‘Santral Istanbul’, factory art

Article published on Nov. 8, 2006
From the magazine
Article published on Nov. 8, 2006
In the run-up to becoming European cultural capital in 2010, Istanbul reveals its artistic talents

‘You too can have a Tate Modern,’ said Donald Hyslop at the conference organised by the Bilgi University of Istanbul in May 2006. This declaration made by one of the managers of the famous British museum delighted his guests from Istanbul. The deed is almost done, one of the greatest European cultural projects of the last years, ‘Santral Istanbul’, will open its doors early 2007.

The University Bilgi in Istanbul is planning to reconvert Silahtara, a factory in one of the oldest industrial neighbourhoods of the Golden Horn, into a museum of contemporary art. The new site will house a residence for artists, a library and a museum of energy. Old Constantinople will become the new hub of contemporary creation.

From Guggenheim to the ‘Friche de la Belle de Mai’

During the conference presenting the new museum, the founder of the ‘Friches de la Belle de Mai’, a cultural centre which used to be a tobacco factory, spoke of the project in company of the former director of the Guggenheim museum of Bilbao, Thomas Messer. Prestigious speakers which demonstrate how ambitious the project is.

With its 118,000 m2 of space, ‘Santral’ has made an ambitious bet. Its managers hope to reconcile established and anarchic art milieus. Santral will display famed art productions and more alternative projects from the fringe. The site will not only be an internationally recognised art museum and a creative greenhouse housing approx. 1000 young artists, creators and researchers each year.

The objectifs of the founders of ‘Santral Instanbul’ – creation, exchange and interdisciplinary work – echo the credos of many alternative sites in Europe. The ‘Friche de la Belle de Mai’, l’UfaFabrik of Berlin, les Halles of Shaerbeek in Brussels, ‘l’Usine’ in Genve, the Bloom de Milan or l’Atenaou popular of Barcelona all share these same principles. Though the site is managed by a large institution, its managers want to open up to new kinds of art. Interested in participative initiative, Santral will organise urbain art workshops around its construction site with its neighbours. The abandoned district of the Golden Horn will welcome these new projects with great enthusiasm.

The Turkish March will be cultural

But Santral is not the only project organised by Istanbul. As it progresses towards EU membership, the European town is quick to prove its cultural might. Indeed it has already opened three internationally acclaimed museums and is rehabilitating numerous cultural centres. The works of Picasso or Rodin will at last find exhibition spaces which suit them. Here contemporary art and Ottoman culture are closely linked. In Istanbul, you may see the works of some of the greatest Turkish artists. And that is not all. Gradually the ancient Ottaman buildings and historical administrative centres welcome new artists. A breath of fresh air for Istanbul.