Isola Art Center

group project for urban change

Isola Art Center

still standing

The “Isola” (or “Island”) is one of the few surviving neighborhoods, in some vestige of the term’s true meaning, in the central part of the city of Milan; a former industrial zone between the Central Station and the Garibaldi Station.

Of the industrial complex all that remains is an abandoned Siemens factory that produced current meters, now the sole vestige of the neighborhood’s industrial past. This building, known as the “Stecca degli artigiani”, extends from Via Confalonieri to Via De Castilla. Today it contains crafts workshops, a painter’s studio, several community associations, a local pirate television project, the local branch of a political party and the Isola Art Center. The entire upper level, appx. 1500 sq meters, was not being utilized. The Association Isola dell’Arte (IDA) began several years ago to use the space for exhibitions and events. The place is now called Isola Art Center.

We propose that this factory be renovated to make the upper level into a Center of Contemporary Art, while preserving and developing the place’s present variety of social, economic and cultural functions. Its central location and vicinity to other cultural facilities that already exist or are in the planning phases – art galleries, non-profit spaces, the Fabbrica del Vapore and the Città della Moda – lead us to believe that such a facility could help put Milan back on the international culture map (where, at the moment, the city is conspicuously absent).

Unfortunately a part of the urban planning of the City of Milan is aimed at the “Garibaldi-Repubblica” area, calling for demolition of the “Stecca” and the nearby parks to make room for construction of two 18-story towers and two other buildings (nine and seven storeys). Many citizens and organizations active in the Isola neighborhood oppose this plan.

The parks in question are the only green spaces in the area, and are intensively utilized by the local residents for fairs, social activities, an organic food market, etc.

A group of artists has begun to use these parks and the “Stecca” as places for experimentation. But the “Garibaldi-Repubblica” project would take over this land not only for the above-mentioned towers and buildings (and a shopping mall), but also for a four-lane traffic artery to channel all the traffic entering Milan from Viale Zara. This modification would cut the neighborhood in two, destroying its identity as an “Island”, a characteristic that has made the quality of life in this residential area better than that of many others in Milan.

IDA (now Isola Art Center) has organized many exhibitions and events at the Stecca, with the participation of many international artists. A number of artworks have been contributed by artists in the form of direct modifications of the building and environs (plantings, urban furnishings, doors, lights) and non-contextual works. These works now exist, inside and outside the Stecca, as the nucleus of a kind of permanent collection, though some of the works have been destroyed.

There was a special 1st Anniversary Party on 4 Feb 2004. With on-off power outages all through the evening but a big and apparently very happy crowd. Large article in La Repubblica chronicles concrete support for the project.

On 2 April 2004 the Stecca with newly cleared spaces hosts the birthday party of the architecture and urban research group A12.

18 April 2004: 1001 Nights IDA event with Olaf Nicolai, screening of video by Gabriele Di Matteo, performance by Ivo Bonacorsi with sound by Steve and Gak.

The Stecca is still standing and the reorganized association has officially opened the ISOLA ART CENTER. The idea is simply to declare that this institution exists and behave as if it did. New exhibitions, seminars, debates and happenings have been organized. The project is even starting to get some political lip service.

New spaces on the second floor have also been cleared and opened for the use of invited artists who are making installations.

For the grand opening on April 8 2005, with official ribbon cutting ceremony and the exhibition Art-chitecture curated by Marco Scottini, Matteo Pennese and Diego Ruvidotti (respectively trumpet and flugelhorn) performed “Isolated Fanfare”, a prototype for the Fanfare project (more on that soon).

ISOLA ART CENTER 2006 – The center’s website should be up and running by April 2006 (thanks to a grant from non-governmental, non-Italian sources). This page will be converted into a link.

In the meantime the Center is again hosting conferences, programs, exhibitions. The next big event is THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE, March 27 – May 7 2006. Watch for the press release, and look at the press release for the AUDIO GUIDES.

The pictures are by Alessandra Sofia and SP.


Ok ok, this page is very sketchy and never up to date, but at this point the real documentation is happening on the Isola dell’Arte website

You can see how the center evolved there. In the meantime, however, the bulldozers have almost finished knocking the place down. In spite of rather unorthodox and even illegal procedures applied on the part of the developers (including never having performed or filed an environmental impact study for the planned project), the police and the pinkertons have closed the Stecca.