Bologna is a major city where the most disparate forms of art have always thrived, especially street art. Yet, also its surrounding area, amidst lowland villages and hills, can reveal beautiful art works and murals, once you find the right alley.
This itinerary sets off from the so-called Piazzetta degli Inganni (or Piazzetta Betlemme), formerly considered a somewhat run-down part of the town of San Giovanni in Persiceto. In the 1980s, however, it was chosen to host a summer cinematic event, with the idea of painting a system of wings and backdrops. A few years later, the project was extended to the adjoining two-storey houses, which had been left in a general state of disarray.
Gino Pellegrini, a famous set designer just returning from Hollywood, was given the task of shaping the idea. Pellegrini designed a tribute to cinema, a fairy-tale world between rural and western animated by tromp l'oeil elements. A deceitful interplay of flying animals, vegetables and dreamlike illusions.
As you walk down the streets of Molinella and its surrounding hamlets, on the border between the provinces of Bologna and Ferrara, a small town can be discovered that has made street art its trademark. In just a few years, thanks to the urban arts festival ArtU, dozens of interventions by some of the most interesting national street artists have given new life and colour to many public and private heritage buildings, starting with the railway station.
A curiosity: some of the murals "hide" small and interesting references to local history: from sucrose, recalling sugar beet, a typical crop in the area, to water mills, after which the town is named (Molinella), or the "mondine" (rice-workers), figures intimately linked to the history of this town, where the first Italian rice-workers' strike took place in 1883.
Every two years Dozza lends itself, like a canvas, to the creative flair of national and international artists.
In 1960, on the occasion of the opening of the Rocca Sforzesca to the public, an artists' competition called the "Painted Wall" was organised. The event was so successful in its first edition that it became a regular event: "The Biennial of the Painted Wall".
Today, as in the past, it is still possible to admire artists live at work and interact with them as they conceive their creations.
The paintings blend in with the windows, the arches and the doors of the houses... like "The Angel of Dozza": a majestic angelic figure that lies on the ground leaning against a doorway, almost as a sign of protection for the house he eternally watches over.
A total of nine editions of the Restart Urban Festival have been held so far, the event that redevelops Imola's neighbourhoods through street art and Urban Culture. From the railway and bus stations to the school buildings, over the subways and the Enzo and Dino Ferrari International Circuit, the traces left by the passage of street art are quite striking, colourful and evocative.
The artists involved in this ten-year project include some of the leading national and international talents in street art: the Brazilian Eduardo Kobra with his mural dedicated to Ayrton Senna, the Portuguese Bordalo II with his giant Koala made of recycled plastic, and the Italian Dissenso Cognitivo, to name but a few. The perfect way to discover all murals in Imola is obviously by bike!
The "Porretta Street Art" project arose in the wake of the success of the Porretta Soul Festival, an event set up in 1988 and now considered the most important European celebration in the field of rhythm and blues. 10 paintings are now adorning the town, each created by a different artist.
Thanks to their talent, a walk through the streets of Porretta becomes an incredible experience, a journey between art and music, brought together in a union dedicated to the warm notes of the blues. Perhaps the most emblematic mural of the project is "Soul Men" by Antonio Cotecchia, which pays homage to four great performers: Solomon Burke (author of the final song in "The Blues Brothers"), Wilson Pickett (one of the main exponents of R&B), James Carr (a guest at Porretta Soul in 1992) and Eddie Hinton (his only European performance having taken place at the Soul Festival in 1991).
Moving on to the Reno Valley, we can admire the large murals created a few years ago as part of the Pennelli ribelli (Rebel Paintbrushes) initiative and displayed on some of the outside walls of the former paper mill in Lama di Reno (Marzabotto). One such installation bears iconographic references to the legendary commander Lupo, Mario Musolesi, a partisan at the head of the Stella Rossa Brigade, who fought the Nazi-Fascists in the Monte Sole area.
Going back up the Porrettana road, a worthwhile stop is the village of Tolè, a hamlet of the municipality of Vergato where, thanks to the ArTolè event, visitors can enjoy a picture-perfect open-air collection of artworks around its streets, squares and characteristic stone houses. The exhibition includes over one hundred works ranging from sculptures, paintings and murals by artists such as Wolfango, Rolando Gandolfi, Demetrio Casile, Paolo Gualandi, Roberto Barbato, Luigi Faggioli and Alfredo Marchi.
Nearby, we also recommend visiting "L'Oasi", located in Paolo Gualandi's workshop inside a former mill, where the sculptor himself curates the permanent collection "Bologna Velata" (40 works by different artists).