Sara Martín Blanco at Galería Yusto/Giner. A. Bolton
It’s a part of town that does not typically attract a lot of attention from tourists or locals.
Despite being close to the iconic Marbella arch the streets are quieter and not quite as polished as the town centre.
Strolling around the Polígono, or industrial area, you will find warehouses, car dealerships and wholesale shops with a scattering of people.
But according to some in the know, the area is slowly growing into an exciting cultural quarter attracting an increasing number of sculptors, artists and musicians.
It already boasts two impressive, modern art galleries, Galería Yusto/Giner and the Polígono Gallery, that opened in the last three years and are steadily drawing people away from the centre of town.
Like the Miami Design District, the Meatpacking District in New York and Factory 798 in Beijing, it’s hoped that the run down part of town could grow into a trendy, bustling neighbourhood popular with both national and international artists.
And the signs of such a transformation are already starting to appear with a trickle of artists moving into the empty, low rent, commercial spaces that were built in the 1980s.
Speaking to SUR in English, Sara Martín Blanco, 29, director of Galería Yusto/Giner, which opened last February, said: “With the two galleries we are trying to put Marbella on the map. But so far there’s a lot of work to be done.
“But hopefully it’s going that way. We have all these international artists which gives the area a pretty solid base.
“Plus we are in the midst of talks with the town hall to organize cultural events in this area.
“Marbella is an international brand but nobody ever associates any culture with the town and I think that’s what the town hall wants to do.”
Sara said that she would like to see more artist residencies in the industrial area.
“Imagine if you could bring international artists here for six months and people could visit their studios and see what they are doing,” said Sara. “It’s an attractive place to work because of the climate, closeness to the sea and places like Malaga, which has a lot going for it culturally.
“Miami had an area that was derelict and then they opened the galleries and the artists followed. The thing about these areas is that they are cheaper to rent and so they are more accessible to the artists.”
She added: “There’s actually a lot of movement in this area because of all the car dealerships, wholesale shops and furniture warehouses. People make their way here already so now they just need to know it’s a cultural space. That’s just what’s missing. The cultural association.”
A stone’s throw from Galería Yusto/Giner lies the Poligono Gallery which opened in August 2009.
Run by Maite Colomer and her partner Sophie Gravier, it puts on three to four exhibitions a year featuring Spanish and international contemporary artists with a special focus on Asian and Chinese contemporary art.
The pair spent three years working as gallery directors in Beijing before deciding to open the art space in Marbella, which they hope will emulate the industrial environment of the art district in Beijing, the famous 798 Factory.
This was an old and abandoned communist factory transformed into art studios, galleries and trendy cafés, which has become the epicentre of the Chinese avant-garde movement.
Maite said: “The industrial area of Marbella is very close to the centre of the city and it has amazing warehouses which could be reconverted into art spaces, cafés or shops, just like what has happened in the Meatpacking District in New York,” she said.
Maite explained that when they opened the gallery in the neighbourhood there were no artists or musicians locally.
“Then we met the sculptor and musician Manolo Olarte and discovered his underground concerts at his studio, which was a lot of fun,” she said.
“He has a percussion improvisation band, La Contenta, and they make their own instruments, they are really good.
“Then we met painter Maria Moreno who also has her studio here and the sculptor Nimrod Messeg who just recently converted his studio into a gallery. There is also artist Javier Martin, a French sculptor working in wood and Panorama 187, a project of artists’ studios where they share studios and create together.”
So could Marbella’s Polígono district really become a cultural quarter to lure art lovers away from the galleries in the centre of Marbella and Puerto Banús?
Maite added: “Industrial areas becoming cultural hotspots is a global trend. We have worked in the 798 factory and we’ve seen it transform into the hippest place in China in front of our eyes. We think the same could happen in Marbella. There is already a strong demand for this kind of urban activities.”