NUMU is an urban art festival that has been taking place in the city of Ibarra in the north of Ecuador since 2017. Its name comes from the words “nuevo mural” or “new mural” because every year they choose a new neighborhood in the city to hold this event. An independent and self-managed project, in the past it has met with multiple setbacks due to lack of resources, logistics, national protests, and this time in 2020, due to a worldwide pandemic.

We here at SASA first discovered NUMU in 2019 entirely by accident. While traveling back south from Colombia, we got caught up for a few days in the riots that had completely shut down the city (a protest against labor laws and a repealing of a fuel subsidy that affected agrarian communities greatly). While trying to make our way around all of the blocked roads, burning tires, and crowds of protesters, we wandered into one of the neighborhoods that had been recently painted by NUMU. Without the protests we likely never would have discovered these excellent pieces, many of which you can see in our gallery page on Ecuador.

As we later learned, Ibarra was once a city with no modern murals and with a conservative agrarian population who—before this festival began—largely believed that muralism had to be done in a certain way and that it had to reflect conservative rural values. Now the city has become the headquarter of this project that takes it as its mission to liven up the neighborhoods by adding a splash of color and creativity.

Though the festival is now more popular than ever before, not just among visiting artists, but also with the local population; similar to in years past they still have a lot of challenges to overcome. This year a lack of funding almost stopped the project in its tracks; but then the organizers decided to go ahead with fundraising and collecting donations. Eventually, with the help of the community, the artists themselves, and partly thanks to the reputation NUMU had built for themselves through past events, it was possible to make things happen. So despite all the setbacks, (even more than in past years) the festival took place over three days at the end of July and the result was that the streets of Simón Bolívar neighborhood were filled with freshly painted murals by both local and International talent such as Pino Supay, Azpeger, Paint, Rayz, Diegumberrto, Anadnum, and Andrés Cuatín.

The NUMU festival is an example of a commitment to self-management and community power and its resiliency stems from the passion of its organizers and participants who find ways to join together to beat the odds. The worldwide pandemic further complicated the situation this year, however, at the same time managed to create more of a need for self-expression. As a result, this year turned out to be one of the most successful festivals yet. We are hoping to get back to Ecuador when the situation improves so we can document some of the results.