How embracing graffiti stopped one Spanish village going to the wall

The village of Fanzara, home to 323 people, counts two bars, one butcher and a shop.
But over the past year, this small village 50 miles north of Valencia has quietly transformed itself into the street art capital of Spain, with more than 40 murals by some of the country’s top street artists tucked among its beige and grey walls.
The project’s first challenge was winning the backing of the villagers – many of whom are in their 70s and 80s – and convincing them of the merits of handing over wall space to visiting street artists. “It was tough to make people understand what we wanted to do – most older people don’t know much about street art,” he said. “Eventually they told us, even though we don’t like it, you can go ahead.”
Their trust was surprising, given that nobody was quite sure what would come out of the project, laughed López. The project began timidly, inviting 15 of Spain’s leading street artists to spend four days in the village last September and paint one mural in exchange for room and board. He said: “When people came, they slept at our house. The food, we cooked it ourselves. It was that kind of budget event.”
The artists were shown where they could paint, but no limits were put on the content of their art. Instead organisers took a leap of faith, simply asking them to keep in mind the people who would see the art everyday. “It’s a small village, made up mostly of senior citizens,” López added.
The museum came into existence just as villagers were emerging from a bitter debate over a proposal to build a toxic waste incinerator in the village, said the mayor, Roberto Salisa Castillo. The proposal divided Fanzara, with some arguing that it was a requirement in order for it to buck the trend of Spain’s dying villages.
After the proposal was defeated, the museum was a low-risk way to help foster peace in the village. He said: “If it didn’t work out we figured we could just paint over the murals with white paint.”

With enthusiasm for the project far outstripping wall space, murals will be painted over regularly, said López, once residents deem that the artwork has run its course. He added: “That’s why it’s called the unfinished museum, because its always going to be in constant evolution. It’s a museum that echoes the story of our village.”
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