Vera Marques da Silva has been our area guide and chief ambassador of the most recent project in the series of popups around the world, helping us with our integration into the cultural subterrain of Lisbon and, the other way around, infusing BA&SC with the local spirit. Grappling with the desire to fix memories and nostalgizing the days bygone, we talk about her experiences living in Berlin, how they translate into her native milieu, the prospects of Lisbon picking it up where Berlin left off a decade ago, the difficulties and secrets of making the BEATO Art & Social Club a hit in no time and with little budget.
Vera, you've been living in between Berlin and Lisbon for a while. How do the cities compare and differ? What do you find so special about your hometown as possibly the next retreat or habitat for the cosmopolitan creatives?
They are similar in many ways which make both cities so attractive to young artists and creative entrepreneurs looking for a homebase in Europe. In this perspective, Lisbon perfectly mirrors Berlin dating back to a decade or so ago when it was booming on free spirit and raw energies. Startups popping up all over the map, Lisbon is emerging as an intuitive answer to Berlin sometimes questioning itself as its status has been slowly shifting from "gritty" to "smooth", from the domain being explosive to operational.
The most obvious differences, however, are climatic, historical and cultural. Coming from under the high blue long summer sky, I remember having issues in the beginning getting used to so many grey days and chill. It may just as well be something to do with its weather that people in Berlin shake hands instead of embracing each other and kissing. Action-oriented as Berlin is, it also and somehow simultaneously – as you walk the streets – keeps you in the deep contemplative mode, which perhaps explains the human interactions as less impulsive and expressive than in Portugal.
Berlin can be a tough cookie to newcomers. However, if you are persistent trying to get along with the city and come to understand its ways, you discover a different reality. You find it as a grandiose urban experiment where inspiration strikes you on every corner, people meet to share their knowledge, find partners, support each other, do things, go nuts...
The city has its very unique vibe charged with gigawatts of talent of all kinds, fueled with infinite passion to create and resonating with the resilience of its local demigods who kick and bounce others to generate and pursue their own ideas, to blast their original concepts into life. Berlin is a human powerhouse.
Lisbon, on the other hand, has for long been a well kept secret. Regretful as it may be to some, there is also a positive side to keeping a low profile. Time in the closet is the time well spent exploring case by case the prospects of urban development along with its pitfalls. Walking in the footsteps of Berlin, hopefully Lisbon is smart and deft enough to avoid all the stumbling blocks seeing them far ahead for a maneuver.
Gentrification is one such block in sight. So let's at least be clear what we risk crashing into it and prepare accordingly. Aside from affordable spaces, vibrant culture, social institutions, and natural quality of life, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world. Much of its history just stares at you walking the dog or running errands down the street and still echoes in our daily lives – we taste it, we wear it, we speak it, we hear it... You sense a myriad of influences: the Roman Empire, centuries of the Arabs and Moors, the Flemish, Italians and French; the times of conquests in Africa, South America and the Orient...
It's this kind of heritage, almost universal, that makes Lisbon so different from Berlin and other cities; a unique source of inspiration for any field of arts.
Like in a fairy-tale, Lisbon enchants and captivates. Though each part of it vibes in its very peculiar way. Beato, the grounds of our Art & Social Club... What are the bairro's frequencies which resonate so melodiously with the project?
Beato is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon connecting the city center to Parque da Nações, a newly redeveloped area. It's where you find the vestiges of farms, beautiful mansions and narrow streets of traditional buildings now being gradually reclaimed by companies setting up their headquarters; warehouses being converted into coworking spaces, art galleries, restaurants and cafés.
Beato is easily the most telling example of how the old and new coexist giving the bairro its remarkable identity and holding the promise of the future. A few blocks away from the National Azulejo Museum featuring the collection of decorative ceramic tiles from the 15th century up till now, you find the Underdogs Gallery, a new cultural platform founded by Alexandre Farto aka Vhils, a world-famous Portuguese artist. It's this kind of juxtapositions, which gives the bairro its character.
The rents here are still more affordable than elsewhere. You see lots of artists relocating their ateliers and studios to Beato. Their presence and activities animate the neighbourhood which is evolving into a lively community as the residents get to know each other and do things together.
Yet, Beato is still wild harboring in secret the whole world of its own to be explored by the curious. Hard to imagine a location more befitting for projects in the spirit of BA&SC.
You've been involved as an ambassador of the BA&SC project as well as in many other aspects of this very spontaneous and chaotic endeavor. What was it like? – to mean the main difficulties.
The most difficult part of the project was the weather – something beyond our control. It was pouring for days in Lisbon as we were setting it up. We would plead with the rain to stop so we could use the outdoors for bbq and hanging around the fires. Trapped, we almost gave up, but then, as if by divine cosmic plan, the sky opened up revealing the Moon in her full beauty and mystery, which stayed with us through the program.
Lots of other issues – some popup-typical, some site-specific; critical, but manageable. Finding people to operate the bar and do food catering, booking for the program… all rooted in tight timeframe and our resolve not to compromise the quality. If you take your project seriously, you always find problems, something to optimize making it better and better.
The artists… Getting in touch with them telling they have only a few days to prepare their acts was to put quite a bit of pressure on them as they also take their work seriously, no short-cuts; and considering their other engagements. It worked out, though. When they came to meet with the team, to see the venue and get the idea, most felt immediately enthused and committed as they could relate to the core values of the project.
When you work in such spirited and multitalented environment, it's more like a play and you naturally overcome all the difficulties. Not that everything went strictly as we planned, but we're very happy with what we have accomplished in just two weeks.
It popped up out of the blue, with no time to spare, and virtually as a blank slate offering, aside from the program, little more than just walls, floors and ceilings of an abandoned milk factory on the outskirts of the city. How do you explain the success of the BA&SC project?
Quality of the content: the program being international, original music, mesmerizing visuals, art installations, simple yet very good food, bar menu and, above all, the vibe of people involved – their personalities all so igniting. To quote one reviewer in our guest book: "This crew is fire! Art & love: what else would we need?!" And another: "Bravo! Others tried, but you've done it. Keep up."
Also, the scenarios that are unexpected draw people in. They like to be surprised and to command their own experience. We offered a space for each visitor to create their own route, letting them interact with the venue at their pace. So they did.
And communication… We didn't have resources or time to run a massive strategic campaign. Even if we had, it would not be an option considering who we imagined as our guests. So it was basic and very individual. Apart from activating our social media networks, we personally invited our friends and people with a certain reputation on the scene – not celebrities and such, but activists involved with various artistic and social causes. In its mood, BEATO Art & Social Club was like a huge house party, very interactive and convivial. What happens when so many interesting individuals find themselves in the company of their ilk.