiago Mejia terms “a collective of collectives”. Founded in 2010 when four groups of artist collectives realised the power of combining resources and joined forces, this project places a strong emphasis on street art and political resistance through art. Graffiti, exhibitions, workshops for children, a travelling musical bike, and intervention art in public spaces, are just some of the many activities this collective have been involved in. They describe themselves as “a platform for artistic and social processes based on collaboration and exchange”.
In a much gritter and less inviting part of town, we find the artist’s haven El Parche Artist Residency (Cra 9 No.2-87) home to exhibitions of both young emerging and more established visual artists, this grandiose former apartment turned exhibition space, artist residency and creative hangout runs regular events and is enthusiastically open to outside project proposals. One of three founders, Marius Wanger, describes the project as a “shared space for the alternative art scene, a place where ideas, people and collaborations can converge and emerge”.
These are just four of the numerous cultural projects which are currently injecting a kind of subtle vitality to the alternative arts scene in the seemingly run-down centre of Bogotá. While they vary in purpose, values, and mission, a number of elements bind them: a commitment to community, whether it be through a shared territorial artistic or political identity; the search for alternative financing models, a sustainable future and creative and economic collaboration.
While official urban regeneration slowly advances, lets hope art initiatives like these continue to thrive and breath life to a part of town which is often narrowly perceived as dilapidated, gritty and downright dangerous.