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volume 2
july 1999

La Friche Belle de Mai


  A centre for cultural and artistic activities in Marseille
  by Myriam Tekaïa
  In September 1996 the European Music Office published its report on "Music in Europe". The second part of this study was titled "Music, Culture and Society in Europe" and edited by Paul Rutten. It contains six critical essays and five case studies on the cultural value of music in the European Union. This case study on La Friche Belle de Mai was written for the occasion by Myriam Tekaïa.

  La Friche Belle de Mai is located in a large, forty-thousand-square-meter former tobacco factory, a little to the north-east of the historic centre of Marseille. It was created in the nineties as a new form of culture centre at the initiative of Christian Poitevin, an elected member of the city council in charge of culture at the time.
1 Of every discipline. Created in 1990 on the initiative of the town of Marseille, La Friche Belle de Mai, a centre for cultural and artistic activities of every discipline, is situated in disused industrial premises (40,000 m2) in the heart of the town. Neither institutional, nor fringe, this centre offers a living experience, a home to the arts open to the public, with a wide variety of artists working alongside each other. More than 50 employees from cultural organizations work permanently on the site, together with dozens of occasional theatre staff, artists and participants in the projects under development.
  The principal activities at La Friche consist of musical associations, recording studios, writing, sound and voice workshops, together with workshops for theatre, architecture and sculpture. There is also a local radio, a newspaper and a restaurant. These diverse activities enable La Friche, whose resources come mainly from public funds, to contribute to the development of artistic research. It offers creators a place to work, swap experiences and promote their new productions. At the same time, its various workshops contribute to the social integration of young people in difficulty. La Friche's main function is to offer residential workshops for a myriad of projects. Some of these are permanent, some short-term, and all make it possible to integrate local and sometimes foreign artists in rich cultural surroundings. "The temporary residential facilities provide homes either for projects developed at La Friche and presented elsewhere, projects produced or co-produced by an internal organization (an association already present on the site) and presented at La Friche, or joint projects co-produced by an outside organization and La Friche." Most residential workshops result in one or more public performances.
2 Assistance for innovative music. Musical activities are set up by the association AMI (Aides aux Musiques Innovatrices — Assistance for Innovative Music), whose aims are to set up a "convoy line" of artists going from writing workshops to recording studios and to organize concerts. "Today," explains the director of AMI, Ferdinand Richard, "everyone involved in music, whether producer or artist, must decide his position in relation to two different approaches to production : the logic of the private sector whose requirement for profitability involves, amongst other things, catalogue simplification, rapid turnover and pyramid-style world-wide distribution; and the logic of the public sector, whose aim is access to culture for all citizens and whose main pre-occupations are therefore the transmission of knowledge and the bold innovations of invention, neglecting local promotional outlets in favour of international commercial politics.
  The A.M.I. association wants to restore a balance between these two approaches. Amongst other measures, it has made proposals for the leisure industry to support the activities of the training centres/ workshops / residential projects at La Friche Belle de Mai, Marseille, in the form of sponsorship, and also by developing its role as a link between social services and a high level of artistic awareness, enabling young artists to emerge from their isolation in so-called difficult areas."
  AMI also offers paid training courses for the vocation of manager, in partnership with two other European centres (London and Dublin).
3 Directed by well-known artists. Writing, sound and voice workshops, free and open to young people with varying backgrounds, are directed by well-known artists (MC Solaar, IAM, Sens Unik and others) who come to give advice to about thirty young people at a time, pre-selected by social services. These workshops result in "live" performances and sometimes albums. In 1993 a group of eight young women, led by Scottish singer Maggie Nicols, did a European tour and brought out a CD. Seven groups issued their first albums with Stupeur et Trompette, La Friche's own recording label, distributed regionally and internationally by Orkhästra. La Friche also has five recording studios for use by local groups, selected from applications received. Artists can then present their work, especially during the MIMI festival (International Movement for Innovative Music), which for the past ten years has been held in Arles during the month of July.
  "The MIMI festival is one of the links in the chain of work, and aims to make it possible for talented artists to express themselves outside the norms imposed by the leisure industry," underlines Ferdinand Richard. Generally speaking, AMI does not try to support any particular artistic style, but rather to encourage the emergence of original words and music and to facilitate access to production tools, by undertaking active discussions with elected representatives responsible for the development of cultural policy in the field of music. With its workshops, residential facilities, concerts, festivals, management activities and recording label, AMI has built up a whole network of activities in the service of innovative music, original projects, and even traditional music. "This is not a place which one visits to contemplate culture, rather a place for trying to create cultural policy, to become aware of the potential which exists here. The main objective of AMI is to mix audiences. La Friche is a generous place, open to all sorts of artistic adventures. This mixture of artists and audiences encourages the emergence of original artistic creations."
  Though the "artists" convoy line" provided by La Friche does not guarantee the personal success of the individual artist, it nevertheless plays an important role in integration, especially through its training courses. "Culture cannot replace economics, but here we establish links between economic and social issues. We have a training structure which is related to this approach, and offers support to trainees after their courses have finished. We play a role of integration. Frequently, we enable them to realize their own abilities by changing their attitudes."
4 A source of jobs. La Friche projects are also, directly and indirectly, a significant source of jobs: "A large part of the money spent on artistic productions is re-injected into the local economy." Recognized as a success, the La Friche experiment now has the benefit of the financial support of the town of Marseille (300,000 francs — 50,000 ECU), recently augmented by a grant from the Ministry of Culture and various State grants via organizations such as the DRAC, DDF and DAI. Self-financing is represented by a 20% share of the total budget. Some artists, such as the rap group IAM, have made an investment in this experiment by making all their recording equipment available for the young people to use. "One of the strengths of La Friche is that it maintains a link between public and private sectors," says Ferdinand Richard, "La Friche is a musical observatory, not an industry. For all that, we do not separate culture from industry, or culture from business. All aspects of the music industry are covered in our workshops and training courses. It is very important not to make this place into a ghetto." In the long term, Ferdinand Richard has the ambition of developing other artistic activities around la Friche, to make it into a place of culture and creation, "rather in the style of Temple Bar, Dublin."
5 Writing workshops. Using a network linking sites, mainly social services centres in poor areas, AMI offers thirty young people, pre-selected in these centres, direct interaction with song-writers. These workshops, divided into sessions at three different levels, enable each participant to "evaluate himself, identify his weak points and discover, in situ, the reality of the profession. This one-day workshop leaves no participant indifferent, and experience has proved that their approach to song-writing as a career, and in some cases even their perception of life, has dramatically changed as a result."
  Some young artists, selected from lyrics they have sent in, are coached in the art of rap by rap star MC Solaar. "In terms of rap, the students know what they have to do. They bring in cassettes and have already appeared on stage," he explains. "We develop a leisure activity into a coherent approach — now they arrive armed with lyrics and techniques." Above all, MC wishes to use these workshops to "share a bit, without in any way creating a school of clones. There is a real exchange of ideas: I, too, learn a lot." Lyrics written in the workshops are later presented to the public during the Hip Hop Logic Festival.
6 Hip hop logic festival. The Hip Hop Logic Festival takes in all aspects of the hip hop movement (music, graffiti, dance, images, video, etc.) to create a new type of festival, now widely developed at national level. Hip hop groups from Marseille and other French towns appear together on stage at la Friche. In 1995 IAM selected six young rap groups of varying styles, from all regions of France, bringing young artists out of the isolation they often experience in their own areas. At the same time, cinemas installed at La Friche show films on hip hop, and other attractions contribute to the festival atmosphere.
  This essay originally appeared in: Rutten, Paul (ed.), Music, culture and society in Europe. Part II of: European Music Office, Music in Europe. Brussels, 1996, 126-128.
  1999 © Soundscapes