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Can art bridge the Stockholm social divide?

Published onsdag 26 februari 2014 kl 13.46
"They are we we we"
(5:10 min)
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In front of the mural in Husby, Saadia Hussain is one of the organisers of the art project. Photo: Loukas Christodoulou/Radio Sweden
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The mural's main images are of a pair of hands, and is free of religious and nationalist symbols. Photo: Loukas Christodoulou/Radio Sweden
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Marie Rosen Wiberg is a teacher at Vasa Real school. The mural is in nearby Odenplan. Photo: Loukas Christodoulou/Radio Sweden

Last springtime saw an outbreak of rioting in the Stockholm suburbs. Unusual by Swedish standards, it saw cars and some buildings for several nights in a row. Many are worried that this is a sign that the poverty-stricken outskirts of the city are becoming more separated from the wealthy centre. Radio Sweden reports on an art project that aims to bring the two sides of Stockholm together, by creating giant murals.

Marie Rosen Wiberg is a teacher at Vasa Real school, in the well-off centre of Stockholm. She leads a project bringing her school together with kids from Rinkeby, an area of high poverty, unemployment and social housing. They worked together on a large wall painting, but the two groups of children had different attitudes.

She says the Vasa children's attitude is "me me me" while the Rinkeby children, used to looking after young siblings, think "we we we." The children created a long painting near central Stockholm's Odenplan Metro station, home ground for the Vasa Real pupils.

A bus ride takes us to the site of another painting, out in the suburb of Husby. The organisers have a vision that mural paintings can lead to positive social change. But Stockholm has a zero tolerance policy against grafitti, and Saadia Hussain tells me the state run companies that own the buildings were wary at first.

"There was quite a lot of fear...we had to cool them down. But it was based on trust. They gave us this wall and they trusted us."

Asking some young girls nearby what they think of the painting, "it's nice." But will someone come and paint over it, graffiti it? "No way," they say.

The painting in Odenplan is funded by Stockholm city's art budget. By local law every new building has to have one percent spent on art.

But this rule does not apply across the whole of Sweden. Katarina Jönsson Norling, of the artists' national association, says many local authorities have one percent on art as a spending target, but few live up to it.

Teacher Marie Rosen Wiberg says one of the girls from central Stockholm's Vasa School is still friends with a girl from Rinkeby School.

In this case the Stockholm art budget is having a very real impact on people's lives, bridging a geographic and class divide.

Loukas Christodoulou
loukas.christodoulou@sverigesradio.se
@Loukas_RS

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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