We’re in a run-down house put to artistic use in a large garden populated by mud and odd bits of broken glass. A sort of mosh-pit has formed under the veranda where Angelo Milano, covered in glitter like a grunge version of Gold Finger, is spinning like a demented top while the crowd thrashes out – bemusingly – to re-mixes of 90′s dance hits. Above us, a very big, very pink cartoonish penis has been spray-painted across the ceiling. The overall ambiance is akin to a fertility rite as imagined by Keith Haring and manifested in Italy via Google translator. The location is Studio Cromie, Grottaglie, Italy, an unlikely epicentre of street art. The occasion, closing night of the FAME Festival which had begun oh-so-civilly with a gallery opening and dinner hosted at Milano’s grandfather’s house.
Founded by Angelo Milano of Studio Cromie, FAME references both the Warholian 15 minutes and the Italian word for ‘Hunger’; particularly pertinent in this historically poverty-stricken part of southern Italy that still falters behind the prosperous north.
In the lead-up to the festival in September, the elite of the world’s street artists descend on Grottaglie to paint the walls of neglected buildings, apartment blocks and laneways in the historic quarter, transforming it into a maze of art, Big Ideas, strange tales, satirical jokes and unexpected presences. The festival centres around a gallery exhibition where attendees can purchase tangible artworks, chiefly prints, which helps fund the festival and keeps Studio Cromie ticking over. (If you can’t make it to the festival prints are available for purchase online and obviously the street murals are open all year around.)
ARTISTS: This year you can expect to see Italian artists BLU, superstar of the scene, Erica al Cane whose animal-themed works are incredibly cute and twisty and 108. The Euro contingent includes the witty and incisive ESCIF, wall-sculptor Vhils and the German artist Boris Hoppek. Brits include Word to Mother and the lovely Lucy McLauchlan (last year her works so pleased the neighbours that they bought her drinks and snacks while she worked). Also keep your eyes peeled for US paste-up star Swoon and the geometrically inclined Momo. See the FAME Festival website for a complete list.
TIPS: The festival is fairly organic so keep your eyes open and follow the crowd. In the event that you miss something crucial, e.g. the address for the closing party, try this technique: drive/walk around Grottaglie looking for hipsters and when you find some, just ask where the party is! (Grottaglie is a small town. ) Anyone wanting to visit the festival should check out the FAME Festival website but based on our experience, we thought we’d pull together some of the gaps with a bit of a travel guide for the uninitiated.
GET AROUND: The art is spread across the city and Grottaglie doesn’t do public transport. Plenty of people explore the murals on foot, but there’s no doubt that having a car will speed things up and also enable you to do some regional tourism. We rented a Fiat 500 and it was perfect for the region’s winding laneways. (Regional tourism lures include cutsie whitewashed villages, such as Ostuni and Martina Franca nearby, and beautiful coastline villages such as Gallipoli. Also note food is unbelievably good and cheap.) Failing that, a bike is a good compromise. (See here for info train travel in Italy with a bike.) The nearest international airports are Brindisi and Bari.
LOOK AT ART: Studio Cromie makes a handy little map to the town’s street art which you can collect from the gallery on the opening night. (Bottega Papocchia, Via Caravaggio, Ceramics Quarter, Map link: here.)
The spooky rambling Monastery on the edge of town has inspired some amazing art (watch our Monastery video) but can be tricky to find.
Look for a big red building up on the hill off Via 25 Luglio on your right hand side. It has a sign ‘Instituti Provinciali di Benificenza’ which you can glimpse on this map link: here.)
EAT & DRINK: Note that restaurant hours across Puglia are disconcertingly short – arrive too late and you’ll go hungry (arrive respectively by 1pm/8pm for lunch/dinner). This is particularly unfortunate at lunchtime when all the shops close for the afternoon siesta thus dashing your dreams of a quick bakery run.
Osteria Il Piatto Reale Enoteca: traditional family run joint with friendly service and excellent regional cuisine at reasonable (mid-market) prices. It’s extremely popular for Sunday lunch so book ahead, or be prepared to queue for hours – seated guests will go the full three-courses and then linger over the coffee while your tummy growls. (Via Cavour, 13, Grottaglie. Closed Wednesdays.)
Pizzeria il Forno: Excellent cheap pizza (from €6) in an enormous, rustic barn-like room. It’s very popular with families on a Friday and Saturday night (and why wouldn’t it be?) so arrive early for a quick bite or book in advance. (Via Sicilia, 14/Via Foggia, 12. Tel: 099-5638-927. Closed Tuesdays. May be closed at lunchtime.)
Caffè-Libreria Nomine Rosae: An atypically minimalist arty book store meets drinkery with pared back wood interior and bright red chairs. This is where to find the cool crowd. (Via Risorgimento, 5-7, Centro Storico.)
Vine Caffe’ Di De Giorgio Maria: a typical low-key joint to grab coffee or drinks in thee historic quarter – in good weather you can enjoy the terrace on the plaza.(Piazza Regina Margherita, 16, next to the Salita Immacolta church. Map ref: here.)
SLEEP: Grottaglie isn’t tourist central, so the level of accommodation is not as exciting as that available in some of the more scenic villages elsewhere (eg: Ostuni, Martina Franca). However, if you don’t have a car – or even if you do – it’s definitely the most convenient option for festival go-ers. On the upside, the pricing is very reasonable starting from €35/40 for a single room.
Il Bato B&B: A characterful 18th century house (pictured above) featuring locally made ceramics and materials (we like the looks of the antique floor tiles). It’s situated behind a church in the historic quarter, is very reasonably priced and has free wi-fi. We didn’t stay there, but this could be the pick of the bunch.
Sogni d’Oro: The rooms are plain, but you can bet they’ve been scrubbed to within an inch of their life. The drawcard here seems to be the view and roof-top terrace and a bit of a ceramics theme, given it’s location in the ceramics district.
Maschere Grottagliesi: Situated in a Renaissance building in the historic quarter, it offers three rooms named by different colours. Thanks to the traditional architecture, the bedrooms might be a little on the dark side, but the website does say “the rooms are all furnished with gusto and creativity and respect the ancient structure of the house…making you feel comfortable and cuddled.” We like the sounds of feeling ‘cuddled’ especially when coupled with comic sans.
Gill Hotel: Angelo organises a special rate for FAME festival guests. It’s a serviceable hotel outside of the historic quarter, rooms are spacious and comfortable enough and perfectly clean. It won’t win any awards unless there’s a prize for ‘exhaustive use of the colour coral’, but it’s central and does the job. Avoid the dismal breakfast area – just around the corner you can have coffee, pastries and juice at the friendly and extremely popular neighbourhood cafe Zelig Bar (Via Amendola, 15, 74023 Grottaglie). The exterior is unpromising, but it’s nice inside. Hotel booking: firstname.lastname@example.org
TAKE A HOLIDAY: Grottaglie is surrounded by lovely villages (Ostuni, Martina Franca, UNESCO-heritage listed Alberobello) –which are quite well set up for tourism. If you have a car you could stay somewhere a bit more exciting (like a hobbit-like trulli house or glam masseria) during the festival – or tack on a holiday at the end of it. Follow this link for info about tourist jaunts and alternative accommodation in Puglia.
GET EXCITED!: Check out the video we made about FAME Festival 2010 for Babelgum below.