Street art saves Spanish village from depopulation

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street art
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The village of Pernelles in Lleida, with just 500 inhabitants, like many other rural areas in Spain, faced the threat of depopulation. But an unexpected salvation presented itself: street art.

If there’s one thing artists like Banksy have taught us, it’s that you don’t necessarily have to travel to New York or Paris to see impressive works of art. In fact, you can also just go to the Catalan village of Penelles, an hour and a half drive from Barcelona. The Gargar Festival of murals and rural art has been organised there annually since 2016. During this event, various local and international artists come together to literally bring the village to life with beautiful works of art. From graffiti artists and muralists to tattoo artists and sculptors, all kinds of artists are present at this festival, which attracts an extraordinary number of visitors to the region.

Street art as a tourist attraction

The unique thing about the festival is that it extends throughout the village and mainly revolves around painting the outside walls of the houses. This transforms Pernelles into an open-air museum and contributes to combating the exodus that affects not only this village, but also the entire Catalan countryside. Jordi Solsona, co-promoter of the festival, highlights the success: “In our best year, 2019, we attracted around 12,000 people over the three days of the festival,” he says. “In addition, we receive more than 50,000 visitors throughout the year who come to admire the murals or participate in the various workshops that we organise.”

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The festival is also loved by artists themselves and receives more than 300 requests annually from artists from all over the world. From all requests, the organisation chooses between 20 and 30 artists to participate, where they spend three days creating works of art on walls, corners, buildings and various facades that Penelles makes available. In addition to offering the ‘canvases’, the village also finances the materials, travel and accommodation of the artists. This gives them plenty of space to immerse the city in their art.

Penelles street art

Support from the municipality

The success of the Gargar Festival is due to the unconditional support of the municipality and in particular Mayor Eloi Bergós, who has embraced the festival from the start. Bergós says: “We aim to maintain the vibrancy in the village and attract people all year round with activities related to the festival.” According to the mayor, the name of the festival, Gargar, refers to the sound of the perdiu de gariga, a steppe bird that is threatened with extinction, “just like the liveliness in these regions”.

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In addition, the organisers want to show with this festival that urban art can not only be found in big cities, but also in places such as Penelles. According to the mayor, many already know where to find the village and the festival attracts visitors all year round. Both at the weekend and during the week when schools come to visit the murals. At weekends visitors come from all over Spain, and in summer mainly from abroad.

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