How a tiny Castellón village became Spain’s street art capital

The 320 inhabitants of Fanzara have invited graffiti artists to decorate the entire town

Members of the MIAU collective admire some of Fanzara’s artworks.
Members of the MIAU collective admire some of Fanzara’s artworks.ÁNGEL SÁNCHEZ

Around a decade ago, the children of Fanzara, a village of 320 inhabitants in the mountainous interior of Castellón province in eastern Spain, used to play at staging protests. This was back when residents were mounting frequent demonstrations against a project to install a toxic waste incinerator here. “That experience taught us that when we put our minds to something, we can bring people round,” say Javier López and Rafa Gascó, who led the marches against the waste plant, and have now channeled their energies into a new initiative that has changed the face of this remote community.

The pair have convinced the mainly elderly residents of Fanzara to allow graffiti artists to cover the walls of the village with street art. “We thought that with a bit of luck, one or two urban artists would come and paint a mural, but we never imagined it would reach the point where we’re living in a huge open-air art gallery,” says Javier.

Last September, 23 leading Spanish street artists, including names such as Deih, Hombrelópez, Susie Hammer, and Julieta Xlf, descended on Fanzara for four days, leaving behind 44 murals in what they have dubbed the MIAU, or Museo Inacabado de Arte Urbano (Unfinished Museum of Urban Art).

“They’re probably not really aware of how important what they’ve done is,” says Belén García, a specialist in street art at the University of Valencia, about the residents of Fanzara. “This is unique, because it comes out of a social movement that has nothing to do with other forms of street art or post-graffiti, as these kind of murals are called.

“This is different to what is going on in cities like Valencia, where artists paint in public spaces without permission,” she adds. It is also different to when municipal authorities decide to pay artists to decorate the walls of a run-down area: “This was born out of a residents’ movement and with no funding.”

That said, Fanzara’s local council threw itself behind the initiative, contributing €2,000 to the four-day paintfest. The rest of the costs were covered by the artists themselves, who raised money online and by selling merchandising to visitors at the event. Fanzara town hall contacted the Mur-murs street artists collective, which soon found more than 20 people interested in taking part. After the artists had finished, a number of residents asked them to decorate their own houses.

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Word of the event soon spread internationally through the social networks, and a group of Italian artists traveled to Fanzara, contributing three more works to this ongoing project. “In a couple of years, Fanzara will be known internationally, in fact I think it already is,” says Joan Feliu, an art historian at Jaume I University in Castellón. Belen García says the village is already the subject of study in academic circles.

Fanzara is now preparing for a second sitting, which will take place over four days starting on July 16. “And if we run out of walls, we’ll just paint over and start again,” says Javier.