Alison Marchant tells us about a recent community exhibition, 'Villafranca del Arte' that she co-organised, in a 400 year old derelict house in Castellón, Spain

The idea for the exhibition that took place this Easter under the name of Villafranca Del Arte was conceived more than a year ago when a close friend found herself the owner of a massive ancient and largely derelict old house in a fairly remote mountain town in Castellón. The question was what to do with it?  How to breathe life back into the building?  


Between us both, Anne, with a passion for architecture and the visual history of a building, and myself, with an enthusiasm for the arts and community projects, a plan was hatched.  We would create an alternative venue for the arts. We would preserve and celebrate the history of the house and its wonderful artefacts alongside displaying artwork from professionals, amateurs and community groups.  

Two English women, a small Spanish town, a derelict 400 year old house, no budget, limited experience and an idea. No problem...right?  


In retrospect it was an immensely ambitious project.  We had 20 different artists with really diverse work to display, community projects (the birds and a large embroidery), a forest school room with a massive tepee to install, a rolling program of workshops each day to organize, crazy ancient objects arriving constantly, our own work to finish and mount and a building that needed to be made safe to visit....oh and my three kids to home school and Anne’s day job.   The journey wasn’t always smooth (I could, for example, have done without working through the night to replace damaged floorboards 24 hours before opening) but it was a huge amount of fun.  


We have a lot of people to thank for the wonderful week we spent over Easter sharing art and architecture, running workshops and welcoming more than 750 people into our “gallery”.  Several of those are members of Sketchbook Circle.  We were ‘blown away’ by the box after box of paper birds that arrived week after week and the variety of the textile squares that were sent to us to include in our group projects.  We felt honoured to have had so many creative people invest their valuable time contributing to our slightly crazy idea...and the birds sent by the children were beyond spectacular. 

There were the artists and university students who took a leap of faith and travelled out to the hills to exhibit work with us and the wonderful group of friends who volunteered to man the exhibition and run workshops throughout the week.

We were welcomed into schools to work with pupils and donated antique farming equipment, sausage making machines, centuries old wooden spoons, ceramic jars, cauldrons, baskets and sewing equipment to exhibit.  These objects came mainly from older people from the town.  They visited us initially out of curiosity; to see what these two nutty British women were doing with the broken bed frames they saw us collecting from the skip (making display shelves for artwork of course) and ended up inviting us into their homes to share their wonderful collections.

The entire experience was exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure and although there were moments where we thought “never again” we can’t wait for the next time.  A huge thanks to all who got involved!