The underground pedestrian crossing beneath Balfour Street in Haifa's Hadar neighborhood remained neglected for years. Those who used it were greeted by the stench of urine and the sight of beggars.
"People would walk through here as quickly as possible," said Aviva Sagi, who lives in Hadar. "It was unpleasant and, to tell the truth, a little scary."
Today, however, Sagi and her fellow residents can stroll at their leisure through the passageway while taking in the work of Haifa artists, as the crossing now functions as a gallery. The transformation of the underground passageway has not merely made it more enjoyable for those who traverse it, it has also brought interesting and beautiful spots in the city to the attention of the pedestrians, as the works on display are all connected to different aspects of life in Haifa.
The project was initiated by a group of architects, town planners and residents who are active in the neighborhood on a voluntary basis and who had banded together to form a collective known by the Hebrew acronym of MAX (metachnenim, kehila, seviva - or planners, community, environment). Along with the municipality, they are trying to improve the appearance of the Hadar neighborhood and return it to its former glory.
"The idea was born when the municipality was busy renovating the infrastructure and facade of Beit Hakranot," says architect Yariv Lustig, a member of the group. "They thought the passageway should be closed because it was so gloomy and smelled so bad. Our idea was to turn it into a welcoming place, the kind of place it would be pleasant to pass through and even visit deliberately."
The developed a plan whereby the artists would not merely exhibit their work at the site, but would also paint there on special plaster sheets, Lustig said. "One of our goals is to make art accessible to the people, to those members of the population who don't normally visit art galleries. That is part of the concept," he explains.
The underground gallery has a curator and the group plans to feature different exhibitions there.
The Haifa Municipality has so far invested NIS 40,000 in the project. This money went toward cleaning up the passageway, renovating the area and placing massive decorative gates at each side, which will be closed at night.
"I believe people will take care of the place when they see beautiful things there," says Yaakov Broder, the director of the Hadar community for the municipality. "We saw this as an opportunity to bring light into both the tunnel and the neighborhood."
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