A warm welcome to Murals for Communities. This international mural-project for Creative Europe, brings Waterford (IE), Heerlen (NL) and Kaunas (LT) together through Street Art.
Mural Art is a form of street art that uses its spatial and social surroundings to derive its meaning and messages. This art form does not have a goal to produce works that are meaningful by themselves. They rather focus on altering physical environments in which they are created, and by doing so, produce an effect within the minds of people and communities that are part of these environments through social messages they depict. Also, in many cases the art form is easily linked to graffiti culture(s), by itself a product of urban cultures since the second half of the 20th century, usually created through unsanctioned processes, as well as ‘tagging’: the social messaging activities of gangs that, in many cases, evoke negative connotations to their surroundings.
But Murals are able to use the abilities for social messaging on quite opposite manners as well. When facilitated properly, these works are able to positively capture and express feelings, stories and histories of people, local communities and surroundings (e.g. districts and buildings), becoming a powerful tool to bind peoples within and among communities. Mural Artists, having the right artistic skills to nourish and reflect on social inputs of local communities, can use their skills to create works by co-creation, gaining inspiration from social inputs, histories and feelings of these communities. The art form can become a strong actor for community building processes, stimulating well-being, helping to fight feelings of loneliness and marginalisation of communities. Moreover, when created by highly capable artists, Murals are able to turn empty and abandoned surfaces into visually stimulating pieces of art, adding to the general sense of ‘beautification’ of a Mural’s surroundings.
Mural Art is increasingly being seen as a valuable tool for community building. However, as it is more generally the product of urban cultures created and thriving outside the contexts of traditional art and cultural infrastructures, their creation processes, and potentials for community engagement have not yet been captured on a systematic scale. Still, there are many cities in Europe, especially those that have issues with deprivation (e.g. worn-off high-rise blocks, open spaces and raw walls in-between historical buildings) where Mural art is popping-up in a bottom-up manner.
The Murals for Communities project seeks to explore, capture and formalise the potentials of Mural arts as a tool for Community Engagement by creating Mural art works through community involvement and co creation between community members and Mural artists. Moreover, the project seeks to transnationally expand the possibilities of Mural artists and seek to strengthen their position and capacity within the European cultural scene.
Waterford, Heerlen & Kaunas
Murals for Communities is a collaboration of three European cities. Its origins are with the Creative Europe initiative. On this page, you can find information on the cities, their organizations and the different other partners involved with our international Mural-Arts project
Lead Partner The Walls Project (Waterford), visit organization
Communications Partner The Street Art Foundation (Heerlen) visit organization
Research Partner Innovative Creative Projects (Kaunas) visit organization
The city of Waterford underwent a period of urban regeneration. As a result of over-reliance on a few major industries, the city entered into a period of economic decline after the collapse of these industries since the crisis of 2008. The city was left with one of the highest youth unemployment and emigration rates in the country, turning many parts of its centre into ‘ghost’ areas with empty buildings and a lack of cohesion among its remaining inhabitants.
Resulting from a desire to regain momentum, the city undertook activities to improve the life quality of those living and working in the city through cultural activities having a strong focus on co-creation and cultural participation, initiated by the Waterford City & County Council (WCCC) through the development of the ‘three sisters’ European Capital of Culture (ECoC) bid and the city’s Cultural Quarter Strategy. Closely linked to the strategy is Waterford Walls International Street Art Festival (WW), managed by The Walls Project, that is strategically supported by WCCC.
The Walls Project is a creative agency who manage the delivery of large scale public and private artworks across Ireland and Europe. Within Ireland, the project has painted large scale mural artworks in Cork City, Dublin City, Co. Wexford, Co. Laois, Kilkenny City as well as Waterford City and County. The annual Waterford Walls Festival, running since 2015, is Ireland’s largest International Street Art Festival and seeks to use Mural Art to connect communities and stimulate the development of run-down areas. With WW, The Walls Project has facilitated the transformation of derelict buildings in the city with Mural Artworks, installing over 100 large scale public artworks, which have regenerated and transformed Waterford City Centre.
Heerlen, The Netherlands
Heerlen is a former mining town that largely suffered from the collapse of its mining industry in the second half of the 20th century, resulting in a loss of economic and social attractiveness and leading to large-scale problems related to migration, social deprivation and disconnection between the cities communities. Since 2001, the city works to fight its issues of deprivation through culture. Hereby, it nominated street art (e.g. Mural Arts) as one of the key cultural expression forms for this cause, based on the art form’s ability to make effective use of the city’s raw and unpolished surfaces.
Supported by Heerlen Municipality, The Street Art Foundation (SAF), established in 2013, has been able to use the potentials of Mural Arts and turn it into a tool for social interaction. The foundation has facilitated the creation of 67 Murals that revolve around the idea of co-creation and co-ownership, created by artists on raw walls and abandoned buildings, reflecting the local contexts of people, neighbourhoods and the city’s history. The foundation is a trend-setter in the development of cooperation activities among Mural artists, local businesses and schools. For the creation of the Murals, the foundation closely cooperates with various cultural actors in the city (e.g. the Cultura Nova Festival) and the Municipality of Heerlen (e.g. in projects such as the AuroraFlat redevelopment project).
Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania, behind the capital Vilnius. While mostly being an industrial centre during communism, the city currently faces issues related to economic and social neglect, leading to persistent problems of disconnection between many communities and groups living in the city, including ethnic minorities (e.g. Tatars, Russians, and Jewish communities). The city is under a process of social and cultural re-emergence, underlined by the city’s successful European Capital of Culture application, becoming the official holder of the title in 2022. Based on the bid, a focus point of the city is to establish stronger interlinkages between cultural participation and social cohesion.
Thus Mural Arts, being a vibrant and upcoming art scene in the city, has been identified as one of the elements to stimulate the process. The Kaunas University of Technology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (KTU) is an important actor within the field of academic research on intercultural communication linked to cultural and artistic expression forms. Moreover, the university has facilitated the creation of several Mural works on its campus. Its Associated Partner, Innovative Creative Projects (ICP) is the creator of the Small Walls Project that has created 16 Murals (e.g. by the artist Morfai) around the city since its establishment in 2015. Hereby, it aimsto incorporate methods that aid social regeneration through the art form and inject new life into neglected walls it targets.