I started working on creating Sonvela Arte in 2013, after seeing the power of colors and art in places such as Vila Cruzeiro, Rocinha (both Rio de Janeiro) and La Boca (Buenos Aires). I was a fan of Street Art, especially the type of works with a strong message. Art is supposed to make people think, be controversial and question the status quo. For me, these are the types of pieces that can be called social street art.
The idea was to create an Urban Art project in a infamous neighborhood in Mindelo, Cape Verde. This part of the city, home to my father's family, is known for the lack of color and many other things. I call these the 'forgotten neighborhoods', which only seem to matter around political elections.
The Street Art would evolve around two main aspects: bright & contrasting colors and thought provoking murals. The project was partially intented as a political protest, a way to ask for attention. But it was also much more than that. Sonvela Arte was about creating change in the places that needed it the most. That's why our motto was: using the power of art for social change.
In our case, the term social street art was not only about our messages. Maybe even more important, it was about the neighborhood where we were spreading the messages. Back then it had one of the worst socioeconomic situations of the country. The obstacles I faced from the start made me doubt if we would be able to achieve our mission with the project.
After I was laughed at on Facebook during one of the presentations of the project I had more doubts. I had been able to get 0 funding for Sonvela Arte. Nothing. How were we going to create 'Cape Verde biggest street art project ever' without any money? The only partner of the project was my company Mindelo Apartments. I had promised 25% of the income of my bookings to Sonvela Arte.
We got to work and slowly started the transformation of (a part of) Ilha d'Madeira. A few of the social changes we set out to achieve were visible within a few weeks. We could see the entire street and other residents fully get behind the project. People were working together, and we would be offered to have lunch at different houses.
The transformation we wanted to see in the neighborhood was not so much about the physical change. Of course that would be the most obvious at first, but we wanted the physical change to propel so many other things. The project got a lot of media attention right from the start. This motivated the team and changed another important thing.
Before starting the project, I did a Google search of the neighborhood. Most of what I could find was, as expected, negative news. A big part was crime related. This added to the bad reputation the neighborhood had. A few months after the project had started, a search online gave very different results. Now, a lot of the messages had to do with the Sonvela Arte project instead of negative stuff. The reputation of the neighborhood was slowly changing.
This part of Ribeira Bote used to be avoided by most people. Now, because of our work, and thanks to the Community Tourism project, there were tourists and students walking around who wanted to learn about the way we approached community development.
Artists were coming to the neighborhood to film their video's, together with the Mandingas and our street art. Rua d'Salgamorto, before the project a ugly and meaningless little street, was now featured in music videos of some of Cape Verde's biggest artists.
I knew the project idea was interesting. I'd already seen the power of art at work in many places around the world. But I didn't expect Sonvela Arte to become as big as it did. Not with a starting budget of € 180. We showed many people what is possible when you get together and give 100% to achieve a goal. And my message during one of my first interviews was that I believed it would be possible anywhere around Cape Verde.
We challenged ourselves to create the biggest street art project the country had ever seen, with practically no budget. And on top of that, in one of the country's most notorious neighborhoods. Looking back, it's unbelievable what we were able to achieve.
**Screenshot of the first national TV interview for Sonvela Arte.
Hi, I'm Freddy, the founder of Sonvela and creator of Sonvela Arte. I'm also the blogger behind the MindeloCaboVerde.com travel blog. Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions for me.