Innovation in a Depressed Economy found in Mural Painting

In the height of innovation economies in San Francisco, Boston, New York with Uber (www.uber.com), Lyft (www.lyft.com) Google Driver-less car, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) and couch-surfing (www.couchsurfing.com) alternatives to hotels, “innovation” and “economy” (www.shareable.net/) have become a great duo at the forefront of the 21st Century.


However, in depressed economies where centralization and the crackdown of private industries are the norm, “innovation” and “economy” may seem more like two divorced concepts. Therefore, in an economy that is in decline, characterized by inflation that has doubled since May 2015 (http://money.cnn.com)[1] quick and where there is a lack of traditional economic policies, what does innovation look like?


In Caracas, innovation perhaps is not created by the young and savvy tech geek chic communities that are common to Silicon Valley but in small artistic confines of artists in El Valle, an area of the city where artists are given spaces to become apprentices, where traditional tools express the emotions and lives common to the economic hardships the city lives.


In the 1950's Marcos Perez Jimenez (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcos_Perez_Jimenez) public housing in the west-side of Caracas for lower to low-middle classes and called it "Segundo de Diciembre" to commemorate the dictator's coup d'etat, which put the general into power. Later, the name would change to 23 de Enero (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/23_de_enero), the day the dictator’s government was overrun.


The social housing building complex is now home to artists that have taken up the walls to innovate with paint and brushes, leaving the complex algorithms and new smart phone applications for the technologically savvy Global North. This neighbourhood is in some ways the political ghost of the city, representing the deaths of past governments as well as exercising the birth of new ones. The name itself is the date of the fall of the dictatorship.


In el 23 de Enero, the social housing complex, communes have arisen at the height of the Venezuelan socialist revolution (1999-2015), bringing to their walls images of revolutionary images and at times opposing images of peace shattered sadly with violence and conflict.


Mural Art in this space, is therefore, a form of innovative escape from the bustling and frenetic city of Caracas. The walls palpitate messages of lives lost to the gangs, conflict and violence experienced in Caracas. 23 de Enero street art is set apart through its genuine expression that is not government sponsored or paid by the country’s oil company, PDVSA (www.pdvsa.com) but by its community members and several communes who do receive indirect funding from the central government.


The murals themselves invoke a sense of vigilance, surveillance, protection and popular struggle. The eyes in some of the artist’s paintings are particularly mesmerizing; with a combination of sadness yet hope. Some murals declare an implicit criticism to the lack of justice with a dove (peace) painted and a gunshot through the bird’s heart. The murals innovate through its form of expression, moving further away from technology and into expressive strokes that are less and less used in our technology-driven world. This mural art is central to the vibe, the sentiments; the eerie feeling that envelops this area and the city’s depressed economy. However, it also reminds us that in times of strife, art can embrace the lives and hopes of its citizens and public space can be its canvas and a form of unity among its people’s lives.

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/20/news/economy/venezuela-economy-inflation/

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