In Conversation with the Urban Art Gallery (GAU)

À Conversa com a Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU) | P55 Magazine | p55-art-auctions

Lisbon is today recognized as a city of reference in the international circuits of Urban Art. The Carnation Revolution, April 25, 1974, the date that marks the end of Salazar's dictatorship, was a milestone for the urban art movement. At this revolutionary time, this form of expression had a great impact and strength, always having a greater purpose: communication. Since then, urban art continues to communicate with its national and international viewers. Increasingly, this art movement brings more people to the city to see the graffiti of their favorite artists. In fact, the Portuguese capital grew and nowadays urban art is present in every corner of the city, bringing as much demand as tiles and Portuguese pavement. In response to the great growth of this creative area, the Urban Art Gallery of the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Lisbon City Council was created. This body's main mission is to promote graffiti and street art in Lisbon, within an authorized framework and from a perspective of respect for heritage and landscape values, as opposed to illegal acts of vandalism that attack the city. Find out more about the Urban Art Gallery in this interview.

How did the Urban Art Gallery (GAU) come about?

The city of Lisbon, in the early 2000s, was marked by a boom of tourist flows, in the face of a set of major events with an impact on a global scale, exponentiated by the emergence of companies low cost to choose Lisbon as a great destination, which increased the pressure on the urban system, opening up new fronts of concern.
An example of this is the intensification of spontaneous “artistic” activity, in which the street and public space are preferred “canvases”, which results in a degradation of the quality of the urban image.
When, in 2008, the first reflections on the subject were produced, restricting the condition of urban art to the vandalism aspect would be an unfair and reductive attitude, because it would mean voting to oblivion an entire vigorous artistic movement, which could (withO is proven today) to make a valuable contribution to the aesthetic enjoyment of the public space. However, this position would only make sense if taken in line with the principles of safeguarding, conserving and restoring Lisbon's artistic and cultural heritage, and as a means of raising awareness of its diversity and richness, and of respecting this aesthetic legacy not only by our ancestors as well as by our contemporaries.
Lisbon City Council already supported an effervescent artistic community, which demanded more space and more possibilities for creation. It is in this context that the Urban Art Gallery emerges, which adopts as its main priority, the promotion of plastic discourses associated with the graffiti and the street art present in the streets of the city, within an authorized framework, as a strategy of renovation of artistic intervention in public space and of heritage safeguard. On the other hand, it emerged at a time when this community affirmed the need for spaces for intervention in the city, at the same time that there was a growing prejudice against this type of expression, which was illegally punctuating various spaces in the city, such as the Bairro High.
This situation made CML feel the need to think of a strategy based on the creation of intervention spaces (Calçada da Glória is seminal) and on strengthening ties with this artistic community, seeking to develop a set of unique activities and projects. For example: the project Chronos, the intervention of Aryz on Avenida da Liberdade, Recycle glass paint look and garbage collection trucks or yet The Faces of the Blue Wall).

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

From the carnation revolution to the present, how has urban art brought value to the city? What were GAU's contributions to the city of Lisbon?

They are totally different historical and affirmation moments, and with a chronology not much next. If, on the one hand, we have the post-Estado Novo with a very important political statement, on the other hand, we have a statement that is predominantly artistic, separated by more than 30 years. There is a big leap that still encompasses seminal moments of the graffiti in the 90s, and all the cultural events that Lisbon promoted.
We can say that today urban art (and the artists who produce it) is inseparable from the cultural affirmation of the city of Lisbon, as one of the most recognized areas of public space and public art. Even if this type of intervention is ephemeral, it attests to the vigor that the city promotes, with the quantity, quality and dispersion of interventions throughout the city, allowing the valorization of territories, which previously did not have this capacity of attraction and pride. The affirmation of this artistic expression allowed Portuguese artists to assert themselves and project themselves, making the city of Lisbon one of the Capitals of street art most internationally recognized.
As a project of the Lisbon City Council, GAU contributes and builds this strategy, maps, organizes and promotes this artistic expression, contributing significantly, either by promoting relevant projects (MURO Festival, Iminente Festival, Incursões pela Arte), or by support for the development of specific projects that are own or regularly supported.
It is very important that the GAU is one of the few institutional structures operating in this area, and is even flagged as a case study by the WCCF (World Cities Cultural Forum) – Urban Art Gallery (

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Who can apply? How does the entire selection process work?

Any artist can submit a spontaneous application for intervention in the city, which will be evaluated, based on a set of criteria that can be consulted on our website: GAU: Where to paint (🇧🇷 We also have a curatorial process at GAU based on the development of specific projects, where we invite artists to intervene within the scope of a theme and in which we try to excel by expanding the presence of numerous national and/or international artists. We also promote the opening of public tenders (open call), where any artist can apply, the selection being made by a nominated jury.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

How do you choose intervention sites?

The intervention sites are chosen based on the mapping, theme and surface typology that are important for each project. There is an important and deliberate strategy to create decentralized centers that distribute artistic pieces and manage public art galleries in undervalued spaces in Lisbon, as a way of intrinsically valuing the city as a whole. Trying to understand each piece and artist, we also try to choose the best surface for the intervention, depending on the style, technique and size.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

They work on several projects simultaneously. Are there any you would like to share?

WALL LX_ | Lisbon Urban Art Festival is an event that is of great importance, insofar as it reflects and materializes, through an event circumscribed in space and time, the policy and programmatic guideline that the Culture department of the Lisbon City Council advocates for the graffiti and urban art.
It is a biennial Festival and embodies the need to diversify the cultural offer in Lisbon, generating decentralized centers that distribute artistic pieces and generate public art galleries in devalued and decentralized spaces in the city of Lisbon, also contributing to an appreciation of the municipal housing heritage, managed by Gebalis, Municipal Company. This strategy is aligned as a tool with the city's cultural strategy.
just talking about WALL, the 4 editions held (2016 | Carnide, 2017 | Marvila, 2019 | Lumiar and 2021 | Parque das Nações), had the participation of 187 artists, 141 pieces of urban art (68 in municipal buildings, representing 48%), to which we added 121 guided tours during the Festival period (many more took place afterwards), 67 workshops held during the Festival. We can nominate Artists as: Add Fuel, AkaCorleone, Bordallo II, Borondo, D*Face, Kobra, Odeith, Pantone, Pantónio, Peeta or Zurik (just to name a few), who populate these territories with great artistic quality and worldwide recognition, which only values these neighborhoods and territories.
The program Incursions through Art, which is held annually, together with the Department of Education, which we develop in 1st and 2nd cycle schools, and which has already promoted urban art in 8 parishes, 18 schools (39 classes, 54 teachers, 1207 students), which involved 10 artists, promoted 28 guided tours. It is a very important project of our Educational Service since through our methodology (see, listen, create) it allows us to understand what we do (see - guided tours), what we can develop (listen - create a project of public space in the classroom classroom) and intervene (create – paint a mural in a school space).
Also the project One Neighborhood, One Museum, developed with Gebalis, the Lisbon Museum and the Ajuda Parish Council, was very important. Gebalis challenged GAU to intervene in a set of facades in Bairro 2 de Maio (Ajuda), known for its associative and community dimension, so it was important to think of a participatory and community logic for the intervention. We invited the Lisbon Museum to choose 12 works from its collection, which would be chosen by residents and residents (40 lots and 106 families were contacted), the works and their theme were discussed in community meetings with the selected artists (Mariana Duarte Santos and Regg) that would reinterpret the works (6 selected works) in the light of figures and stories from Bairro 2 de Maio, and which resulted in 6 built-in gables.
Also the Public Art Program, carried out in partnership with the underdogs, developed annually and reaching 10 years, where we highlight the presence of 49 artists (many of international renown), with 53 interventions in 21 parishes in the city of Lisbon, and who have done and continue to do for the internationalization of the city of Lisbon in the world panorama of urban art.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

GAU involves carrying out guided tours, workshops, and other activities aimed at different audiences, namely the school population and seniors in social neighborhoods, dealing with the teaching of the history of graffiti and street art, their techniques and speeches. Can you share with us the next activities?

We will have a year 2023 very structured around the development of the Free Painting Walls program, which aims to create a network of free painting spaces in the city of Lisbon (similar to Calçada da Glória). We want to reprogram the editorial line of GAU, with the launch of number 10 of Revista da GAU, with the re-edition of previous numbers, and the edition of the new magazine, number 11, which will have a different editorial line, with greater emphasis on the city, for artists and urban art pieces.
The Educational Service will also be more prominent in 2023, with self-guided tours, in addition to the continued development of the Incursions through Art, Workshops and Guided Tours projects. We want to have a greater physical presence in municipal and urban art events, so we are developing an idea of stand that could be a GAU intervention and programming tool.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

The Lisbon Urban Art festival, MURO_LX, developed by Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU), was created in 2016 with the purpose of promoting Urban Art in the city of Lisbon. Do you already have news about the next edition?

We can't reveal much about the next edition yet, but we are already working on it.

There is more and more graffiti in Lisbon. Can we say that the city is experiencing a cultural effervescence?

GAU and urban art play a fundamental role in promoting Culture, contributing to the cultural effervescence of the city. Culture is a strategic and structuring factor for the creation and preservation of identities, as well as a catalyst for change and progress towards the future, in a transversal and social dimension. Urban Art is also an important tool to achieve this. We feel that the City produces more and has more people working in Culture, and it is up to the Chamber to make room for these spaces, creators, producers and actors with the capacity for construction and programming.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

Currently, there is more participation of the population and organizations, public and private, in the programming, execution and dissemination of urban art interventions carried out in the city or is there still a lot of prejudice in relation to this artistic expression?

There is still some prejudice, just look at our social networks, but it has been blurred by the strength of the work that has been developed, by the creative capacity that the artists have shown. We can tell the story of a resident in Marvila who was very angry because we had not painted the facade of the building where he lived, and who demanded that this claim be fulfilled. This situation would have been unthinkable 14 years ago. We see that the presence of urban art is very relevant in the social, artistic and tourist affirmation of the city of Lisbon.

How do you see the future of urban art in Lisbon?

With more artists, more projects and a consolidated strategy. More walls, which are not barriers, but vehicles of artistic affirmation, cultural production and territorial valorization.

GUA | Magazine | P55.ART

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