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The Art of Open Doors: On-going Project for Revitalizing Funchal's Old Town

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

If you've ever been to Madeira, you've either seen or heard about the streets on Rua Santa Maria with the painted doors. In the sea of restaurants and shops since the revival of the street, it's best to explore the area during early morning hours, or preferably on Sunday.

The project artE de pORtas abErtas (The art of open doors) was launched in response to a devastating event in 2010 when intense tropical rains followed by mudslides caused significant loss of life and damage to Funchal.

The Old Town, a popular tourist area, was destroyed, resulting in an economic downturn and despair. However, from these ruins, artistic intervention emerged as a way to revitalize the city. The project aimed to open the doors of Funchal to art and culture, breathing new life into left-behind shops and areas and filling the streets with cultural and artistic events.

The project found support from the Funchal city hall and the former Secretary of Tourism, Joao Carlos Abreu. Since its inception, more than 200 doors have been transformed into art pieces, with the participation of 100 artists. The government first provided artists with necessary materials, and although no direct payment was involved, many artists saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the creative transformation and promote their work.

“Those days I used to walk the streets of the Old Zone and take pictures of what I saw. People would wonder why I was photographing things ‘old and deteriorating’. I would reply: ‘I photograph what I see’”, says Jose Zyberchema, the person who would later become the coordinator of the project ‘Art of Open Doors’ or Arte de Portas Abertas in Portuguese.

There, on the ruins of the old town, the artistic project started. ‘It was a project to open the doors of the city of Funchal to art and culture. These doors were from abandoned shops and deteriorated areas that take on new life, in order to sensitize people filling the streets with cultural and artistic events, continues Jose Zyberchema. ‘That intervention was not intended to vandalize the city’s everyday life, although every artist always wants to be innovative and "groundbreaking". This was part of a "wakeup call" for anyone who sees it.

The first painted door, created by Argentinian-Polish artist Marcos Milewski, appeared on Rua Santa Maria. From there, the movement gained momentum.

The impact of the project has been remarkable. The Old Zone has undergone a remarkable transformation, attracting more visitors to see the works of famous and amateur artists. This resurgence of public interest has led to the reopening of small businesses such as cafes, bakeries, and restaurants in the district, stimulating its economic and social revival. Today, Zona Velha in Funchal is a top one destination, where visitors can admire the surroundings, enjoy delicious meals, and lose themselves in the art of painted doors.

We are sharing this story which is a part of the e-book from a project "My Soft City – From Flaneur to Entrepreneur", because we want to highlight the incredible experiences our international guests and partners had during a remarkable tour led by Jose Zyberchema ND Marcos Milewski. Led by these two living legends, they explored the renowned street in Funchal and admired the doors but also the murals created by Marcos Milewski. It was a true privilege to hear their narratives and attempt to grasp the extraordinary beginnings of their impact on the cultural scene in Funchal.

Alongside these stories, they shared fascinating anecdotes and intriguing insights into the entire process. These tales will stay in the minds of our participants who were at the tour and, for anyone else, we encourage a visit to the street to appreciate its rich diversity. Each door holds a unique story and contributes to the allure of Funchal's most popular street.

As said previously, visiting the Old Zone in Funchal has become a must-do activity in Madeira.

So, if you visit Funchal, be sure to reserve time to explore this district. You might even witness the work in progress and have the opportunity to appreciate the artists' efforts by taking a selfie with the hashtag #artedeportasabertas.

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