Meeting with...Virginie FOUCAULT of Le Boulon
Wednesday 05 October 2016

Space of freedom having not only a cultural objective but also a social one, the Boulon questions. How to assure an equal access to culture? How to get out of the social allegiance framework and to invite users to become “usage masters” of a cultural place which should belong to them? In Vieux-Condé (France); it is in the street that those answers have been found! Meeting with an ispired woman who has been carring, for now almost 20 years, a surprising project.

From theatre to the street

Inhabitant of Lille, specialised in the information and communication fields, Virginie discovers Vieux-Condé when she gets the job of Manager for the Communication of the city in 1993. Upon her arrival she gets involved enthusiastically in an association that transforms a former cinema, the Espace Boris Vian, in a theatre open to all kinds of audiences. Taking advantage of the cross-border location of Vieux-Condé, she develops projects with the Belgian association "Arrêt 59", as part of a collaboration Virginie describes as "illegally cross-border". This situation changes rapidly and it is then thanks to the support of Europe that she contributes to making the structure grow and professionalise.

After a few years of work, the place finds its audience. The association manages to mobilise and retain a portion of the population hitherto isolated from cultural venues. Aware that it is not enough, she creates the festival "les Turbulentes" in 1999 and brings out theatre in the street! Around unifying disciplines displayed in close proximity to the public and driven by the desire of artists to forge a different relationship to art and local people, this first edition is a success. The association gradually expands its scope. Supported and recognized of community interest by the Community of Municipalities, it then goes in search of a place to set up their projects.

In 2002, it is THE meeting of the two "absences". On one side, a brownfield and derelict building and on the other an association lacking space to express itself. This 4000 sq.m, old factory is an "unclaimed asset" and finds a new life in a first experimental draft which then gets to define itself more clearly.

At a time when many questions arise concerning the brownfield redevelopment and the new potential available for Art, the project makes sense. Virginie trains in cultural project management in Grenoble and prepares the future. With his thesis entitled "From the worker to worker of art! (De l’ouvrier à l’oeuvrier !)" she already questions the "new territories of art and memory "and their appropriation by the population.

The Boulon, links-maker

The name Boulon comes from the industrial heritage of the place that now hosts it, and also comes from its neighbor, a factory which used to make bolts mainly to build the Eiffel Tower. But the Boulon is much more in reality! This is a piece that assembles, and just like it, this former production space, by becoming a meeting place, introduces artists and the public to build some "common".

Example of co-construction

Reclaiming wasteland has attracted a special attention and mobilised many partners involved in the rehabilitation of this place full with meaning. When "Lille, European Capital of Culture 2004” ends, the region takes over and launches "Regional Capitals for Culture", which aim to develop sustainable cultural tools. The support of the region, equalling EUR 2 million on a total budget of 6 million, is a strong symbol. Others follow, at local as well as European level.

The Boulon should not be a beautiful architectural object. Instead, it must keep its soul and remain an area of freedom
. Each of the actors who took part in the project, whether they are architects or prime contractor, was sensitised to this vision. This unusual approach raises questions about new practices and logics of governance, especially in the creation of cultural venues. It disrupts old models to propose new ones, closer to the territory.

Art factory!

In 2011, the Boulon opens and becomes National Street Arts Centre, a label that positions it as a regional reference and which also promotes the recognition of these disciplines.

With the aim to support creation, it broadcasts shows in its "public places". Its residency programme welcomes a dozen of companies throughout the year, giving them time to rehearse. As a reminder of its former industrial activity, it also offers a technical workshop for the manufacture of particular scenic elements.

Deeply committed to sharing the creative process, it regularly offers "Sorties de Fabrique", which invite locals to meet with the artists at work. By desecrating the posture of the artist, the Boulon bridges the sometimes distant gap with the audience. At times, the audience even becomes artists in shared creations, in an approach that combines social and artistic experimentation! Through organising theatrical, philosophical and sonorous walks, the art centre encourages the rediscovery of the territory and promotes social cohesion.

Highlight of the year, the now 20-year-old "Les Turbulentes" festival is host of between 25 and 35 regional, national and foreign artistic companies. Street artists seize the city and invest it to offer its 10,000 inhabitants and 35,000 spectators exceptional artistic moments!

Like and the Boulon, an affirmation

For Virginie, joining Like was almost obvious. "In this Europe in crisis, Art and Culture can play a role" and become the tools of a "constructive struggle to recreate but also invent".
For a network initially oriented towards collectivities opening itself to cultural operators is, according to her, a true wealth. It offers a space for particularly fertile cross reflections, showing different faces and “shaking ideas” even more vividly. While her daily life is deeply absorbing and demands strong commitment, LIKE and its space for dialogue are fundamental... Because where "doing together" is an essential custom, it is, in the current context, even more valuable!