Funchal: Unlocking the Doors of Perception

Le Petit Prince peers down a serpentine alley. A nude woman turns to shield herself from pedestrians.

The phrase “No one can dream your dreams but you” appears over and again.

These are some of the many scenes and words painted onto the deteriorating doors of Santa Maria Street in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Two years ago, José Maria Montero had an idea — to have artists paint the doors of abandoned shops and homes. He asked more than 100 artists, most of them island natives, to participate in the Arte Portas Abertas project.

He gave them simple instructions: pick a door and create whatever you want on it.

Not limited to paint, some artists used clay, metal, ceramic tiles and even the keys to a computer keyboard to create art on 161 doors. One artist used iridescent glass and stones to fashion a sunset over a pebbled beach.

Another sculpted hundreds of tiny faces into the surface of a door.

The youngest participant was only 9 years old; the oldest, 65. Soon, the city’s Arts & Culture honchos kicked in.

“We have all kinds of artists: professionals, amateurs, politicians and students — everyone who wanted to express themselves could,” says Montero.

Photos by Olivia Katrandjian

The doors have opened up the street to creativity and prosperity.

An area The New York Times described in 2001 as “rundown and vacant” is now “blooming with restaurants and tourists and life,” according to Roberto Macedo Alves, an artist involved in the project who painted an archangel near the city’s chapel.

“You wouldn’t believe the huge difference,” he adds.

Plans call for the project to be expanded to other parts of Madeira, as well as mainland Portugal.

“We are bringing art to people who never had the habit of visiting exhibitions or museums,” observes Alves. “We are surprising them on their way to work.”