Community benefits of abandoned spaces

Pablo Hannon launching The School in Girona during The Spur 1618 seminar.
Pablo Hannon launching The School in Girona during The Spur 1618 seminar.

Contemporary art, a spur for the transformation of abandoned spaces into creative spaces for community benefits.

Early April I was invited to attend and contribute at The Spur 1618 seminar in Girona, Spain. Half a day of dismantling Catalan language, while enjoying knowledge richness, I can tell you I was dizzy exhausted and the siesta gap in the programme was embraced with both pillow and delicious lunch. The seminar was held at the foot of the impressive cathedral. A hundred or more steps towards the holy and devine, I left all that to camera packed others and entered the Auditori del Col.legi d’Arquitectes de Girona.

My invitation to the seminar has taken an interesting road to being born. Via talks in my own city of Hasselt, to the Department of International Affairs represented by Leen Scheelen, to the city colleague Rosa Cerarols in Girona, both cities part of the Eurotowns collaboration. Then being invited at ERAM University College by Miquel Bisbe and Jordi Márquez, to Bòlit Centre d’Art Contemporani by the enthusiastic Diana Sans and to community collaborating arts organisation La Volta by Joanot Cortès. Combining dedicated small talks with bigger enthusiasm towards a common objective, the city and how it should grow, these first introductions were a soil-and-seed-in-one for the next step, the seminar itself. In between meetings I would taste most delicious fruits and ice cream, Girona is blessed.

The Spur 1618 is an international project in the field of the contemporary art and creative industries, lead by Bòlit and including various art centers, institutions and this with the support of the Catalonia associated Euroregion and the Creative Europe program. The two-year project involves different actions: an international artist residency program, exploratory studies based on the possibility of revitalising abandoned spaces into creative spaces, the organization of seminars, publications and more. This first seminar had invited various experts, to discuss or storytell the project spaces they had challenged across Europe. Abandoned and claimed for community beneficial purposes, the stories would tell the process, the relationships with various municipal governments and organisations and of course the initiators themselves.

A few personal highlights of that day.

Afra Quintanas is founder of Unlimited Meanwhile and Cu-Cu (spin off of Meanwhile Space) and possibly most definitely holding urban gold of knowledge and skills in her hands. Her talk introduced several case studies, which illustrate a system and a methology to temporarily activate otherwise empty or degraded spaces for creative and community benefits. Key ingredients were featured that had been taken into account when translating and scaling this system and methodology and an App (Cu-Cu). The presentation guided us through the impressive Coming Soon Club at Chesterfield House, The Cinerolum gasstation turned cinema at Clerkenwell Road and much more. Blown away by the potential growth of my own city and region, I shook hands with Afra and proposed to collaborate. A must.

Joanot Cortès is coordinator of La Volta de St. Narcís in Girona and giving a turn to a neighbourhood through creativity. I met with the wonderfully enthusiastic team earlier, so I could have small gaps of Catalan short-circuiting during his talk, but what an energy they all have. Organizing square center fairs and workshops, extensions to ateliers and residencies that embed in the neighbourhood all well. Their dog owns the block, in a relaxed Spanish way. La Volta has opened and refurbished four establishments in Plaça Assumpció, and turned them into “Shop, workshop and gallery” spaces, including an impressive bow shaped cellar. Ah that Volta.

During my own talk, I had the most lively discussion with dear Jackie-Ruth Meyer, director of the Centre d’Art Le Lait in Albi, France. Questioning my claim that the focus of The School was on design rather than art, words of friendly dispute were thrown back and forth, defending the role and skills of artists (Meyer) and seeing the need for design in the city of The School (Hannon). We rested with a request to continue more afterwards during drinks and possibly in the friendly and clean city of Albi. (Words by Deana Kolencikova, a Slovakian resident there: “Amazing these clean walls and houses, no commercial propaganda to be found in Albi!”)

A fanletter by the director of the Berga based Konvent made my day. Same with the firm handshake by my co-speaker Massimiliano Scuderi, who told intriguing stories about Sardinia community interrupted dialogues with public and public space and art led contributions to contemporary urban regenerations.

All this with a big thanks to Carme Sais, organiser and director of Bòlit for inviting me and giving me courage to speak out the words of city challenge: Girona x The School in 2018?

A big smile to that wonderful city of Girona I say!


The Spur,
Unlimited Meanwhile,
Meanwhile Space,
La Volta,
Centre d’art Le Lait,



Comments are closed.

  1. Bablofil

    19/05/2017 08:30

    Thanks, great article.