ciudadMULTIPLEcity: Art with the City
Often in urban art events, the idea comes first and then the city. The city acts more like a site; a place where the will, the logistical framework, and the financial support necessary to carry out the idea all come together.
In this case, it worked the other way around. ciudadMULTIPLEcity was inspired by Panama City. The city was the project’s protagonist. In the words of curator and art historian Okwui Enwezor:
ciudadMULTIPLEcity represents one of the most ambitious attempts of its kind, bringing a multiplicity of civic actors to confront the question of the urban condition in the setting of globalization. This project is a spur to critical action and an important contribution to the growing rethinking of the city, especially within the deficits so evident in the cities of the developing world.
According to Enwezor and others, the international event “ciudadMULTIPLEcity: Art>Panama” —conceived and curated by Gerardo Mosquera and Adrienne Samos, and presented in March and April 2003 to celebrate Panama’s centenary of independence— represented a watershed for contemporary artistic practices in the public realm.
ciudadMULTIPLEcity also meant an exceptional experience for Panama. Three Panamanians and twelve artists from Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia were invited to create works capable of having a direct impact on the people in the streets. The foreign artists visited our small but dense metropolis for a couple of weeks to conceive their works a year or so before the event and returned in March 2003 to carry them out. All works were conceived as hybrid experiments, fusing diverse contemporary genres such as video, photography, happening, installation, sculpture, painting, performance, conceptualism, participatory art, and community work.
Our challenge was to transcend the art world and involve ordinary citizens, not with mere spectacle or conventional public art, but with experimental practices that had to be both accessible and relevant to the residents of this city. Writer, activist, and critic Stephen Zacks identified the event as “the art of democracy” and cultural thinker George Yudice observed that:
In contrast to curators and artists who create urban art interventions by parachuting into a city they do not know, cityMULTIPLEcity emerged from the needs of Panamanian artists to mobilize society, turning the city into creative actor and artwork. This event and the book itself make the public experience even more audible and readable; precisely what art, as a heuristic, best does. 
The artworks and the entire artistic process generated multiple dialogues with the city, its people, and its imaginaries. All these public and ephemeral works were exhibited or carried out during a month: from 20 March to 20 April 2003. One of our key strategies was our decentralized curatorial approach. Each project by a guest artist was coordinated by a young artist or professional who, along with several collaborators—in the case of the visiting artists—acted as direct interlocutors, especially in terms of their relationships with the city and the projects’ logistics. In total, the event had more than 70 volunteers of diverse interests, professions, and ages.
From the very outset, we intended for the event to be educational; a necessary task in a country lacking sufficient knowledge and training in the contemporary arts. As part of this agenda, the artists offered public talks and participated in workshops and other encounters. ciudadMULTIPLEcity was conceived as a large informal workshop where Panamanian artists, students, educators, technicians, and designers could work with colleagues with more experience or from other fields—such as architecture, history, sociology or literature—, and participated directly or indirectly in the execution, and even in the conception, of the works. It is worth noting that ten young Nicaraguan artists—congregated by artist and educator Patricia Belli—traveled by bus to Panama to work on the event. Their participation was crucial for the work of Francis Alÿs and Rafael Ortega.
ciudadMULTIPLEcity 500: Art with the People
The extreme narrowness of the isthmus and its strategic location between two oceans made Panama a global city before globalization. Bridges unite sections of land, but the land of Panama has bridged the waters of the world, even centuries before the interoceanic canal was built. Our city has become the epitome of transit and movement. Built in 15 August 1519, its colonial history dates back to Panama Viejo (Old Panama), the first capital city founded by Europeans on the American mainland. On 15 August 2019, Panama will celebrate its 500th birthday, an event of great significance for the city, the country, and the region.
This historical date—and after 15 years of deliberations, experiences, and actions generated by ciudadMULTIPLEcity—motivated us to conceive a second edition, which by no means will be a mere sequel to the first one. This city has changed enormously and art must respond to these changes. Panama’s rapid suburban expansion towards the north, east and west, as well as the Canal area, has turned it into Central America’s most sprawling city. A favorite neighborhood for many of ciudadMULTIPLEcity’s participating artists in 2003 was San Felipe. This historic district whose rich and hybrid cultural life was produced and shared by longtime residents belonging to different ethnic groups and social classes, has suffered extreme gentrification, with the consequent erosion of its unique human heritage. On the other hand, serious political crises around the globe have caused new waves of immigrants to the isthmus, who in turn have transformed Panama’s economy and society. As for the increasing public polarization around crucial issues such as sex education, LGTBQ rights or the decriminalization of abortion, it has exacerbated prejudices, tensions, and conflicts. However, it has also triggered open dialogues, emancipatory actions, and collective solidarity. No less important is the fact that the country has learned to manage its canal without the US colonial yoke. This new stage requires Panama to see itself as a nation both sovereign and global, and to face controversial aspects of its history and its present; especially, the huge socioeconomic inequalities and exclusions.
If ciudadMULTIPLEcity in 2003 sought to engage people in the streets and intervene in the contexts of Panama City, the second version of this event will focus even more on its inhabitants, not only as subjects of attention and interaction, but as active protagonists. As artists. The new ciudadMULTIPLEcity will expand the artistic and cultural exchange with different communities, to the point that they—accompanied by the participating artists as facilitators—will decide what directions the works and actions will take.
In other words, the new ciudadMULTIPLEcity (CM500) will aim to encourage people outside the art world to take an active part in the works; to represent themselves, their interests, thoughts, imaginaries, and aptitudes. Can the art world establish an ongoing dialogue with diverse publics and communities, leaving aside its tradition of imposition, exclusion, and condescension? This question—which is being increasingly posed in the international arena after more than two decades of significant public art projects—is the starting point for CM500.
In order to maintain a greater coherence with our purpose of deepening the dynamics of working with communities, instead of grouping all the artists in a single encounter to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of Panama, this version will operate as a series of projects throughout 2019… and also some time before and beyond 2019.
CM500 will include public art demonstrations, workshops, exhibitions, artists-in-residence, forums, debates, and publications by artists, sociologists, historians, and other scholars and professionals. Finally, a book and a documentary film will gather and analyze these experiences.
In sum, this project arises from Panama’s recent transformations, which merit creative evaluations and actions. In the international arena, society and art are also changing and bring new challenges and perspectives, which in turn demand creative dialogues between the various urban actors. On this historic birthday, CM500 seeks to help open the floodgates of exclusion through critical thinking and a caring imagination.
 Gerardo Mosquera y Adrienne Samos, eds., ciudadMULTIPLEcity. Art>Panama. Urban Art and Global Cities: an Experience in Context, Amsterdam: 2004, Kit Publishers (the book); https://www.ciudadmultiplecity.com/ (the website); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpGd6vF8ALI&t=3s (the video).
 Brooke Alfaro, Gustavo Araujo, and Humberto Vélez.
 Francis Alÿs + Rafael Ortega, Gustavo Artigas, Ghada Amer, Cildo Meireles, Gu Xiong, Yoan Capote, Jesús Palomino, Juan Andrés Milanés + Esvier Jeffers Durruthy, and artway of thinking (Federica Thiene + Stefania Mantovani).
 Stephen Zacks, “The Art of Democracy: What an Urban Art Festival in Panama City can Teach Americans About Freedom of Speech, Memory, and Art in the Public Realm” (Metropolis Magazine, July 2003).
 Mosquera and Samos, back cover.
 “While cities such as Mexico (1521), Quito (1534) or Lima (1535) were founded to dominate the indigenous peoples, and others such as Bogotá (1538) were founded to colonize the land, Panama (1519) was established as a place of transit”: Álvaro Uribe, “La ciudad” in Adrienne Samos, ed., several authors, Metro de Panamá. Unpublished manuscript, 134. However, Panama City was also the colonizing epicenter of Castilla del Oro. See, e.g, Alfredo Castillero Calvo, Los metales preciosos y la primera globalización (Panama: 2008, Novo Art), 24-35.
 The pirate Henry Morgan and his men have often been blamed for destroying Panamá Viejo in 1671, right after ransacking it, but evidence points to the city’s Spanish governor, Juan Pérez de Guzmán, who most probably ordered the gunpowder storehouses to be exploded. In 1673, the city was relocated a few kilometers to the west.