Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


Contribution: "Cultural brownfield, playgrounds for creativity and social bonding" by Anne Le Loët

Cultural brownfields are spreading, often permitting artists to invest and re-invent ‘empty’ spaces. A flashback of a creative and social phenomena benefiting territories.

The creative and social role of industrial brownfields.

The past thirty years, the rehabilitation of industrial wastelands by artists or cultural actors has spread throughout Europe. The movement started in Brussels, 1970 with Les Halles of Schaerbeek then in Berlin with Ufa Fabrik, an antiquated film production firm, until it sprouted up in France in the 80s with Confort Moderne in Poitiers.

The brownfields are conquered sometimes in an illegal way or proposed by cities such as the Squat des Moulins in Paris or the Poste Lille 3000, they then become true centers of artistic projects which helps to build links between the inhabitants and other populations confronted with numerous inequities: social, economic, urban… Let’s take the example of the La Friche de la Belle de Mai that is located right in the center of an underprivileged area in Marseille: this imposing and exceptional architectural ensemble of twelve hectares is synonymous with the last vestiges of the industrial golden age for this Phocaean city that the economic crisis disconnected from its environment[1]. In order to re-insert the building within the neighborhood, artistic crossovers and participation from the audience are the project’s main focus, especially during the year where Marseille was the European Capital of Culture.

Brownfields, symbols of new projects, new cultural dimensions

 “Spaces of what is possible”, according to Fabrice Lextrait and Frédéric Kahn: “Art always arrives at the place where we expect it the least. It doesn’t occupy a space, on the contrary, it frees spaces, opens up horizons that will be first considered as marginal, until finally it inverses our relationship with the norme”[2]. All these neglected spaces, totally abandoned, by nature seem to suit artists’ desire to install themselves in new spaces and to make up for the lack of space dedicated to artistic creation.

Cultural brownfields reinforce the will to find a new way of bringing art into society. Terms like “intermediary spaces” or “new territories for art”, often employed to designate these areas, are characterizing the spaces for experimentation in art. For public authorities and artists, these singular spaces appear as places that favor the installation of structures aiming to encourage the dialogue between creators and other actors of the city.

The future: between gentrification and social experience 

These empty spaces witness the progressive arrival of artists who change the ambiance of these neighborhoods, transforming into a “bohème”. This brings the need to landscape a new neighboring area to accommodate those attracted to this new atmosphere. At this stage of ‘gentrification’ trendy cafés and restaurants pop up, etc. as well as an increase real estate valuation and consequently richer households settle in the area. This pushes out the original inhabitants and sometimes even the pioneers leave.

From another perspective, since the process spread out in Europe, the story of cultural brownfields must take in account the more telling factors behind transformation and inertia. The unquestionable issue of restructuring cultural and artistic practices around populations and neighborhood remains central. Many projects that are being undertaken prove the willingness and the desire to figure out a new way to establish and invest universes that are both close and far. It is in this aspect that cultural brownfields are synonymous with a renewal “living together” conjunctly creating and leaving a space for the singularity of each individual, even though it’s difficult for such places to create a “political story”. For cultural brownfields, it’s a long road ahead until they find the right balance.

Anne Le Loët, Master 1 Publics de la culture et communication, Université d'Avignon

Photo legend: roof of the "friche culturelle Belle de Mai à Marseille"

Photo credit: Charlotte Noblet

[1] Reference taken from the website of La Friche de la Belle de Mai :

[2] LEXTRAIT Fabrice and KAHN Frédéric, Nouveau territoires de l’art, édition Broché, October 27, 2005.