Urban Makeover: Tbilisi is Next in line

It was just a matter of time before Tbilisi City Hall got involved in the first large-scale street art festival. From September 17 - 25, the Tbilisi Mural Fest is inviting local, German and Dutch artists to transform 10 of the most exposed walls in different neighborhoods into monumental paintings.

Street art is indeed an important part of the urban identity of capital cities and of their attractiveness: in Georgia, Batumi got on board first, with the Batumi Grafikart Festival organized each year between 2013 and 2017. Initiated by the gallery L’Attrape Rêve and Dotcomma, the festival annually welcomed 15 artists from Europe and Georgia to cover different walls across the city. The festival was supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of Ajara and Batumi City Hall.

The development of Georgian street art festivals reached the capital afterwards, in 2015, thanks to Fabrika, which soon became the hotspot for giant artworks. It turned the sewing factory into a picture-ready art space. Afterwards, street artworks flourished all over the capital in a rather spontaneous manner, decorating the underground walkways and some of the walls around the city.

The Tbilisi Mural Fest is the first event to involve Tbilisi City Hall so closely. Using their Berlin experiences and contacts, the organizers had no difficulties convincing City Hall to join in and promote the project. Dudana Mazmanishvili is a pianist and former cultural attaché at the Georgian Embassy to Berlin and her husband Besik Mazmanishvili is an artist himself. Thanks to their artistic synergy, they successfully gathered an impressive list of public and private sponsors for the event. They worked with City Hall to select the murals. The aim is to include as many neighborhoods as possible and each edition of the festival will have new target areas.

Berlin is surely the most vibrant example of how street art can participate in the city’s urban development and bring more tourists. Real estate agencies are now more interested in the German capital, as artworks can raise the housing market value. Georgia is not there yet but it has certainly understood the potential of street art to built its artistic reputation.

Interviewed by GEORGIA TODAY in 2016, Natia Sirabidze, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture and Sport of Ajara says, “All these paintings become a tourist destination. It creates novelty and embellishes the streets of Batumi, attracting locals and guests to take pictures in front of them. Our aim is to convert cultural products into tourism products. The more people coming to see the paintings, the more people promoting it on social media, the more popular the place becomes and the greater the economical benefit the region has.” Indeed, bloggers, influencers and specialized websites are increasingly referencing and mapping the Georgian street art.

So what can visitors expect from the Tbilisi Mural Fest? The final artworks will surely be surprising. The organizers themselves are not totally certain of the end result. Like for the Batumi Graffiti Festival, artists of the Tbilisi Mural Fest have no guidelines or limitations.

“Some of the artists are more spontaneous than others. When you’re an artist, you may have a sketch, but you also work with the space, the environment and the vibe of the city, so your initial idea can change completely when you are on site,” Dudana Mazmanishvili told us.

"The urban jungle of Tbilisi, made up of intriguing contrasts between ancient, soviet, and new buildings together, has clear potential to inspire the artists. But set aside the surprise effect, street art has always been a platform for protest, with artists often bringing social issues into the public space. For this edition of the Tbilisi Mural Fest, environmental issues may get some spotlight," Daduna adds.

As LAMB, who is perhaps the most well-known and productive street artist in town put it: “Street art without criticism is simply painting.” Politically engaged artworks are already covering the walls of Tbilisi, and more will come during the festival and at its margin.

By Lorraine Vaney

Image Source: Tbilisi Mural Fest Facebook

19 September 2019 17:04