Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Photo Essay

Windows Onto a “Hidden City”: Bogotá’s Creative Districts

Renewing distressed areas and recognizing bohemian haunts, these districts in Colombia’s capital have been praised—and also criticized.

January 31, 2023
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Photographs by Juan Pablo Daza P.

This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on Uruguay

Bogotá’s 15 specially designated “creative districts” are areas where galleries, studios, theaters as well as creative and tech businesses have been encouraged, via tax breaks and other incentives, to set up shop.

Some of them started spontaneously in areas that already had creative potential. Others were encouraged as a way to bring activity to underused areas or uplift distressed neighborhoods. A Bogotá initiative, the policy was later used as a model for the Ministry of Culture’s guide for creative districts in other parts of the country. Residents say the districts have stimulated the local economy, but some have also criticized them for population displacement and gentrification.

Venezuelan actress Johanna Morales, pictured here at the Open San Felipe event, which she directs.
A dance performance takes place in the bohemian neighborhood of Chapinero.
This juggler is performing in a part of Bogotá that used to be the city’s largest drug market, El Bronx. In 2016, the police removed residents who lived on the streets and in empty buildings. The move was criticized by many who saw it as a violation of their rights. The Urban Renewal Company later acquired dozens of properties, seeking to make the area a hub of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology.
A former resident of El Bronx gives a guided tour of an exhibition that tells the story of the neighborhood. Efforts to alter the neighborhood continue. The city recently invited construction companies to take on the work of renewing three historic buildings, which will serve as centers for creative professionals in the future.
Teusaquillo is a neighborhood with large homes, most of them built in the first half of the 20th century for Bogotá’s upper classes. Nowadays many of its buildings house restaurants, studios and galleries. One of them is Mutuo Casa Taller, where artists from different fields have a space to create their work. On the left, Alejandra Cubides, from Tundra Editora, a bookbinding business, and on the right, Juan Camilo Serna Alzate, from the furniture design studio Ochoinfinito.
San Felipe was a sleepy district in the center of Bogotá until young artists started to arrive. Four times a year, during the Open San Felipe festival, cultural venues open their doors to visitors and the streets become stages and studios. Here, an open-air salsa class.
Food is an important part of the creative districts. This taquería in San Felipe is an example of a trend in Bogotá, where taco spots have multiplied in the last decade.
Part of Distrito Creativo Teusaquillo, Librería El Dinosaurio is a used bookstore that has been in operation in Bogotá for 30 years.
Open San Felipe is a pet-friendly event. Galleries and other establishments encourage visitors to bring their mascotas.
An afternoon concert during Open San Felipe.
Outdoor markets are an important component of creative districts, as they bring economic activity to these neighborhoods. This one, in the center of Bogotá, runs weekly.
La Macarena is a middle-class neighborhood with an artistic and bohemian past. There are still many theaters, galleries and bookstores. This street, Calle Bonita, is currently part of the Distrito Creativo Centro Internacional. The city recently organized a festival with tours that highlighted the neighborhood’s gastronomy and culture. Colombian author Juan Manuel Roca wrote about Bogotá that “there are cities hidden inside the city.” With their advantages and disadvantages, the creative districts are a window into some of those.

Daza P. is a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in Bogotá, Colombia, focused on human rights, climate change and the arts. He also specializes in street photography and works with the Creative Districts Network at the Secretariat of Culture in Bogotá.

Tags: Bogota, Colombia, Creative District, Photo Essay, The Uruguay Issue
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