Comuna 13 — Medellin’s Hillside Art Project

During the years that Medellin was the center of a civil war, Comuna 13 was one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. Winding up a steep hillside near the main highway, the neighborhood was well-situated as a conduit for drugs, guns and cash. Paramilitary groups recruited young men living there as terrorists and gangs controlled the streets. Residents lived in poverty, hopelessness and fear.

In 2002, the Colombian military attacked the neighborhood and killed 9 of its residents (including 3 children), and something snapped. The people of the community took to the streets waving white flags.

Shortly after that, a group of innovative residents began a coordinated effort to use art, hip hop music and break dancing to change the neighborhood.  Today, the walls that meander up the hillside are covered with paintings.  Youth are involved in small business development and crime rates have fallen dramatically.

A series of escalators installed by the city in 2011 allow residents easier access to the greater community — prior to that, residents had to walk as much as 28 stories to get home from the center of the city because there is no access to cars.

One stretch of the six-section escalator in Comuna 13 (Stock photo)

 

A small white dog (Theo?) stuck his head out of a break in a veranda wall to bark hello.

Sebastian explains the meaning of one of the murals, which honors old people and children

When we visited, young people were practicing break dancing in the street and children played with balls along the hillside paths. Tourists and locals popped in and out of a tiny coffee shop overlooking the city and an award-winning ice cream shop that sells frozen mango “pastellas” you dip in salted lime juice. The feeling is playful and deliberate, a place of pride and hope.

Break dancers performed on the street.

Carol and Dani enjoy a coffee and some art work in the local coffee house.

Dani and the artist.

Painted village dog

Comuna 13 is living proof that art and music, combined with a little leadership, can transform a community.

 

12 comments

  1. Love this!
    When you say they put in “escalators”, it’s hard to picture in my mind. But I think in an earlier post, you had a picture of a teleférico, cable car, gondola lift, whatever you call it in English. Isn’t that what you mean by “escalator”?

  2. What talented artists! So much more impressive than most of the graffiti elsewhere. I liked seeing all the people with the murals.

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