…Rue Santa Maria, Funchal, Madeira, off the coast of Africa…
Maybe it’s the randomness of the cobblestones or maybe it’s Dylan strumming ‘when I paint my masterpiece’ in my head, but I feel something metaphysical as the Doors of Madeira reveal themselves, connecting Rue Santa Maria like an abstract dot to dot.
500 km off the northeast coast of Africa is the grape-laden island of Madeira, often described as “having its feet in Africa but its soul in Europe.” As an autonomous region of Portugal, Portuguese language and culture is prevalent even though geographically its tectonic plate is part of Africa. Warmed by a sub-tropical climate and lush green in color, it is a botanist’s dream. Madeira’s arable land is steeply terraced, and the volcanic island’s ash produces a rich, acidic soil, ideal for wine producing grapes. Madeira wines are considered some of the most flavorful in the world. With this abundance of wine and sunshine, it’s no surprise that tourism is Madeira’s main industry.
It is this reliance on tourism that indirectly lead to the Doors of Madeira project.
Funchal is Madeira’s largest and capital city. By no means large in size or population, it houses 105,000 of Madeira’s 250,000 people. Often referred to as “little Lisbon,” I found it to have its own personality. It has many historical and culturally important sites such as the Monte Palace and Se Cathedral that are distinctly Madeiran! However, the hippest district of Funchal is the Zone Velha (Old Town).
Old Town was one of Funchal’s earliest settlements, an upper-class neighborhood comprised of merchant’s houses close to the sea. But time and neglect are powerful agents, and the once elegant neighborhood fell into disrepair over the years. Both tourists and locals shied away, perpetuating the negative cycle. As one local art gallery owner remarked to me: “It was full of druggies and hookers.”
Enter Jose Zyberchema, a Spanish photographer living in Madeira. It was noted that all his pictures featured “old” objects, to which he replied “I photograph what I see.”
Enter Jose Zyberchema, a Spanish photographer living in Madeira. It was noted that all his pictures featured “old” objects, to which he replied “I photograph what I see.” It is this epiphany, perhaps, that gave Zyberchema inspiration and The arT of oPEn doORs project began to breathe life. At first the project began slowly, with uncertainty in the air. City council and local store owners had to be convinced of the project’s possibilities. Fortunately, Joao Carlos Abreu, former Secretary of Tourism, saw the potential and was in favor of it. Support blossomed and the project began in 2011.
Zyberchema started with local artists that he knew personally. The first door (#77, a double door bookcase for a restaurant) was painted by Mark Milewski (born in Argentina but has lived in Madeira for over 30 years), in April of 2011. The project was opened to all artists willing to give their time and creative vision. In time, it produced over 200 doors.
Rue Santa Maria, with its cobblestones and cafes, was transformed into Funchal’s funkiest street. Once a collection of closed businesses and derelict storefronts, now it is now full of busy restaurants, bars, shops and galleries. As you weave your way through the patio tables down this windy street, you notice an atmosphere of wonder from visitors seeing the doors for the first time. Cameras click freely with a soundtrack of wine glasses clinking and impromptu reviews of the doors artwork.
The Doors of Madeira could be a lesson on art genres. The diversity of styles is what keeps the door gazers guessing what will be on the “next door.”
The project has spread like spilled paint to the connecting side streets of Rue Santa Maria. Now, poems also scrawl across some of the walls. Giant murals also appear on adjacent buildings. It is Zyberchema’s hope that the project will spread to other streets in Funchal and towns on Madeira.
The Doors of Madeira could be a lesson on art genres. The diversity of styles is what keeps the door gazers guessing what will be on the “next door.” Some designs are practical and functional, giving clues to what lies behind the closed door. Perhaps an eatery, drinking establishment or shopping? Some have a comical cartoon style, depicting the simple life of the local people. Many have a musical theme or a musical instrument. Others are beautiful portraits of women, possibly to a lost love? Some are sly, like an arm opening a door knob or whimsical with children. Madeira’s connection to the sea shows up in a nautical theme on some of the doors, as well. A fantasy of mermaids, painted circus-like characters and doors invite you down a path which maybe you shouldn’t go?
Of the approximately 200 doors, there are about 160 remaining. Some have been, unfortunately, vandalized. When they are well-worn, they are sometimes replaced. Other “weary” doors are sold, as I saw one door offered for sale in a local art gallery on Rue Santa Maria. The elements have also been a factor. Even though the doors use acrylic paint, the sea air and sun weather them over time. However, the biggest factor in their deterioration has simply been wear and tear from daily banging of chairs and tables against them. It is a shame to see such great art damaged, but there is no easy solution to stop it as their function is, well, a door. Hopefully, Zyberchema’s efforts will bring new doors!
Art programs are always the first budget cut in schools or government projects. I, as a former teacher, would like to point out to school/district administrators that projects like The arT of oPEn doORs actually contribute economically, not just culturally. The small amount of capital provided by Funchal’s city council for artists’ paint has resulted in great economic benefit for the local merchants and the tourism industry. Future artists need to see Art in the streets, not just in museums or textbooks.
Future artists need to see Art in the streets, not just in museums or textbooks.
Could other cities copy this street art project? Definitely. In fact, three similar projects are quite successful. Coming to mind is the San Francisco Mission District murals, the village of Valloria in Italy with 150 painted doors and Aberdeen, Scotland started a project in 2016. Aberdeen is proudly up to 24 doors! In correspondence with Jose Zyberchema, he replied “This shows that no money is needed to carry out this project, only the will of the people and the support of the City Council”.
So what’s stopping your city?