Where? Why? With whom? Introducing the 7th District Erzsébetváros, Budapest

“DemArt” commissioners introduce the locations and communities they want to work with, mentioning historical, economic and geopolitical aspects and social context. They share their dreams and expectatios that cultural activities, visibility and public engagement can bring to the actual lives of the residents

Erzsébetváros is the smallest district in Budapest, yet the largest in terms of population density. It boasts a rich history and appeals to everyone seeking a unique atmosphere and interesting places due to its diverse character. The 7th district also plays a crucial role in the city’s history. Its development dates back to the mid-1700s when construction began towards the east due to the city’s expansion. It was named after the Austrian Empress, Queen Erzsébet, in 1777. Officially founded in 1873, the district is traditionally divided into Inner, Middle and Outer Erzsébetváros within which three districts have been named: the Jewish Quarter, the ‘Csikágó’ and the Ligetváros.

Erzsébetváros is a densely built-up district with few parks and leagues in Budapest, but also at national level. It has the least green space per capita, less than 1 m2. Its location, bordered on all sides by other districts, makes it the heart of Budapest. In recent years, the touristic value of the district is outstanding, given the history and fast urbanization of this culturally colorful area. Since 1980, its population has been steadily decreasing, and is currently estimated at around 54 000 people. The age distribution of the population shows a picture of a district that is aging to a large extent.  Outer Erzsébetváros is marked on the district map by color blue. The three distinctly different areas reflect the uneven distribution of cultural and artistic activity – may it be independent or government initiatives.

The Jewish Quarter

In the inner part of Erzsébetváros, close to the city center, it began to be referred to as the “Jewish Quarter” in the 2000s. This designation is partly based on the fact that since the 19th century, it has been the main center of religious life for Budapest’s Orthodox Jewish community. Additionally, in 1944, the so-called large ghetto was established in this area, where tens of thousands of Jews were crowded together in inhumane conditions, while the non-Jewish population was simultaneously evicted. During that time, only Jews lived in the area, and the largest population of the ghetto was 70,000.

Our focus is to investigate Outer Erzsébetváros, the “Csikágó” area. The name “Csikágó”,  was coined in the late 19th century, and was not a reference to the later public safety or lack of it, but to the regular street network and square layout planned when the district was built,  similarly to the city of Chicago. Between the Grand Boulevard and Dózsa György Street, a chessboard-like street system of rental houses rapidly emerged by the end of the 19th century. Even today, it remains the most densely populated area in the capital. The goal was to create as many apartments as possible, often resulting in one-room apartments behind a single window. The area faced an increase in crime due to its metropolitan transformation, and with the traffic around the Eastern Railway Station, Chicago quickly became a hotbed of crime and poverty.

In addition to crime, poverty reached unprecedented levels. Many apartments designed for 2-3 people housed up to 20 people for the sake of lower rent, and the poor conditions and overcrowding facilitated the spread of various infections and diseases. As a result, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic also did not spare those living here, with many succumbing to the illness. After the 1990s, Erzsébetváros slowly but gradually revived. The emergence of ruined pubs, art galleries, and places favored by young people contributed to the formation of the district’s new identity. Due to its architectural heritage and unique atmosphere, Erzsébetváros is increasingly visited by both tourists and locals to enjoy the cultural and entertainment opportunities offered by the 7th district.

Social context and themes to address through art commissioning process

In a social context, the 7th district, or Erzsébetváros, faces numerous challenges and opportunities. The district’s uniqueness lies in its rich historical and cultural traditions, yet it confronts the specific social challenges of an urban environment. Erzsébetváros showcases diverse communities, with residents from various social and cultural backgrounds. This diversity can create excellent opportunities but may also result in social inequalities.               Several social assistance and support programs operate in Erzsébetváros. Both the local government and civil organizations participate in efforts aimed at supporting those in need. However, homelessness and social vulnerability remain significant challenges. Artistic and cultural initiatives in Erzsébetváros could provide opportunities for community participation and building social connections.

These social aspects collectively impact the daily lives of Erzsébetváros residents and the development of the local community. Collaboration between the municipality, civil organizations, and the population is crucial for addressing social challenges and promoting positive changes.

Housing aspect and overtourism. Due to overtoursim in recent years, similarly to many European capitals, Budapest is facing major problems in terms of affordable housing for locals with district 7 showing a huge increase in rental and property prices. Access to social housing offered by the local government is limited, which is also a systemic, country-wide issue. As the service sector blooms in relation to tourism, district 7 is slowly losing its once famous cultural and intellectual profile, turning into standardized touristic hotspot. Initiatives should be promoted that focus on the usage of public space, or the usage of empty government apartments / shops for cultural activities. This vision is also prompted by the local government. We hope to see bottom-up initiatives by groups of artists and cultural workers to reclaim these spaces and offer them back to the community. By these initiatives, not only the community benefits, but also artists, who wish to implement social-engagement into their practice. We hope to support projects that offer long-term vision for filling empty and unused spaces for artistic and community-focused activities.

Ecological aspects: sound pollution and lack of green area. Budapest locals would commonly associate district 7 as an area that lacks green space, parking spots, good air quality or a warm residential feelling. Being a historical district, this area was not built as a functional residential quarter. Although the city park is near, many communities face to problem of lack of access to green spaces between the concrete streets. The scope of this issue may reaches higher than the capacities of commissioned artistic projects, yet we can think of the first steps to make this area a better place to live. Projects that raise awareness of the sound and air pollution should benefit the inhabitants. Ideas to bring locals together who wish to contribute to the cleanliness of our home can be a great start. Therefore, we also look for projects that deal with the ecology of our home.

Cross-cultural and cross-generational melting pot . Uniquely, district 7 is one of the most multicultural areas in the capital. Moreover, the mixture of historic buildings and the overflow of newcomers and passerbys create an interesting labyrinth of the inhabitants’ backgrounds. However small this district is, generations, identities, or ethnic backgrounds do not meet each other. With some communities only existing within the boarders of 3-4 streets, we can easily feel alienated from the people who live next to us. We would like to support artistic initiatives that focus on discovering who lives here, how these communities can connect in joint cultural activities.

Lack of access to cultural activity. The cultural institutions, spaces or initiatives centralize more in Inner Erzsébetváros,  leaving the “Csikágó” quarter only a few options. According to the local government’s report of cultural activities in the district, our area is out of focus.

ERöMŰVHÁZ Nonprofit Kft. is an umbrella organisaiton responblsible for many cultural and community initiatives in the district 7, however, their activities are modest in Outer Erzsébetváros. The report also speaks of low attendance which is the result partly of the lack of outreach,  partly of the lack of access certain communities have for cultural activities. By access, we mean the necessary socio-cultural background and sense of belonging when it comes to arts and culture. Other institutions, such as the Studio of Young Artists Association (FKSE) work in a relatively closed manner without offering access to a diverse community. We feel that many cultural initiatives in the area lack the audience necessary for their survival, yet they do not offer the type of open access that would invite different communities to participate. Projects  targeting this gap would be a huge asset to both the community and the cultural institutions working in the area. We hope to see initiatives that prioritize the involvement of communities of lower socio-economic backgrounds. Involvement should mean the act of joint creation and invitation to co-produce artworks either inspired by their stories and voice, either by physical involvement.

As the 7th district, Erzsébetváros faces several challenges and issues that pose a challenge for the local community and the municipality. Some central problems include: Homelessness and Social Vulnerability/Consequences of Tourism – overtourism, which can pose problems such as excessive tourism burden, rising property prices, noise and environmental pollution, and the displacement of the local community/Safety/Public Security/Real Estate Market Pressure/Nightlife and Noise Pollution/Transportation Challenges – parking issues and the lack of pedestrian areas can pose challenges to the district’s transportation infrastructure. Collaboration between the municipality, local residents, businesses, and civil organizations is crucial for achieving sustainable and positive changes.

The Erzsébetváros, or the 7th district, encompasses numerous values that contribute to the district’s unique character and charm. These values are also articulated by the local government, which is a mosaic-like, inviting nature. Foreign communities also arise in recent years, to which certain community spaces have already started to react to. A unique cultural center called Szendvicsbár offers a variety of cultural and artistic events from local emerging artists through immigrant communities.

Artistic interpretation of the local communities will hopefully result in long-lasting effects. We articulated three major components to guide us through the commissioning process. Firstly, we wish to support projects that have a lasting impact. Lasting can mean tangible or intangible outcomes within our district. The longevity of the projects are essential, given the identified themes. Secondly, accessibility is key. Lastly, the project should address a local topic and/or is relevant to the local community and/or involves the local community. By maintaining these goals, we hope to engage underrepresented groups in cultural production (residents of lower-income, ethnic minorities, other vulnerable groups), generate new connections between residents of the area, and support the reinvention of refreshment of public spaces or unused spaces where communities can come together in cultural activities. Specific effects could include higher attendance in local cultural activities, visibility of underrepresented communities within the district, public engagement for improving the ecology of the area, new opportunities to participate, spectate and understand artworks that previously had no connections to the actual lives of the residents.


Examples of previous artistic interpretation of the themes:


This time, a small car with an openable roof has found its way to the Eastern Railway Station. Mihály Kolodko, following his earlier, retractable Trabant on Margit Boulevard, has now placed a similar car at the Eastern Railway Station. The uniqueness of this small car lies in its movable roof, which can be opened and closed, reminiscent of the DeLorean from    “Back to the Future.”

It has become inevitable that every Kolodko statue’s placement in the city’s life becomes an event, and it also holds a prominent position in our city’s beloved trivia list, collecting its charming details.

And this is regardless of the artistic value attributed to the statues; the audience adores them. Fanatics wake up early to be among the first to photograph the new creation with the best lighting. Others stand in line throughout the day to capture their own picture, and for some, visiting and “collecting” the statues becomes a family event. Unfortunately the statue has since disappeared.


On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the birth of master glass painter Miksa Róth, Neopaint Collective painted the mural of his work titled “Tiroli fiú” (Tyrolean Boy) on the wall at Garay Street 4 in the 7th district. Fire wall decor. Budapest, 2015.

Miksa Róth (26 December 1865 – 14 June 1944) was a Hungarian mosaicist and stained glass artist responsible for making mosaic and stained glass prominent art forms in Hungarian art. In recognition of his talent, he was honored by the Emperor and King and became a Royal Court artist. In 1911, he established his own studio at Nefelejcs Street 26, which is now the Memorial House where he and his family resided.


In front of a vacant lot on Dohány Street, the ghetto wall installation was built by Péter Sugár and the ’39 Group Alliance.

In a narrow street with limited visibility and heavy traffic in the middle, tourists and shopkeepers’ merchandise loaders attempt to outmaneuver each other on the narrow sidewalk. Towards the less cheerful end of Dohány Street, approaching the boulevard, an installation of a ghetto wall was erected in front of a vacant lot by Péter Sugár and the ’39 Group Alliance. Those who simply hurry down the street may not even notice why the straight lines drawn by the facades suddenly break here, what the purpose of the two large rusted steel plates is, or why it appears as if the concrete wall has been attacked by mold.

The last section of the original ghetto wall was demolished in 2006, and the wall of the Budapest Ghetto Memorial once stood during the dark days of the Holocaust. During this period, 70,000 Jews were gathered within less than a mile. They were forced to occupy 4,000 apartments, with an average of 14 people per room, and many had to live on the streets.

The map carved into the concrete depicts the exterior of the ghetto, highlighting some of the most significant entities. The map features small, circular openings reminiscent of bomb craters on its surface, allowing visitors to view historical scenes of the area. The memorial is made of stainless steel plates engraved with religious texts and is accessible in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew, providing a summary of Jewish life in Budapest. It commemorates not only the Holocaust but also signifies the renaissance of Jewish life in the surrounding area.


On Monday 2018. June 25 morning, Banksy stirred up Budapest. On the wall of a building in the 7th district, graffiti depicting Viktor Orbán appeared in the style of the British street artist. Although Banksy’s name was sprayed next to the image, the artist’s team informed Index that the Orbán graffiti is the work of an impostor.