“Culture rejects populism”

fRançoise Verna : You are the Vice-President of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole in charge of culture and historical heritage and, as such, coordinate Montpellier and Sète’s bid for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2028. It is quite a challenge. ?

Éric Penso: I would like to insist that it is a territorial candidacy, it is not irrelevant to say this because in recent years, with “political-sterile” conflicts, we have tended to work each on our side, I am thinking of Sète but also to other intercommunes. There what is fundamental for me, with 145 municipalities that are part of the project, is this territorial dimension. I will have the opportunity to talk about this totally different way of working together in a future symposium. It is extraordinary. And whatever the result, I am convinced that it will have allowed us to work together, get to know each other, share.

Olivier Nottale : What are the steps to take ?

Éric Penso: Call number one for projects has made it possible to launch projects throughout this territory with people from Montpellier who have gone to Sète, people from Sète who have come to Montpellier, people from Pic Saint-Loup who have worked on the coast. This has already allowed us to have a collegial vision of this candidacy. It’s a friendly competition, we’re not here to wish anyone harm. Its main purpose is to promote culture. The more culture there is, the better we live together, the more culture there is, the more populism is set aside. We are happy with this dynamism. For us it is an opportunity to federate and also discover new talent.

Francoise Verna : There was a second call for projects ?

Éric Penso: The jury, which brings together all the actors of this territory, in particular the mayors, the cultural assistants, the presidents of the inter-municipal authorities, will deliberate on January 30, 2023. This is a great first, especially with the mayor of Sète, François Commeinhes, who plays deep! The call for projects is still ongoing as I speak to you and those who wish to apply can still do so on the website dedicated to the European Capital of Culture Montpellier 2028. The teams, and I greet them, are also mobilized for the filing of the dossier in Europe. It is an enormous work coordinated in particular by Nicolas Dubourg, artistic director of Montpellier 2028.

Olivier Nottale : There is also the civic dimension. How to involve the maximum number of inhabitants in the preparation ?

Eric Penso: It’s extremely important. For this candidacy to work, it has to be carried forward by the inhabitants. There are cultural actors who are naturally mobilized by what we are proposing, but this candidacy must be adopted by the population, by the citizens. At every inauguration, at every exhibition, I don’t fail to remind, but also to my colleagues, that the inhabitants feel worried, without forgetting the associative network. If all citizens support us, it can only work. This is an important criterion for Europe. It’s not a neutral approach. The rest will be done by spring. Either it will stop or we will be in the trio for the final in just over a year. The winner will be known within a year and a half. Then we will be operational. The stakes are colossal. It would be an extraordinary boost for the territory, as happened in 2013 for Marseille.

Francoise Verna : You’ve approached the French cities that have been awarded the label, such as Marseille and Lille ?

Éric Penso: We have a dedicated team who worked hard and who obviously met the teams from the winning cities. The dossier is being finalized and will be sent in the next few days. You will know then. We are a young territory, we want to blow a new wind.

Olivier Nottale : You are also the mayor of Clapiers. How the municipalities welcome this candidacy ?

Éric Penso: In the history of the intercommunity, this is the first time that the holder of this cultural portfolio is not an elected representative of Montpellier. This is a strong signal sent by Michaël Delafosse [maire de Montpellier et président de la Métropole]. When I go to all 30 municipalities in the metropolis, I am one who knows municipal concerns. Culture is not a competence transferred to the metropolis, so there are cultural policies in the municipalities and the metropolis acts alongside them, especially for historical heritage. I bring together mayors and councilors for culture at least twice a year to discuss cross-cutting issues. On November 11, I had the pleasure of participating in the 30th anniversary of the cultural center of Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone which forms a remarkable cultural complex with one of the 14 metropolitan media libraries. This work with mayors is essential.

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