Nazare, in Funchal on the island of Madeira, was once an award-winning social housing development, its elliptical buildings sheltering gardens with views over the Atlantic Ocean. But complex social and economic pressures have seen a sharp decline in people’s living conditions and the neglected neighbourhood acquired a poor reputation. In 2014 Hugo Andrade founded Olho.te to support cultural activities that would empower residents and foster social inclusion. Simple art events in public spaces gave people a chance to meet and talk about their lives and hopes. Soon an empty building was found and refurbished by local volunteers as a base for regular workshops. The creative work expanded to embrace theatre, visual art, crafts, textiles, carnival and music. People share their own skills and knowledge, supported by professional artists on increasingly ambitious projects.
The range of work is remarkable. Alongside the arts, it includes sports and keep fit sessions, literacy classes, environmental improvements and an allotment for growing vegetables. And it reaches across Funchal, with Nazare residents exhibiting and performing in the city centre, as well as encouraging people in other areas to follow their example. The effect on people’s lives has been profound as they gain skills, confidence and new social relations. In many ways, Olho.te continues the community development practices that artists have used for decades. There is a continuity between this work and SAMP, founded in Leiria in 1873. But it is not novelty that matters. It is commitment over time, to people, to a place and to fundamental values of human dignity. As Hugo Andrade says, ‘it’s not only an act of participation but an act of artistic quality’.