Art and cultural centres formed from grassroots artistic initiatives
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Art and cultural centres formed from grassroots artistic initiatives. Reconversion of industrial, militar and commercial sites into creative centres ? TRENDS. A BIT OF HISTORY . Alternative centres from the 70s to the 80s. Very few « alternative » artistic centres emerged in Europe.

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Art and cultural centres formed from grassroots artistic initiatives l.jpg

Art and cultural centresformed from grassroots artistic initiatives




Alternative centres from the 70s to the 80s l.jpg
Alternative centres from the 70s to the 80s

Very few « alternative » artistic centres emerged in Europe.

They were an alternative to existing cultural institutions that cities were setting up :

They showed contemporary art forms that one would not see elsewhere in music, visual arts, performing arts...

with a specificity from the beginning : multidisciplinary oriented, multifunctionnality of spaces, warmest contact with audience/people


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A few examples

The Project

(Dublin - Ireland)

Foundation date: 1966


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Melkweg (Amsterdam- The Netherlands)

Foundation date: 1970

Former use: dairy


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De Effenaar (Eindhoven- Netherlands)

Foundation date: 1971

Former use: linen factory


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Halles de Schaerbeek (Brussels - Belgium)

Foundation date: 1974

Former use: market


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Ateneu (Barcelona - Spain)

Foundation date: 1977

Former use: asphalt plant and machines storehouse


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Rote fabrik (Zurich, Switzerland)

Foundation date : 1980


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Kultur Huset (Aarhus, Denmark)

Foundation date : 1972


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City arts Centre (Dublin – Ireland)

Foundation date: 1973

Former use: ship chandlers


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ufaFabrik (Berlin – Germany)

Foundation date: 1979

Former use: Ufa cinematographic company


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In the 80s

WUK (Vienna - Austria)

Foundation date: 1981

Former use: locomotive factory


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Le Confort Moderne (Poitiers- France)

Foundation date: 1985

Former use: warehouse for electrical appliances


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Vooruit (Gent - Belgium )

Foundation date: 1982

Former use: village hall, from 1912


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The beginning of a movement

  • Many more started but remained ephemeral

  • Groups occupied empty industrial sites which occured to be adapted to the needs of artistic emerging creations and practices


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Developments in the 90s

  • Moment of multiplication of these centres, of better identification, and of better recognition from the politics

  • Development of cultural networking raising their voice at European level

  • Evolution of the contents : not only presentation of art (concerts, performances, ..) but the spaces are used as well for creation, art laboratory, confrontation...

  • Beginning of urban planning and urban development related to the re-use of former industrial sites from cities or local/regional authorities (e.g. Germany)

  • More than 30 initiatives in Western Europe and some in Central and Eastern (Metelkova, project in Brno…)


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Some cities start reusing factory as well for cultural multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)


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From mid 90s to today multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Development of creative centres everywhere in the world

  • With different specifities : neighboorhood oriented, art as a priority, relation with cities and government, …

  • All in all the development went mostly from spaces « showing » art to spaces « exploring » art and its relation to society.


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Mains d’Œuvres (Saint-Ouen – France) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 1998

  • Former use: a cultural and sports facilty for employees of the French comapny Valeo


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Kaapelitehdas (Helsinki – Finland) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 1991

  • Former use: cable factory owned by Nokia Ltd


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Who are the initiators of such spaces? multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • artists , groups of artists (mostly visual artists)

  • cultural activists or cultural and social activists

  • one artistic company (generally choreographer or theatre director e.g. in France Maguy Marin, François Verret, Ariane Mouchkine)

  • initiative of a neighborhood / a community (e.g. Ateneu in Spain, few in Latin America)

  • city or local/regional authorities (more and more)


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How does it function ? multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Different type of occupation :

    1) Some started sometimes as squatts,

    2) negociation of contract with owner for rental (such as governement, private landlord.. )

    3) negociation of free lending contracts for governement property (ex: friche belle de mai in Marseilles)

  • 4) property (very few City Art Centre in Dublin, Ker Thiossane In Dakar)


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  • Different type of buildings : multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

    Former factories, warehouses, army barracks, market hall, slaughterhouses, dairies, mostly industrial, militar and comefcial heritage in Europe

  • Rebuilding / transformation :

    - Mostly it started without renovation works while experimenting the relation with audience.

    - When architects involved, the initiators of the project need to be involved in designing the renovation/transformation.

    - Structural funds from EU were used for some refurbishment (eg. Kulturfabrik in Luxembourg, , Zo in Sicily, Lugar Commun in Portugal...)

    - STEP by STEP : the process of refurbishment needs time to be adapted and readpated to the project


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Transformation, renovation, reconversion multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

Dairies Slaughterhouses

Warehouses Foundries

Train stations Farms

Covered markets cinemas

Military barracks Printing houses, coalmines

Social centres Hospitals,

In brief all kind of disused factories…


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Which legal structure ? multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

- mostly non for profit organisations

  • cooperatives (eg in Italy),

  • A company and a non for profit association (e.g. Junction in UK, Confort Moderne in France)

  • Very rare : profit company (ex. Kaapelitehdas in Finland)


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Board constitution multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Funders of the project (ex : Confort Moderne in France)

  • Board of cutlural experts and general assembly (ex: Halles de Schaerbeek in Belgium)

  • General assembly only ( ex: Metelkova in Slovenia)

  • Participative management (ex: Ateneu in Spain)

  • Some include governement inside the board for better negociation (careful!)


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Team structure multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Rarely one person, generally a group of 2/3 sometimes more , sometimes several legal structures (artistic companies sharing the management of a space)

  • Horizontal functionning (share of responsabilities, coordination, but always with one or few leaders)


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Economy  multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

It depends of the size and of the project :

  • Own ressources through tickets and alcohol sales (possible in big cities)

  • Private partnership through some projects

  • Public subsidies (needs time)

  • European Social Funds (for employment creation…)

  • Selling services and your own experiment (to companies, public authorities..)

  • Through artistic projects mainly

  • Using your facilities by renting spaces and skills on site (external activities)


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THE CONTENT/ PROJECT multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • fundamental philosophy of the project not always written (but asked also by public authorities).

  • More content and process orientated than event/consuming orientated, more consideration to the potential creativity of all

  • Spaces of artistic education, education, professionalisation, workshops, laboratories, experiment, imagination, performances, artistic forms, questionning society, invention, local development, change of images (for people and for neighborhood)…


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Some key words to keep in mind multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

- EVOLUTION (Importance of flexibility of project and finding the right structure)

Ex: common spaces, creating tools, human ressources, permanent and ephemeral projects, finding ways to legate the project to others

  • RESPONSABILITY / CREATIVITY / AUTONOMY of people in the team as much as possible

  • FUNDRAISING ( economical functionning / own ressources/ projects). The ECONOMY FINANCES need to serve the content of the project and not the other way around

  • NO RECIPE but trust your own feeling

  • INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY (look at art practices to inspire your own structure functionning attitude)


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Some examples through the world multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)


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La Médiathèque des Diaspora (Cotonou- Bénin) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

Foundation date: 1993

Former use: building under Martyrdom Square of Cotonou


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Sante Sidi El Houari (Oran- Algérie) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 1991

  • Former use: hospital


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18th Avenue Artists Compound (Quezon- Philippines) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 2003

  • Former use: Warehouse complex/ Painting press


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1Aspace (Hong-Kong) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 2000

  • Former use: cattle depot


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Comuna de Pedra (Macau- Macao) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 1999

  • Former use: store Comuna de Pedra


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Fonderie Darling (Montréal- Canada) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: 1994

  • Former use: foundry


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STANICA,Truc sphérique (Zilina-Slovakia) multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)

  • Foundation date: NGO Truc Sphérique in 1998. The space « Stanica » opened in 2003.

  • Use: train station stillfunctionning


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Culture & Information Centre multidisciplinary activities (e.g. La Friche in Marseilles, Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki)[email protected] (Liepaja-Latvia)

  • Foundation date: 2000

  • Former use: military head quarters



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Our mission about on

To Inform, Mediate, Link and Support Autonomous Creative Spaces

Artfactories is a platform of international resources for creative centres formed from grassroots artistic initiatives and founded with the involvement of communities.


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Artfactories about on

1 rue Charles Garnier

93400 Saint Ouen, France

Tel : + 33 1 40 11 64 14

Mail : [email protected]


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