an ongoingvideo archive

a project by Marco Scotini


Isola, Milan: The ongoing conflict

Alberto Pesavento, Luis Miguel Selvelli, Bert Theis

Since its beginning in 2003, Isola Art Center has been facing a specific, highly conflictual political situation. The effective execution of the urban plans approved by the City Government has been assigned to the Ligresti group and the Texan corporation Hines. If these plans will be really executed, their effects on the Isola neighborhood will be disastrous: 1. The environmental impact caused by the construction of a big road crossing the neighborhood, and a volume of buildings equivalent to 120 thousand cubic meters (90 thousands of which on the space of the two parks) will take away the only green area in the surroundings, and will increase dramatically the amount of traffic, the need for parking lots and the density of constructions. 2. The economical impact on the local network of small shopkeepers, who will have to face the competition of a huge shopping mall. 3. The social impact caused by the arrival in the neighborhood of a whole new class of high-level residents, attracted by the construction of the new luxury apartments designed by Boeri Studio. In a recent interview, Saskia Sassen, having been asked about the new urban plans regarding Isola, replied: “Too much dislocation, too much power pushing the weakest ones out!”
In such a context, it's unavoidable that the so called “Art Incubator” (or “New Stecca”) conceived as usual by Boeri Studio, will become a proper tool of gentrification, that is the transformation of a working class neighborhood into a high class one. This sort of “collateral effect”, following the creation of museums or art institutions within working class neighborhoods, has already been spotted out in several cities in Europe and elsewhere.

Within the Isola neighborhood, art does not need to be “incubated”, because it's already well rooted into its social tissue. In 2003, a document compiled by the Committee “The Thousand” had been undersigned by thousand of residents, the shopkeepers, the schools and the local parish church. This paper was asking the City Government to maintain the gardens and to convert the “Stecca” building into an Art and Community Center. In order to preserve the specific qualities of the neighborhood, Isola Art Center has since the beginning built up its projects together with the local residents. “There is no doubt that Isola has to change” said  DanielaBenelli, Alderwomen for Culture of the Province of Milan during the official opening of Isola Art Center in 2005, “but this does not mean its nature must be completely altered!”
out office has created illustrations and organized events in order to help the neighborhood associations in promoting their alternative projects to the official one. After a series of images showing how both the Stecca building and the gardens could be useful to the neighborhood if just requalified, out has recently provided an illustration of the alternative project “A possible Park” designed by a group of architects, and promoted by a wide coalition of local associations, political groups and Milly Moratti's ChiamaMilano. This illustration is permanently exhibited on a street shutter of via Della Pergola.

Isola Art Center has joined into the Forum Isola together with the Confalonieri parents' association and the Committee “The Thousand”, in order to make clear the neighborhood needs, propose some shared solutions, as well as bringing them on. In these years the Forum Isola has been realizing several successful events: public meetings, demonstrations, garden picnics, cultural events... Seven years of activity have made possible to concretely experiment an innovative model of an Art and Community Center, that Isola Art Center and Forum Isola still keep carrying on in these days.
During these years, several artists have donated artworks to help paying the expenses of the five legal actions against the municipality urban plans. Of these 5 actions, one has been discussed, and after having been approved by the Lombardy Court of Appeals, has then been rejected by the State Council following the assignation of the Expo to the city of Milan. In April 2007, the Hines Corporation and the city government have torn down the Stecca building, where for all these years Isola Art Center and the neighborhood associations had been carrying on their activities. During that violent operation, several artworks have been damaged or destroyed. Apart from behaving aggressively towards whoever opposes its ideology, the Town Hall is spreading out through the media the false message that everything is proceeding as planned. But the alternative project “A possible Park” has indeed been approved by the Isola District Parliament (Zone 9). Moreover, the other legal actions presented against the city government plans have not yet been officially discussed. Until all the involved tribunals will not have declared their final decision regarding these legal actions presented by hundreds of Isola residents, no one can dare to say which will be the ultimate outcome of this ongoing conflict. Without any need to wait, Isola Art Center and Forum Isola keep on serene, building up their alternative project together with the artists and the residents of the neighborhood.

May 2008