Festival City 2: Marseille (2013)


European Capital of Culture’ is a roving title that cities bid to hold. The chosen cities – 2 per year since 2000 – organise an intensive series of cultural events and artistic experiences for a full calendar year. It’s a bit like a Cultural Olympiad, which I introduced previously, but just for one year, and without any javelin or fencing in sight. And not unlike the Cultural Olympiad, it is meant to act as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of the selected cities, which tend therefore to be selected because they’re in need of a bit of cultural policy magic.

The European Commission has conducted substantial research on the effects and legacy of Capital of Culture, and has a report available for download that examines the organisational and financing aspects as well as the social, economical and cultural impacts in 29 cities that held the title from 1995 to 2004.

But enough about numbers – time to indulge in some programming envy. Here’s a look at what’s going on this year in Marseille , European Capital of Culture co-title holder with Košice, Slovakia. Bear in mind that these are just a few highlights!

  • One of the flagship events is TransHumance, developed by Marseille-based equestrian experience-makers Théâtre du Centaure, which will unfold from 17th May to 9th June. It’s a huge collective experience drawing on the century-old tradition of transhumance – walking alongside cattle between their summer and winter pastures. The trailer video is absolutely stunning.
  • On the urban regeneration front, 15 Creative Urban Projects (Quartiers créatifs) are “encouraging residents to appropriate public spaces and contribute to their transformation”. A local community radio is producing a documentary to support and further these initiatives.
  • Participatory and local are big keywords: Chercheurs de Midi is a project gathering photographs by local residents, on public display throughout 2013. Histoires Vraies is a multilingual digital library of ‘real stories’ – text, sound or video recordings, bringing ‘real people’ from Marseille, Provence and beyond to the forefront.
  • New Patrons (Nouveaux Commanditaires) is an innovative way of commissioning art: “Giving to all people – independent of financial means, educational or social status – the means to assume responsibility to commission the work of an artist for the general good.” It’s a European-wide scheme, not exclusive to Marseille 2013, and the 3-step process is explained on the official website: (1) an individual or group identifies an issue, (2) is put in contact with a mediator/curator who helps them to connect with an artist to respond to their brief and (3) supports them through the fundraising and production process. The 9 Marseille commissions are placemaking and public space intervention projects “for the general good”, by artists such as Lucy and Jose Ortega, Krijn de Koning, Tadashi Kawamata and Berdaguer & Pejus.
  • An online zine, written by students ranging from about 13 to 20 years old and mentored by professional journalists, follows the events and activities all year.
  • And there’s even a Fringe – or as we like to call it in France, “un Off – with its own currency, a giant garbage bin, bizarre shop windows interventions and much, much more. It’s an artist-led programme with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that acknowledges the contradictions and contrasts that make up the ‘real’ city – ugliness, intolerance, bad art… – and provides an alternative to the official discourse. The Fringe is an autonomous and spontaneous response to the official project: it’s already a sign of vitality and dialogue. I’ll come back to this phenomenon in a later post.

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