Cycling enthusiasts will have noted while following the Giro d’Italia 2021 that the route of four stages of the prestigious competition passed by electricity cabins decorated with colorful murals. These functional structures, which until now have never been considered for their aesthetic value, have been transformed into visual artworks that are not only stunning to look at, but also convey a message. In the case of the Giro, the message was the importance of bicycles for a country like Italy, which has always identified with the exploits of great cyclists, and has recently started promoting bikes as a valid form of transport.
The artworks were created as part of “Cabine in Rosa”, one of numerous initiatives launched by the Enel Group to support Street Art. In Italy there are now hundreds of electricity cabins that have been given a makeover by street artists. Recently kids between the ages of 5 to 12 have also got involved: their most original drawings have been chosen to decorate some of Enel’s transformer substations.
The “open” power of art
Similar initiatives have also been launched by the Group elsewhere in the world. For example, "Open Power to Art" was set up in 2018 in nine countries (four in Europe and five in Latin America) with the idea of making this form of expression open and usable for everyone. In the last 20 years or so, it has become a genuine art form, and is celebrated worldwide in exhibitions and festivals.
The power of Street Art lies in its popular origins, in giving voice to those who often go unheard, changing the appearance of places, generally in the more problematic or peripheral parts of cities, and transforming them into attractions. The street art movement has gathered significant momentum in recent years, thanks to the work of artists like Banksy, JR, Swoon and Shepard Fairey. They are considered iconic innovators, rather like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein in the case of Pop Art, while they also emulate revolutionary work of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Fast and anonymous
Graffiti is usually created using spray paints or stencils, and stickers are then attached to walls. There are also “tenners,” which consist of modified bank notes, usually ten-pound or ten-dollar denominations, hence the name.
Other Street Art creations include cutouts, parts of human or animal figures, for example, eyes, hands or paws. These are added onto existing urban features like road signs, postboxes, garbage cans or even road-crossings. More recently, the wheatpaste technique has been used: this form takes its name from the type of glue used by upholsterers and bookbinders, and involves making collages using different materials, which together form the artwork.
Space for self-expression
But the real strength of Street Art is in its message. The most acclaimed artists are those who are not afraid to tackle contemporary and sensitive issues, such as social inclusion, peace, the future of the planet and initiatives for combating climate change. They have a capacity to use simple and direct messages to reach a vast audience that isn’t limited to museums and exhibitions. This has led municipal administrations and also companies that care about these same values, like Enel, to make spaces available for artists to express themselves freely. In this way they can contribute together to regenerating areas and neighborhoods, or to initiatives linked to education.
Value for the community
The benefits are mutual, as is demonstrated by the activities of the most famous street artist, Banksy, who is responsible for numerous artworks across Britain in some of its least salubrious areas. These works of art have immediately become sources of pride for their local communities and even tourist attractions. When, for example, in 2014 the owner of a building in Bristol, UK, decided to remove the graffiti artwork “Mobile Lovers” from a wall to then resell it privately, the city council opposed the move, asserting that the work was a public asset and belonged to the community. And when another Banksy piece, “Slave Labour,” was removed from a wall in the London suburb of Wood Green, the entire community was up in arms: the mural had become the area’s main attraction, and even appeared on postcards on sale outside the local underground station. Deprived of their masterpiece, the local population felt cheated and campaigned for its return.
Integration and shared values
Art therefore acts as a powerful tool for urban regeneration, the integration of city suburbs and the creation of shared value with the population. Enel has seized these aspects and has made them its own in the Open Power to Art initiative, which is a perfect fit for its Open Power model. The idea, as Cristina Papetti, Head of Sustainability Global Infrastructure and Networks, explains, consists of using “cabins and Enel structures as open-air art galleries, with the goal of integrating them into their surroundings and involving the local community. This activates a process of dialogue and proactive listening to stakeholders and contributes to the creation of shared value. That’s because, beginning with issues linked to our business activities, we are able to connect with, and foresee, the needs of the communities in which we operate.”
This capacity for inclusion is demonstrated by the success of various initiatives that have been launched in the world as part of Open Power to Art. In addition to the Italian Street Art project, in fact, Enel has promoted the creation of works in public parks in Brazil that have enabled the recuperation of urban spaces to improve residents’ quality of life, boost inclusion and reduce urban violence. Inclusion was also the core of the experience in Colombia, where the EnergizArte Festival saw the involvement of 110 artists who worked on the theme of clean energy. In La Riena, in Chile, on the other hand, seven street artists were supported in the creation of a mural spanning 690 square meters, thus helping give young people an extra social and artistic opportunity.
In addition to its proximity to communities, art is also being deployed to defend the environment. This was the case in Lima in Peru, where artworks were created using a photolytic paint that absorbs pollutants in the air, thereby decontaminating it. And the project is not stopping, but is in continuous renewal, and with a very clear goal: to give life not only to works of art for their own sakes, but to leave a mark on the socio-economic context of their locations and contribute to local regeneration and the promotion of communities. Art is also contributing to the creation of grids of the future that are more open and closer to the needs of communities.