There is a new gang in town, and to Lisbon’s wider population they are becoming a familiar sight. Echoes of their presence has marked the streets; in broad daylight, the gangs pulls cans out of bags, approaches council-owned property and leaves calling-cards in the form of a graffiti tags. LATA 65 might sound like a regular street gang – but its members are all over the age of 60.
In reality, members of LATA 65 aren’t quite as menacing. Founded by Lara Seixo Rodrigues, a street artist from eastern Portugal, LATA 65 is an art workshop that works with senior citizens.
Lara first started working with her affectionately named ‘oldies’ in her home town in 2011. The workshop grew from the Wool project in Covilhã, a town located in the district of Castelo Branco, close to the Spanish border. It started as a way of bringing art closer to the communities, and a way of bringing the communities themselves closer together. More importantly, it also helped to support inclusion for a huge group of society that might otherwise be marginalised.
Lara first noticed the elderly’s interest in graffiti when she was out creating art in the streets of Covilhã. Lara and her fellow street artists realised that older people were often present, watching the graffiti artists at work. “They were the ones who were most interesting in what we were doing,” she said. “And it wasn’t just because they had time on their hands!”
The team began to work with the town’s older citizens, holding workshops that helped them to design their own ‘tags’ – a graffiti signature – and go out on the streets to make their marks. Now over 100 ‘oldies’ have been through the LATA 65 workshop, with an impressive age range of 63 to 93.
In the first part of the workshop the students talk a lot about the history of graffiti, how it appeared in USA, the rules, technical names, and how it came to Europe. Conversations and lessons are shaped around street art and the difference types of graffiti, who paints in the streets and artists' careers. Lara and her team continually reference images of popular street art so that learners can identify with what they see in their city every day.
The second half of the workshop is more practical. Learners design their own tag, projecting the image onto a wall. They then create a stencil to use. And just after this, with the walls prepared, they head to the streets.
LATA 65 works directly with the council to get permissions to the walls, and it’s clear to see why the local government is so happy to support the workshop. “I think and I see in every project that street art is close to the people,” Lara says. “It’s in the streets, it talks to the community. Street art is given to the community by artists. It is the most democratic way of showing art to the people and getting them into the arts.”
Lara believes that the ‘oldies’ have a lot they can give back to the community – if the structure is there to allow them to. “All countries should invest in quality and new activities, because elderly people can be motivated, they want to learn new things and activities,” she said.
The impact the project has had on the community in Portugal has been palpable, with many people being initially taken aback by the sight of the elderly graffitting walls. “People understand that older people can do different things, they can be motivated. You can see their happiness in the photos. They’re not to be put aside!”
Street art hasn’t just helped to quash misconceptions people have about street art and the elderly. LATA 65 works in areas close to where the older people live, so that they can identify with what they see during their daily routine. Street art is unique in its ability to join the neighbourhoods with the people that inhabit them, Lara said, as it’s in the streets, close to the people – it can talk to the community.
And this is the key to LATA 65’s success. It has also given older people a greater connection to an environment, that is increasingly unrecognisable from the place they knew in their youth. Thanks to LATA 65, there is a new gang on the block saying, ‘Now I understand what I see in the streets’.