FARM Cultural Park

FARM – the workshop of territorial regeneration in the heart of Favara, Sicily – celebrated its sixth anniversary in June with a packed programme of events, with new activities such as the School of Architecture for Children.

FARM Cultural Park
FARM – the workshop of territorial regeneration launched by Andrea Bartoli and Florinda Saieva in the heart of Favara, Sicily – celebrated its sixth anniversary in June with a packed programme of events.

These were set among the courtyards and neat, colourful spaces of FARM, but also, for the first time, with a series of off-FARM happenings.

Located less than 10 km from Agrigento, the town of Favara has a population of around 30,000 people, and an old centre that was already inhabited in prehistoric times. Here, generations of Greeks, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards once met and mingled. But until a few years ago, this centre was literally falling to pieces. 

The notary Bartoli and the lawyer Saieva initiated their act of redemption after the collapse of a small building in 2010, a tragedy that took the lives of the Bellavia sisters. An art-collecting couple who are also parents of two girls, for some time Bartoli and Saieva had longed to do something to halt the dereliction and marginality of their town.  

FARM Cultural Park, Favara
FARM Cultural Park, Favara. Top and above: SOU School of architecture for Children, set-up project by Laps Architecture

To counter the local government’s precautionary demolition order, the Bartoli family proposed a regeneration project to renovate the existing structures. This project based on care also has potential for an alternative economy. Indeed, having abandoned the idea that South Italy must grow to close the industrial gap with North Italy, this development model envisages a recovery founded on the specificities of the local area, its interweaving of nature and history, and its abundance of flavours and traditions. All this is illuminated by the light of contemporary art, which lies at the centre of FARM’s functional programme (a gallery, but also a place for artistic production, a residence for young artists, a workshop and educational facilities). But contemporary art also underpins an aesthetic enhancement of the ruins, which are displayed in a new way as part of a complex and stratified landscape, open to interpretation and transformation.

In this growth model, the Web dimension unhinges the centre-periphery logic, since the local is projected through global media exposure. A Google search with the words FARM Cultural Park produces almost 3.5 million hits: images, videos, articles on Wired, Vanity Fair, Lonely Planet, The Guardian, and much more.

FARM Cultural Park, Favara
FARM Cultural Park, Favara, the gallery FARM XL

Of course, the project is based on a personal initiative and investment: a couple of patrons of the arts who have decided to invest their money here in this venture. But in reality, the key to the project is its community dimension and the desire to do things personally, with whoever wants to participate and be involved by offering their time and talent.

FARM is therefore a genuine workshop, a hothouse of social innovation. It’s a space in which a community of locals and creative talents personally work on problems and intervention strategies, seeking to make the most of their resources, to reuse, regenerate, reinterpret, revitalise and cultivate. For example, commenting on the design of the main gallery known as FARM-XL, Salvator-John A. Liotta (an integral part of FARM’s promoting group thanks to his roots in Favara, and an originator of the gallery project together with Vincenzo Castelli) writes: “A number of formless, jumbled buildings have been turned into a continuous organic space thanks to the demolition of the walls that separated them. This made it possible to liberate the spaces, which are now traversed by free, non-hierarchical visitors’ paths that are exposed to natural light through large windows.”

FARM Cultural Park, Favara
FARM Cultural Park, Favara
The core of this workshop’s raison d’être is an idea of sustainability understood as the desire to leave a better world to the future generations (i.e. richer in potential and resources than the one we inherited). Attention for children is therefore essential, and FARM’s greatest challenge is its mission to raise 1 million euros to complete the restructuring works of Palazzo Miccichè: an ex-aristocratic building to be transformed into a Children’s Museum. “In this place, children will be able to learn through play, experimenting, inventing, having fun and developing a greater critical sense to be better citizens tomorrow,” says Florinda Saieva.  
FARM Cultural Park, Favara
FARM Cultural Park, Favara, roof garden

To give the donors an initial response, the decision was made to open a section of the museum by transforming part of the XL gallery into a venue for SOU, the School of Architecture for Children. Salvator-John A. Liotta (with his studio Laps Architecture directed with Fabienne Louyot) has designed the school with micro-houses to be used as desks and study-activity spaces for the children. In the video room, a colourful platform functions as both a rostrum and a playful device. The walls, meanwhile, are completely clad in a graphic narration conceived by Maria Pia Bartoli Felter. A hall for temporary exhibitions currently hosts Emotional Utopia, a audio-graphic installation by the architect Francesco Lipari and the philosopher Luca Mori. A vegetable garden has been created as the school’s final space, with the collaboration of Charles M. Yurgalevitch, director of the School of Professional Horticulture in New York.

Andrea explained to me that the school-museum will be structured with educational modules or experiences. An instructor will introduce a subject and the children will be given time to “physically create a drawing or a small prototype, and then to present their ideas”.

FARM Cultural Park, Favara
FARM Cultural Park, Favara, Riad
When I asked him about FARM’s impact on Favara six years after the launch of their cultural workshop, he replied: “I don’t have any official figures, but what’s happened over the last few years is truly staggering. There isn’t a single building in the historic town centre that hasn’t been the subject of sale, and today isn’t being transformed for tourist and cultural purposes. Favara used to have just one hotel with 15 rooms; now there’s a continual proliferation of holiday homes, country retreats and B&Bs. A stone’s throw from the Sette Cortili (or “seven courtyards”, the oldest part of the town), work is being completed on an urban resort designed by Architrend. Not to mention restaurants, pizzerias, putie (studios)...” Last summer, from June to September, FARM and Favara welcomed nearly 40,000 visitors, a number expected to rise by 15% this year. For a town that until yesterday was unknown even among Sicilians, this is a small miracle. In an Italy of abandoned villages, Favara is going against the trend, and it’s using its past as a foundation to build a future rooted in the breathtaking energy of art and culture.
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