Located in the southwest Germany, the city of Heidelberg is perhaps best known as the home to Montana Cans and part of the UNESCO Creative City network, but as of recently, it’s also the base of one of the most exciting urban art festivals in Europe and beyond. Of course, here we are talking about METROPOLINK, an event that is now in its third edition under the brilliant curatorship of founder Pascal Baumgärtner. The city has always been a hub for creativity in the field of graffiti and street art, so a festival dedicated to the fastest-growing contemporary art movement was most certainly in order, emphasizing the importance of artworks in public space and engaging with the audience in a different way.
For the past two editions, METROPOLINK has been bringing artists and the citizens of Heidelberg together, donning mural paintings, exhibitions and workshops across town. With the support of the city council, the Mayor himself, as well as urban planners and researchers, the festival has helped the cultural development of the town, through 18 large-scale wall paintings thoroughly planned and adapted to their new environment. In 2016, the festival received more than 250,000 online ratings from all over the world, welcomed some 3000 visitors at eight wall openings and nurtured 40 artists of local and international fame. For the 2017 edition, we can only expect more. Indeed, seven new walls have already been selected, with an aim to connect all neighborhoods of Heidelberg, and a wall painting has been organized in the sister city of Montpellier, France, as the next big step in the establishment of inter-cultural relationships. Furthermore, a new photo book has been released in honor of the event and the town itself, containing a review of Heidelberg urban art from 2015 to 2016, interviews with participating artists and a city map, containing all the sites of murals up until this point.
After welcoming the likes of Wow123, SozyOne, Wesr, Smash137, Hendrik Beikirch, 1010, Herakut and Robert Proch, among many others, METROPOLINK 2017 will engage internationally-renowned artists such as CASE, Daniel Thouw, Limow, SAM3, SweetUno, Quintessenz, WOW123 and Zest. Their mural paintings will take place between June 23rd and July 19th, 2017 all over Heidelberg, starting with the opening taking place at Bismarckplatz with a painting by Quintessenz. Other locations include the streets of Max Jarecki street, Karl Kurz., Karlsruher and Ernst-Barlach, as well as Walldorf, Total petrol station, Mark Twain Village and more!
We caught up with Pascal Baumgärtner ahead of the upcoming festival and talked about his vision, the importance of the urban art movement and the most interesting aspects of his work for METROPOLINK. Have a read below!
Widewalls: Why is it significant to create open public places that are available for everyone, having in mind the context of the current economic system's urbanization strategy?
Pascal Baumgärtner: It is the creation of new spaces available for ALL that is my fundamental motivation. Through METROPOLINK, I am trying to establish an awareness of contemporary culture, especially for art in the public space. Reality, as it is perceived by our generation, is characterized by missing open spaces, high rents and the concentration of the urban space.
METROPOLINK aims to establish a new conception of the quality of life in public and open locations and a meaningfulness at the same time: It is sensible to design walls, to implement sculptures in public squares or to illuminate house fronts. This way, new open spaces and creative perspectives on the city develop - and subconsciously the feeling of having more room to breathe emerges.
Widewalls: What role can art play in the public space and how does it shape both the cityscape and the community of citizens?
PB: More room for art also means that there is more room for encounters and communication. My idea was to view the city, the community or the village from a creative perspective and to bring together people who rarely meet in everyday life: Art in the public space addresses people regardless of their age or their social status. It is the immanent force of art of bridging generations and societies that has been driving me ever since I took up my work.
Widewalls: What were the greatest successes of the previous two editions of METROPOLINK?
PB: Emotionally, the greatest success was the book, Metropolink - Urban Romantic, published just 7 days ago, 200 pages with all artists, interviews, till now not shown making-of pictures and stencil-cover-page, with individual artist-designs of each book. Great feeling to hold that in my hands and to see what happened the last two years, which artists were here...
As second success:
I am very glad that METROPOLINK was included in the pool of institutionally funded cultural projects of the city of Heidelberg, starting this year. That promotion means a long-term establishing of the festival for the city and its region and many painted walls still to follow...
A great success as well at the beginning in 2015, when Hendrik Beikirch painted a huge mural under many complicated circumstances. We had to convince 350 inhabitants, the lifting platform was too heavy for the underground car park where it had to stand, the hydraulic ramp didn´t fit in etc. In the end, everything worked out because we had great support from our partners of the association of property and real estate, who had to collect all keys for the underground car park and empty the packed cabins. On the last day before Hendrik's arrival, we could fix the surface to make it stable for the hydraulic ramp, the structural engineer could provide the support of the surface and the project could go on... a great effort and success that it has worked out.
Widewalls: How would you describe the relationship between the history of Heidelberg and the present moment? In what ways is METROPOLINK taking part in this dialogue?
PB: Heidelberg and urban art form a fantastic contrasting pair. On the one hand, the academic city appeals to science, tradition and the panorama of the castle, the Old Bridge, and the churches. On the other hand, urban art in all of its aspects pushes itself into unexplored and unspoiled places. As a creative counterpoint, urban art breaks the uniform cityscape open and provokes in an inspiring way.
METROPOLINK is more than a festival for urban art by including social and political aspects. Creative urban development and planning, the integration of workshops between various groups and sister city arrangements are strengthened and supported by connections through art.
Cities and communities speak in a contemporary language through the paintings in public, and the cultural work between the parts of the city enables an unconventional view on popular or hidden corners of the city. But of course, there are still people that doubt the importance of art in public spaces, or street art in general. We're answering to theses peoples' questions with special participation programs such as workshops, symposiums or, if this doesn't help, with the continuity of great artworks...
Widewalls: Who are the artists that will shape this edition of your festival and what is your general vision for this year?
PB: The goal for 2017th edition as well as in general, is to promote regional artists, discover new talents and bring internationally or nationally known artists to Heidelberg. This relationship should be balanced and is important to me and my team. Participants for 2017: Daniel Thouw, Limow, Sweetuno, Formular76, Andrea Wan, Quintessenz, Markus Genesius, Kloneyourself, Case, Sam3 and Zest.
Widewalls: What kind of support do you need in order to make everything happen and is the politics of your city and the region oriented towards this kind of creative urbanism?
PB: Answering one part of this question, I'd like to quote the head of cultural office of the city of Heidelberg, Dr. Andrea Edel: (…) "Every time I get the chance, I enjoy taking a look from far across the train tracks at the colorful camouflage shapes by Smash 137, and so I hope that this work of art will be preserved. Thanks to the active support of all the METROPOLINK contributors, the festival managed to become a permanent feature of Heidelberg cultural life and fortunately, we can expect many more high-quality wall paintings to emerge in Heidelberg in order to enrich our cityscape."
It goes without saying that without a huge team of capable and witty people, sponsors, cooperating partners and supporters, Metropolink would not be possible. I needed 58 sponsors, partners or cooperation partners, assistants, hotel cooperators, technology service providers, to realize the festival. A very respectful thanks to all of them as well as to all wall and house-front owners: no walls, no festival - Thank you for your confidence.
With a huge amount of gratefulness and the awareness that such a project demands constructive cooperation, numerous processes of coordination and collective reasoning, I am calling out to my team: “You are the best! Thank you so much for your dedication!” At this point, I also would like to say thank you to my family, who always supports me. With lots of love.
Widewalls: How can the entire region benefit from the development of METROPOLINK festival?
PB: In the course of time, with a lot of inspiration and imaginative cooperation, I hope the festival will shape the landscape of the region and the creative awareness of the inhabitants and visitors of every participating city or community in the long run. In my vision, culture is not only created on the surface or in academic circles but culture, in my opinion, is supposed to provide a platform for the critical analysis of developments through all circles of society, regardless of whether in the city or countryside.
According to my plans, Metropolink should play a strong role in linking and connecting art with people and therefore be able to open new perspectives of our everyday life.
Widewalls: What are your plans and visions for the future?
PB: It is my vision to have METROPOLINK established among the big festivals of street art and to be a solid part of the cultural landscape substantially. This means that contents may change and various genres of urban art may be incorporated in the festival. And it means that important issues of financing need to be clarified in the long term in order to care for planning security.
All images courtesy METROPOLINK.