WE ARE HERE AND UNITED PAINTING JOIN FORCES TO PAINT GREY OFFICE BUILDING THAT SERVES AS A TEMPORARY SHELTER FOR DISPLACED PEOPLE

WE ARE HERE

AND UNITED PAINTING JOIN FORCES TO PAINT GREY OFFICE BUILDING THAT SERVES AS A TEMPORARY SHELTER FOR DISPLACED PEOPLE

The Vluchtmaat was a grey, boring office building in the south-east of Amsterdam, which accommodates a lively community of 40 Ethiopians and Eritreans. A group organised by the Wij Zijn Hier (We are Here) initiative based in Amsterdam. They support undocumented refugees in finding squated accommodation throughout the city. The Vluchtmaat is unique as they share the property with a handful of local Dutch entrepreneurs who rent an office on the ground floor of the building, which pays for the expenses costs of the entire building.

The design process started with a creative workshop in which we explored various colours and patterns that they collectively liked. What was fascinating was almost all of them came up with a design that included a combination of the colours in the Dutch flag, Eritrean flag and Ethiopian flag. This colour combination acknowledged their past, who they were and where they were from, and their future, what they hope to become, a Dutch citizen. After we settled on the design we started painting the building together with the help of the residents and supplies of the neighbouring hardware stores.

UPDATE: The building has just recently been torn down and the people connected to We Are Here are still roaming through Amsterdam looking for a more permanent shelter. If you want to help them out, please contact @weareherenl through Instagram.

Sam Godfried, rented a workspace in the building: “The residents were tired of staring at the grey building so they asked United Painting to join forces with them to paint the outside.” 


AMSTERDAM PAINTING - UNITED PAINTING CREW REVAMPS AN ENTIRE ROOM OF THE STEDELIJK MUSEUM IN AMSTERDAM

AMSTERDAM PAINTING 

THE UNITED PAINTING CREW REVAMPS AN ENTIRE ROOM OF THE STEDELIJK MUSEUM IN AMSTERDAM

We were invited to paint a large room of the Stedelijk Museum, based in Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter, as part of the Solution or Utopia Design for Refugees exhibition.

The exhibition was displayed across two rooms, one completely dark room and one very light room. We made a design for the light room and used bright colours in the design to represent ‘sunrise after a long cold night’, a sign of hopeful future amongst the current darkness that refugees face on their journeys to safety.


FORMER INFAMOUS PRISON IN AMSTERDAM TURNED INTO SHELTER FOR NEWCOMERS AND NEEDS A MORE WELCOMING ENTRANCE

AMSTERDAM PAINTING

FORMER INFAMOUS PRISON IN AMSTERDAM TURNED INTO SHELTER FOR NEWCOMERS AND NEEDS A MORE WELCOMING ENTRANCE

In 2016, we returned to The Netherlands to start our first project back home. The refugee crisis in Europe finds cities in need of new and fast solutions to help create a humane and liveable situation for refugees in their new temporary homes.

In Amsterdam the former ‘Bijlmerbajes’ prison was closed and quickly turned into a temporary refugee living facility. Prisons are not the most welcoming places and the Bijlmerbajes is not different. The Amsterdam Painting project aimed to transform this huge complex with six giant grey towers that have long been an eyesore in Amsterdam’s skyline.

Having previously only worked in established single communities we needed to somehow find a way to design and paint a mural that represented this new multi-cultured temporary community. Working collaboratively with locals and newcomers. The project aimed to transform the buildings, both in-and outside, in order to recreate their new identity as a new home to the refugees. And at the same time offer opportunities in form of skill training, network building and job opportunity, while empowering the participants to ‘make the place their own’.

BIJLMERBAJES ENTRANCE

The first big project of the Amsterdam Painting crew was to extend the entrance design around the front of the building. The crew worked alongside local Amsterdam volunteers and completed the painting in over a month.

Since painting the entrance in the summer of 2016, a steady paint crew emerged which consists of both locals and newcomers. Newcomers face long waiting times and strict limitations while their asylum requests are processed. By designing the project in a way that was open, flexible and inclusive allowed us to reach a diverse group of newcomers with varying needs. Whether newcomers help for one day or multiple months, the goal is for them to take something positive away from their painting experience.

LOLA LIK


Lola Lik is a cultural HUB located on the south-side of the old Bijlmer Bajes prison focusing on bringing locals and newcomers together to learn off each other. The crew was invited to paint the main inner square and buildings in and around the Lola Lik space. The crew has worked here since late 2016.

“The vibe around here is a lot better since colour has been added to the walls.” David van Dommelen, Operations Manager at Lola Lik


UNITED PAINTING CREW THE HAGUE PAINTS MASSIVE ARTWORK ON THE FLOOR OF THE STUDENT HOTEL THE HAGUE COURTYARD

UNITED PAINTING CREW THE HAGUE 

PAINTS MASSIVE ARTWORK ON THE FLOOR OF THE STUDENT HOTEL THE HAGUE COURTYARD

After carrying out projects in numerous Student Hotels across Europe (Florence, Berlin, Dresden), we were invited by The Student Hotel (TSH) The Hague to paint their inner courtyard.

This would be our first project in the Netherlands with TSH and also one of our biggest artworks so far (in m2). This invitation had special interest for us also due to the fact that in 2018 we had launched a project in a nearby social housing complex in The Hague. This project was still running at the time and we felt that this would be the perfect opportunity to give our crew in The Hague the opportunity to run a project on their own.

We were asked to start painting in the last months of 2019 which meant that we didn’t have many painting days due to weather conditions. Eventually we were forced to postpone the painting until spring 2020. When spring came we rounded up the crew and resumed painting. One team leader was present for the first days and helped with gridding out the design and from then on the painting was left to The Hague painting crew. Using Whatsapp they sent us regular updates which worked perfectly. The painting was finished in the beginning of May 2020.

One of our main goals was to have this project run independently by our crew in The Hague and also to make sure that TSH paid them for their work in a way that would bring more long term rewards such as a fitness subscription, free study space at the hotel etc.

To make sure this reward matched the needs of our crew, we first sat down with two of our most outspoken painters, Salam and Sanaa, and the manager of TSH The Hague. For the design we chose to work with Ana Taratiel, an incredible Spanish artist who uses vibrant colours and bold design, something well suited to the large surfaces we were preparing to paint.

Although the project was considered a great success we did however learn a valuable lesson from this project; never use cheaper paint. Due to budget challenges we were unable to afford primer/undercoat nor the paint we would have ideally liked to have used. The result of which was that by the spring we could see some colours were already starting to fade. That being said, to witness how smooth the whole process was, thanks to the The Hague crew, was a reward in itself.


MAMADOU'S POOL - A TRAGIC INCIDENT - THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE OF MAMADOU: AN 18-YEAR-OLD BOY FROM GUINEE-CONAKRY - LEADS TO A TREASURABLE INITIATIVE

MAMADOU'S POOL

A TRAGIC INCIDENT - THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE OF MAMADOU: AN 18-YEAR-OLD BOY FROM GUINEE-CONAKRY - LEADS TO A TREASURABLE INITIATIVE

June 2018, something very special happened in the city center of Florence, Italy. A tragic incident – the near-death experience of Mamadou: an 18-year-old boy from Guinee-Conakry – actually led to a treasurable initiative. After a surprising chain of events, United Painting, The Student Hotel and II Cenacolo: a Florence based social cooperative, joined forces and started a unique project. Together with a group of young enthusiastic and talented newcomers, we created an amazing floor-artwork in the city center of Florence.

The creation of Mamadou’s Pool – named after the incident – brought bright new colors to the old renaissance city of Italy and illustrates how art can build bridges between old- and new residents.

Mamadou: I don’t know what to say. This is something that I never expected to happen. When people hear the name, maybe they will be curious and they will find out this story. That is something that I will never forget.”

HOW IT ALL STARTED

One day, 18-year-old Mamadou was playing soccer with his friends when the ball was kicked over a fence and landed in a pool of water. Unaware of the depth, Mamadou jumped over the fence to retrieve the ball. But instead of a small puddle of mud, he landed in a deep pool of water. Not being able to swim, this innocent act soon turned into a very dangerous situation. Luckily, one of Mamadou’s friends immediately went to seek help and he was dragged out of the water just in time.

WHAT IT ALL MEANT

Chiara Meiattini has trouble finding the words to express how happy she is with this collaboration. “We feel a bit drunk, like we are drunk from happiness!” Chiara has been working as a social worker at Cenacolo for almost twenty years and explains that they are not used to work with organizations like The Student Hotel or United Painting. “In Italy we don’t have companies with these attitudes, this approach. A lot of people don’t even think that Cenacolo’s work is relevant. Influenced by TV and right-wing politicians, it’s hard for people to understand and accept the importance of welcoming and helping the newcomers.”

Nassira, a cultural mediator at Cenacolo, explains that therefore, in Florence – where art has always played a crucial role – a community art project like this can have huge effects. The creation of Mamadou’s Pool brought color to the city and made it look more beautiful than it already was. As a consequence, the local community saw that these boys can – and are willing to – contribute to society. It strengthened the bonds between the newcomers and the local community and has the potential to change people’s (negative) perceptions.

The property was owned by Charlie MacGregor – founder of The Student Hotel – who happened to be in the area for the opening of one of his hotels. Charlie went over to see what was going on. Here, he met the team of II Cenacolo: an organization that is working on the social needs of the local community. For the last three years they’ve been providing shelter and activities to the growing group of migrant youngsters in Florence. An important but often underappreciated task. They are fighting popular thoughts of scared and angry people every single day. Charlie listened to their stories and became very intrigued by their work.

Chiara Meiattini: “A lot of people don’t even think that Cenacolo’s work is relevant. Influenced by TV and right-wing politicians, it’s hard for people to understand and accept the importance of welcoming and helping the newcomers.”

Together they thought of possible innovative ways to improve the situation. Charlie had worked together with United Painting before, and it didn’t take long for this connection to pop-up. ‘Wouldn’t it be perfect to come up with an artwork for the soon to be opened hotel?’ An idea was born and already six weeks later, we are mixing paint and taping floors in Florence, Italy!

Matteo Bianchi: “They took a lot of photos to share with friends and even encouraged others to do voluntary work, to help the society that you’re in.”

Moreover, the project helped to fight against distress among the youngsters as it distracted them from their current difficult situation. Matteo Bianchi, another social worker, explains they became a tight group and all of them felt proud to be part of it. “They took a lot of photos to share with friends and even encouraged others to do voluntary work, to help the society that you’re in.” The project motivated youngsters to help the society, and by that, making the bonds among each other – as well as to society – stronger. It illustrates how art can function as the social glue of the community.

WHERE IT WILL TAKE US...

Due to the enthusiasm of the youngsters, the artwork was already finished within a week. And although short in time, its importance was felt everywhere in Florence. Hundreds of people – including the Mayor – joined The Student Hotel opening event. Chiara remembers being a bit worried for that opening night as the boys had to face a situation that they were not used to.

“To come to a beautiful hotel, to an event everybody in Florence was talking about and meet all these successful young Italian people.” Fortunately, everything went well and everybody was really happy!

This project was a fantastic experience for us, and we hope to bring more bright colours to Florence soon! One lucky meeting and the desire of people to listen to each other was all it took to put this treasurable initiative together. Therefore, we want people to hear Chiara’s final message loud and clear: “If we have the patience to just talk, and really listen to people, we can have so many opportunities – we can achieve almost anything!”