Creativity as a tool for the regeneration of ancient prison structures. It happens in European cities, while in the USA art is a matter of teaching and reintegration

The former Soviet prison of Vilnius, located in the center of the Lithuanian capital, stopped working in 2019. In 2021 it became a set for films and TV series, including the famous Stranger Things and finally, in 2022, it opened the doors to the first events, exhibitions and concerts under the name of Lukiskes Prison 2.0: a new cultural center that seeks to overcome the past through architectural charm and, above all, the strength of the city's creative scene.

Temporary exhibitions and concerts by musicians such as Moderat took place in the central square and in the more than 200 newly created studios.

If the speed of the change of course of this immense Soviet structure is surprising, its protracted activity as a prison right in the city center is also sobering.

In European cities prison buildings are often part of the ancient urban structures closely linked to historic villages, with prisons, fortifications and deconsecrated places of worship located in areas mainly for residential use.

Just think of Milan, where the San Vittore prison is still active next to the Catholic University, in a very central district.

In most cases, however, these buildings have been converted and adapted to the new needs of the city. An operation that has often involved art and culture, because these allow a place to be reborn through many initiatives, while at the same time preserving its historical memory.

If in Italy the case of the Gallerie delle Prigioni, the former Habsburg prisons in the heart of Treviso – but also the degraded Panopticon of Santo Stefano, on the island of Ventotene, will soon undergo recovery – in Spain we find the cells of La Cárcel - Centro de Creatión, in Segovia, in the region of Castile, and the Centro Cultural Lecrác of Palencia, a town near Valladolid.

The process of urban regeneration can keep the architectural structure perfectly intact, as in the case of the Galleria delle Prigioni restored by Tobia Scarpa, or rather combine modern elements, which allow easier functionality, as in the case of Lecrác, which also houses the municipal library and the Office of Culture.

Outside Europe, a similar recovery can finally be found in the Chilean port of Valparaiso, which has adapted the prisons in which the victims of the Pinochet period were housed.

In the labyrinth of narrow streets leading to the port, halfway down the slope is the Ex Cárcel Parque Cultural, which combines open spaces for public events and private studios devoted to creativity.

Differente è il caso degli Usa, dove le carceri si identificano solitamente con grandi strutture ad alta sicurezza ben lontane dai centri abitati, che a loro volta intrattengono con le arti una diversa relazione. Da Los Angeles a Filadelfia, il coinvolgimento artistico è principalmente di natura didattica ed educativa.

Numerosi sono i programmi che operano attraverso l’arte per offrire opportunità di educazione secondaria, come l’UCLA Prison Educational Program.

Una delle carceri più longeve, come San Quentin, smetterà presto di essere una prigione, ma solo per trasformarsi in un centro di educazione e riabilitazione, come annunciato dal governatore della California.

Dunque, nessuna riconversione artistica per le strutture di reclusione statunitensi che cessano la loro funzione. Il dialogo con l’arte è però esistente e attivo: non rivolto ai luoghi carcerari, bensì alle persone che li abitano.

Cover photo: A concert organized in the courtyard of the Lukiskes Prison 2.0 cultural center, built in the former prison of Vilnius. Ph. Lunatikai