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Case studies

Culture Factories: le 6B

Fabriques de la Culture is a regional policy that formalises a network of emerging creative clusters across greater Paris. This has led to:

  • A proliferation of affordable workspaces for artists and creative professionals
  • Access for new audiences to cultural experiences
  • The regeneration of deindustrialised areas of the metropolitan area.

Paris benefits from a strong international reputation as a capital of culture. It has a rich cultural heritage and a considerable contemporary cultural offer. The domestic and international market for Parisian cultural goods is strong, with locals supporting a healthy market for independently produced French books, music and films, while tourists are attracted by idealised notions of the city with its emblematic cafés, arthouse cinemas, fringe theatre, second-hand bookstalls and general ‘art de vivre’.

Beyond this picture postcard image, Paris is enjoying a renewal of the creative content and industries sectors, such as design, fashion, music, cinema, animation, special effects and the visual arts. The creative industries are a strategic and significant sector for the Paris region (constituting 10% of jobs) and make an important contribution to its international reputation.

Over recent years the culture and creative industries have had a stronger presence across the whole Ile-de-France region. Driven by rising property prices in the centre, artists and creative professionals have had to look further afield for affordable workspaces. And as a result of artist collectives, citizen action, or in some cases a lone individual’s determination, informal creative communities have begun springing up outside the centre, typically in former industrial brownfield areas. Some initiatives are somewhat precarious, operating in difficult economic conditions and isolated from more traditional art institutions and communities. Nevertheless, these new non-institutional places offer important opportunities for artists to interact with new audiences. They often serve to rehabilitate ex-industrial sites, and help create a new image of run-down parts of greater Paris.

In order to support these emerging creative hubs, the Paris Region (Ile-de-France) has developed a policy instrument called Fabriques de la Culture, or Culture Factories. Launched after two years of consultation with the sector, the policy helps consolidate existing creative hubs and offers support for establishing new ones (including the preservation of cultural heritage), bringing them all into the branded Culture Factories network. The council offers operational and planning support and has dedicated €1 million for operating costs and €1.5 million for investment to support more than 30 factories.

The policy has multiple objectives: to foster creative activities as a driver of regeneration in deprived areas; to support arts projects that promote greater social cohesion, and the exploration of new processes; to support cultural diversity; to encourage the staging of cultural experiences and activities that are specific to a locale. Having a substantial number of these hubs spread across the region (the ambition is to have one in every district) will support and improve conditions for artistic work, experimentation and research, thereby making careers in the arts more viable, innovations in the arts more likely, and encouraging cross-fertilisation between art forms.

The regional council considers these Culture Factories as places of pure creation, serving both future artists and emerging talents, across all art forms: performing arts, visual arts, media arts, literature, film and audiovisual. The support provided by the council allows them to offer good facilities: well-equipped rehearsal rooms, office space, studios and meeting spaces. Artists working in Culture Factories can also access business support and advice on their projects. Importantly, to stimulate discussion and dissemination of works and ideas, and interaction with the community, Culture Factories are open to the public.

One interesting example of an initiative supported by this policy is 6B in Saint Denis in the north of Paris, a former 7,000 m² office building now occupied by creative professionals. 6B is located on a peninsula between the Seine River and the Canal Saint-Denis, within walking distance of the Saint-Denis train station. It sits at the heart of an urban regeneration project, which is still in its early stages, and at the outset was planned for a housing development.

However, a young architect and activist put forward a proposal to the developer to occupy the building at cost, using it as workspace for creative professionals, artists and makers. The developer agreed, and since 2010, a non-profit organisation has been managing the building, subletting workspace at below-market rates. In its early days, most of the occupants came from Saint-Denis, but now the majority of them come from Paris – a sign of the area’s growing reputation as a creative cluster, as well as the rising prices of the city centre. Alongside workspace, part of the building (1,000 m²) is reserved for communal use, with exhibition halls and screening rooms, a dance studio and a woodworking room. There is also a cafeteria run by a group of local women, reflecting 6B’s intention to contribute to the local social environment.

In the meantime, the initiative has also been readily supported by the municipal government of Saint-Denis, one of the last communist municipalities, that true to its political tenets, regards culture as a tool for social inclusion.

6B and the various other Culture Factories formalise and support a naturally-occurring process of decentralisation of culture, providing access to culture for new audiences in the outskirts of Paris, and access to decent affordable workspace for its creative workforce.