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Friday, September 30, 2011

Artists getting down in the banlieu

French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand announced yesterday that the state will purchase an abandoned office tower near Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil outside Paris to establish a new cultural centre with artist residencies. The large-scale project also includes the extension of a subway line to provide service to the location.

The Utrillo office tower was going to be torn down, but Mitterrand said yesterday that the state had the green light to purchase it in order to create "a cultural center of considerable influence," Le Monde reports. For over a year, Claude Dilain and Xavier Lemoine, mayors of the nearby towns of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil respectively, had promoted the idea, which, as recently as last January, Le Parisien called "a bit crazy." Details on the project have not yet been revealed, though Mitterrand called it the "Medicis Tower," referring to the Villa Medicis, home of the French Academy in Rome, which he headed from 2008 to 2009. Young artists from a variety of disciplines can apply for short-term residencies at the Villa, and presumably the new center would offer similar residencies in its 17-story tower.
With high unemployment and a large population of mostly Muslim immigrants, the area in question is an unlikely artistic destination. The 2005 riots began there, and the mayors themselves referred to the region as "a wasteland" and "abandoned" a year ago, according to La Dépêche. The centre is envisioned as "a place of diversity, with a modern vision of the urban and the city," another early supporter of the idea, Jérôme Bouvier of Radio France, told La Dépêche. "We could bring in people from greater urban areas in São Paulo, Africa, New York." 

The deal represents a blow for the leadership of the UMP political party, which had been pushing to establish a contemporary art annex of the Pompidou Center in the Paris suburbs, along the lines of MoMA PS1 in Queens, Artclair reports. Mitterrand suggested at yesterday's press conference that he would not revisit this idea, stating that "on the one hand there is the Palais de Tokyo, and on the other the Medicis Tower, which are well established in the ministry's plans," according to Le Monde.

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