Barely elected, in 2020, at the helm of Villeurbanne, the mayor had launched his city in the competition that positioned it, forever, the first French capital of culture. He explains his approach to him.
Villeurbanne is forever the first French capital of culture. What prompted you to apply?
Stéphane Frioux, my cultural assistant, came to my office one evening. We are in October 2020, in the middle of the covid. He informs me that the Ministry of Culture is launching a label. He had a hollow nose. We told ourselves that the moment was complicated for the Villeurbannaises and Villeurbannais, extremely difficult for the actors of culture, and that it could be a good opportunity to open a window on a corner of blue sky to come.
You had to believe it!
We believe in it. We brought together the actors of culture, one evening, on video, without knowing how we would be received. Everything is closed, they and they are alone in their theaters, in their places. We begin to present the project and, immediately, we see smiles, eyes that light up. And everyone agrees, no one excluded. We then started writing our dossier.
What guided you?
The “Place of young people” theme immediately took hold. In the political program we presented, we had already really put culture at the center of our project. And in our commitments we announced a cultural policy very centered on young people and on artistic and cultural education; 50% of our inhabitants are under 30, for us it was a test. Furthermore, we were among the first to sound the alarm about the consequences of covid on young people. And so we told ourselves that we had to offer them a way out of the crisis …
And when you learn that Villeurbanne is on the list of finalists …
… Let’s start building a statement around two elements. One, the “minimax”, places dedicated to culture in schools with cultural mediators. It’s a local, controlled denomination (smiles). The idea is that in every school group there is a place to help teachers, connect with artists and start arts and cultural education (EAC) projects. And one of our municipal commitments was to ensure that these “minimax” remained. With mediators hired indefinitely and a million euros a year over budget for culture.
A municipal action already initiated which then fits into your file.
And the French Capital of Culture brand acts as an accelerator. In addition to the “minimax”, another original idea is proposed: a festival for young people by young people. We gave young people, aged between 12 and 25, the responsibility and the budget (1 million euros) to set up a festival. From September 2021 to June 2022, 120 young people created a free music festival, called Réel, entirely independently and accompanied, which attracted 50,000 people for two evenings and one Sunday for families. They chose everything, the stage was Eurockéennes de Belfort and on Saturday night we had to close the doors!
Without the label, would this festival have been possible?
No ! The label was an incredible opportunity for us. Nobody would let us spend that much money! Also for culture… As soon as we said we were launching our candidacy, many people came to help us. And when we won, others came together to offer us projects. At the beginning we presented a budget of 7.50 million euros, specifically dedicated, and in the end the budget increased to 14 million euros. But why the Nuits de Fourvière or the Opéra de Lyon then offered us co-productions. In Villeurbanne we already have a great cultural vitality, with the TNP (Popular National Theater directed by Jean Vilar, Ed), the national center for street arts, etc. The interesting thing is that at the beginning we did it with the Villeurbannais, and that later they joined us actors from the metropolis of Lyon.
Have you drawn up a budget?
It is estimated that one million people have been affected. In internal city surveys, 85% of residents knew that Villeurbanne was the cultural capital and 94% were proud of it. In the shadow of Lyon, Villeurbanne is not considered a city of its size. There, we put it a little better on the map of France. Some mayors ask me if this label is worth it. In particular that of Bourg-en-Bresse, which like that of Montbéliard called me – no, no one called me from Alès -. And I tell them that this label is a great project accelerator!
What makes a good capital of culture?
The sincerity of the project. The fact of adapting, on the history of this city, to its commitment to culture. We were this candidacy, we didn’t tell another story. We have respected a form of heritage, even if we say we have another page to write, something new to share. This label is a tool of political mobilization, in the civic sense of the term. Culture pushes us, challenges us and from this aesthetic shock that creates emotion, that creates reflection, it is here that we build collective history. Above all, we must not entrust culture with the task of rewriting the collective imagination, because this is called propaganda. Above all, the chosen one doesn’t have to say what he wants in terms of creation, he has to leave the possibilities …