Transforming Talpiot – through art

“We believe that artists can influence their surroundings.”

Emunah College third-year art students prepare and paint the pedestrian tunnel (photo credit: BARAK COHEN)
Emunah College third-year art students prepare and paint the pedestrian tunnel
(photo credit: BARAK COHEN)
Talpiot’s commercial district is diverse. Enterprises include garages, bakeries, wedding halls, start-ups, construction display rooms, nonprofits, malls, colleges and more.
Externally, the many concrete buildings seem unwelcoming and neglected. Yet due to an initiative by young people, the Talpiot Industrial Zone – or as it is called informally, the Talpiot Employment Zone – is being transformed to a more inviting area, merging and better serving the area’s varied functions and the people who live and work there.
The Hamevoa (The Entrance) project on Yad Harutzim Street, initiated by the New Spirit organization, was completed in August 2015. Recently, a nearby pedestrian tunnel was renovated, largely thanks to the pooled efforts of college students learning in Talpiot; the launch of the revitalized tunnel will take place on April 11.
New Spirit, an NGO founded in 2003, seeks to enhance Jerusalem’s status as a social and cultural center, as befits a capital city, by working with citizens on projects to make the city more attractive to young people, especially academics and young families.
The various networks of New Spirit – professional frameworks that initiate and execute projects – include artists, designers and social activists. The Talpiot network is the only one focused on a geographical area.
“In November 2014, New Spirit, together with the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality, chose to redesign public areas in a creative way,” says Noam Thomas, head of the Talpiot network, describing the “placemaking” process.
“Nine groups were working in nine city locations; each group was headed by a leading artist from a specific discipline. The groups were comprised of art students, graduates of art schools and students in other fields who worked on advancing the project.”
The placemaking processes vary in different neighborhoods, but all combine planning, design and management of the area, taking into account the needs of the residents – and in Talpiot’s case, the employees, consumers and students who frequent the area.
“The project is more about culture than architecture,” details Thomas.
In regard to the recent change from Industrial Zone to Employment Zone, Thomas notes: “It reflects the change taking place here, with offices for nonprofits, hi-tech companies and start-ups located among art and music studios, thus changing the social and cultural character of the area. Talpiot’s light industry and the other areas of activity all contribute to the area’s rich cultural and social fabric.”
Many private spaces in Talpiot don’t fall under the category of public spaces, and this is where the initiatives of New Spirit and others come in. “For Hamevoa,” explains Thomas, “12 multidisciplinary artists worked on both parts of it. Among them were a choreographer, who followed the movements of passersby, and an orchestra conductor.” Architect Michal Meyer mentored the artists.
Hamevoa was created to enhance the entrance of the building where the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School is located, together with businesses and nonprofits.
The entrance now offers a safe place to sit, with a garden and ramp for carriages and the disabled.
“The purpose was to make a meeting place, a midpoint between inner and outdoor spaces. It’s right above the parking lot, but now it is not dangerous,” says Thomas.
The second part of Hamevoa focused on the long concrete porches on the side of the building, which were made more inviting with a splash of color, fold-down benches and shelves for books.
Since August, Thomas has been meeting with others on the deck on Sundays. Hamevoa is a work in process: “It benefits an interesting mix of people from galleries, startups, businesses and nonprofits – all side-by-side in Talpiot.”
In December 2015, Hanan Brand – founder of Made in Jlm, which promotoes Jerusalem’s tech and start-up community – talked to Thomas about the idea of improving a tunnel in the building across from Hamevoa, connecting the parking lot to another courtyard.
“Jerusalem is not just a symbol, but a place where people live and work,” notes Brand. “Talpiot is the only real diverse business area in the city. It’s not solely hi-tech like Har Hotzvzim, or only commercial businesses like the city center. While many buildings in Jerusalem are under discussion regarding preservation, in Talpiot there is no such conflict. The neighborhood is near residential areas, lending itself to creativity, so there are startups, musicians and nonprofits.
“Also, over the past 20 years, residents of the nearby English-speaking communities have increasingly wanted to work close to where they live.”
Externally, the area doesn’t seem inviting for people who want to create, but the buildings’ offices are often well-designed. “In other cities, gentrification is a key concept, and it often pushes out industry,” says Brand. “In Talpiot, we hope to keep the light industry and garages, combined with art and creativity.”
Brand, who also heads Cornerstone Venture Partners, has an office in the Sam Spiegel Building.
“When I saw Hamevoa, I saw how everything had changed. Until then, students of the Sam Spiegel, and the School of Visual Theater and the area’s employees had no public area. Someone pointed out to me the nearby tunnel strewn with garbage. I thought if we clean and renovate the tunnel, it could replace the sidewalk in the parking area.”
Taking Brand’s initiative a step further, New Spirit approached the art department of the nearby Emunah College of Arts. Third-year students in that department participate in “The Artist and the Community” course, presented by artist Ayala Landau, where they are encouraged to promote projects in their communities and in the vicinity of the college.
“We believe that artists can influence their surroundings,” says Dr. Anat Chen, head of Emunah’s art department.
“As future teachers of art and members of the community, they can change the reality through art. Our students benefit from Talpiot, where they are students and consumers, so they want to give back to the neighborhood.
“Through the project of the tunnel, they connected to the neighborhood in a different way, by leaving their comfort zone and working in cold weather. They did it with enthusiasm; the results were beneficial to them and the environment.”
After cleaning the tunnel, one wall was painted white for future exhibitions by area students; the other wall was adorned with a mural. Sam Spiegel School film students documented the renovation of the tunnel on video.
“Some businesses partnered with us during the process, including one that supplied the lighting. We thought of having lighting in the tunnel, for exhibitions and meetings.
But we see it is used by homeless people who sleep here in the winter, so we have to take this into consideration, too, as we design the space,” details Thomas.
“What is important is the process, that something happens between people – especially in a city like Jerusalem,” says Chen.