The virtuous circle of well-managed cultural policy
Nantes owes its resilience to mayor Jean-Marc Ayrault’s choice of a cultural policy founded on creative work, as advocatd by Jean Blaise. This live theatre artistic director, a pillar of the city since the 80’s, initiated the Festival des Allumés from 1990 to 1995. Ten years later, the abandoned L.U. (Lefèvre-Utiles) biscuit factory was renovated and reactivated as a cultural space, christened the Lieu Unique. Architect Patrick Bouchain designed the remodelling, where cultural activities bridge a sense of history with contemporary proximity with Nantais. The inclusion of a National Theatre produced its first effects : a new image and a new appeal for the city.
In the wake of Lieu Unique, the city of Nantes invested in a policy of dynamic events. The goal is to transmute an industrial past into a cultural present. Today, the city offers multiple attractions bringing together memory-culture-imagination, with the major ones falling within the collective memory : the Royal de luxe company, the Machines de Nantes, Le Voyage à Nantes, La Folle Journée and the Quinzaine photographique... In parallel, a non-traditional public relations campaign underlines this creative groundswell : « The city knocked over by art » and « Nantes, wild with culture. »
Staging public space
Three essential vectors interact in Nantes : the dynamism of the Voyage à Nantes event, the permanent installation of public art works and the « archi-sclupture » effect in the territorial planning for the Ile de Nantes.
- The success of the Estuary biennial, founded in 2007, and renamed he « Voyage à Nantes » is the fruit of a savoir-faire coming out of street theatre; synergizing temporary art and theatrical projects in the public space in « poetic pop-ups ». Every year, the event brings together local governments all along the Loire up to Saint Nazaire and commands a large budget, corresponding to the size of the major tourist attraction.
- Nantes offers numerous permanent public art installations, a hallmark of its identity, many created in the context of the Voyage à Nantes : Daniel Buren, Francois Morellet, Atelier Van Lieshout... Others were public commissions (DRAC) such as the Jenny Holzer piece conceived for Jean Nouvel’s Palais de Justice.
The Société Publique Locale « Le Voyage à Nantes » , under the direction of Jean Blaise, controls the entirety of the event chain : conception, organization, public relations, mediation, advising, and the conservation of permanent works.
- After 10 years of reflection, the transformation of 15 hectares of industrial wasteland on the Ile de Nantes began in the 2000’s with the goal of reviving this deserted zone. Through a strategy of seduction and targeted public relations, the Société Publique Locale SAMOA is piloting this project, weaving together industrial heritage, creativity and economic development around three major axes : architectural innovation, a teaching centre and the creation of a creative cultural industries sector. Alexandre Chémétoff’s team (2000-2009) realized the first steps of the process, to allow for new residential and leisure use, with the next steps now in progress. Following in the footsteps of the Ecole de Design et d’Architecture and the Ecole de Cinéma, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts will be transferred to the former Alstom factory, remodelled by Franklin Azzi, with the goal of continuing its international development (Texas and Seoul campuses) and an increase in the student body. Archi-sculptures punctuate the urban space : La Fabrique, the Maison régionale de l’Architecture, l’Ordre des Avocats, the headquarters of the design group Coupechoux and the surprising snack bar by Atelier Van Lieshout...
Measuring the impact of this strategy on tourism is fully integrated, and many « observational » organisations are present in Nantes : the SIDOC (cultural observation), the AURAN (urban agency), the Scot Métropole (schema for metropolitan-territorial coherency). Nantes keeps a keen eye on its future through an analysis of trends, systematically updating data then made available to local governments for use in decision-making by elected officials. « Le Voyage à Nantes » also has its owns observational body for use by the tourism sector. This sophisticated group constitutes a veritable laboratory in the heart of the city.
This cultural strategy, highly engineered, form public relations tools to mediation to participative actions at the most local level, has considerably changed the image of Nantes, making it creative and attractive.
The efficiency of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts should be noted, both in terms of its teaching methods and its international outreach, with two campuses in Texas and Korea, forming an active network on the ground, as well as positioning Nantes at the centre of an East-West axe.
The question is if this cultural policy will be continued in the development of the Nantes metropolis. A small sign would suggest a preliminary response. In its mission of public service, the Nantes Musée des Beaux-Arts conserves and deploys its collection of ancient and modern art, along with an important collection of contemporary art, but with a budget tied to Tourism and not Culture. Even if the museum has quite naturally participated in these annual events, this institution, covering all historical periods, should be identified by the city as a nerve centre for teaching, education, culture and creation.
N.B. : A case study of Nantes was carried out on the invitation of UBTrends, a think tank on the urban issues, under the theme En scène les villes ! 20 March 2015.