Making public art is neither simple nor immediate but it is the key to creating beauty, participation and, above all, new human and social relationships in the urban fabric. The case of Milan, where a newly created municipal team helps artists, creatives and citizens to transform the city into a collective artistic path open to all

A new office has been at work in the Municipality of Milan for a few months. For now it is called the Ufficio Arte negli Spazi Pubblici but soon, we are assured, it will have a more attractive name. It is directed by Marina Pugliese, art historian, director until 2015 of the pole of modern and contemporary art museums in Milan (which includes the Museo del Novecento and Mudec, of which she followed the birth and the GAM), who, back to Milan after five years in San Francisco says: “I have found a city that has changed a lot. Street art, for example, has helped to change the aesthetics of some neighborhoods, with projects that relate to the history and memory of the neighborhoods themselves ".

At work, on a double track

In a historical moment in which the possibility of aggregating, sharing and fully appropriating public spaces has been taken away from the city and its inhabitants, it is Marina Pugliese who tells us about the nature, the purposes, the approach, the models of inspiration and the projects the office is working on: “It is the first office of this kind in Italy, there are others abroad, in Nantes, Hamburg, Warsaw or San Francisco with which we are already collaborating. The office was born from the need to simplify procedures and be proactive in a coordinated and integrated manner with the other offices. It was a decision taken before the Covid-pandemic but which has now become an urgency. Ours is a small but very prepared team, with two curators: Alessandro Oldani for contemporary art and Alice Cosmai for muralism and street art. The work is based on two approaches: integrated and international. Integrated because it works together with the departments and technical services of the Municipality such as the public green management, the town halls, the planning, housing and welfare management that deals with public housing. International because we collaborate with other realities not only to participate in international calls that allow us to carry out our projects but for the importance of networking, to have a cultural and design connection ".

Facilitating complexity

And there are two main fronts on which the office is already at work. Botton-down: listening to and supporting the territorial proposals of the communities of artists, creatives or ordinary citizens who gather around the causes of their neighborhoods. “In the first three months we have already released 4 authorizations for pictorial art interventions” says Alice Cosmai who for years was part of the Orticanoodles collective and who knows all the problems connectes with muralism. “On average it took me a year to obtain the permits… especially for the technical aspects, even when the artistic project was completely supported. Because urban art, unlike how it appears in a certain story telling, is neither easy nor fast. These are site-specific works that require complex design. For this reason we have also created a vademecum, not a real regulation but a guide, to facilitate the realization of street art works, in the long process from conception to the research of spaces, from concessions to the creative act ".
There is another initiative of the Municipality that goes in this direction: the census of 100 “Muri liberi” in 70 areas of the city. They are everyone's walls, where it is possible to paint freely (in fact!) without asking for authorizations or paying fees.

Planning from now on to 2026

The other front, top-down, concerns the design and curation of urban art in its broadest sense, which includes street art but also installations, performances or sound interventions in public spaces that involve people. Among the ideas and future projects, Marina Pugliese and Alice Cosmai tell us, there is the creation of an art cycle path, a re-creative park dedicated to Lina Bo Bardi created by Anna Daneri and Carlo Antonelli, the installation Una stanza tutta per te by the artist and anthropologist Fiamma Montezemolo, new tactical squares or "piazza aperte" to create new social spaces in the neighborhoods and the census of public art heritage in Milan. “We can rely on a few publications and videos but there is no real historicization of the interventions carried out in Milan - adds Alice Cosmai. We have in mind a website able to map, catalog and create itineraries dedicated to existing public art ".

Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration with the Cineteca Milano we have the idea to make five documentaries dedicated to street art and murals that have changed the face of the five districts Ortica, Padova/Martesana, Dergano/ Bovisa/Niguarda, San Siro/Ippodromo, Giambellino/San Cristoforo. These same neighborhoods will be transformed into open-air cinemas to show the effects of public art on the territory and encourage people to experience the city with curiosity.

Who sows, shall he reap

“In these few months - concludes Marina Pugliese - we have sown a lot, with short, medium and long term projects, up to 2026! We hope to see the first results in the coming months! " Behind the "door" of the new office, a different idea of ​​public administration seems to grow. An administration trying to simplify bureaucracy, participating the needs of citizens and attracting artistst and creative people. All this to leave the field to the beauty and sharing of everyone's spaces, to the creation of new relationships, to the discovery of the city and to the enchantment of open-air art.


Cover: Gio Pistone, via Butti, credits Paolo Fava