The last day of the recent AIMAC Conference was held at La Friche in Marseille, an urban arts redevelopment project in a former tobacco factory. La Friche includes artists’ studios, performance and exhibition spaces, a skate park, rooftop event space, and support services for the Belle de Mai neighborhood, including a daycare/preschool. At La Friche, “culture” is an implement of both social and economic development. “’Economic’ in the sense that cultural products are produced, bought, and sold – but certainly not taking a solely economic approach. ‘Social’ because culture is a space where the essential questions of our society today arise in political terms.”
Between conference sessions, small groups made visits to some of the artists’ studios. I visited the studio of Alfons Alt. Alt uses large format, historical photographic processes combined with earth-based pigments. He explained:
It’s interesting to bring painting and photography and engraving together to make new thing. This technique is not industrializable. I want to make photographs that in 200 years will still be here. I don’t believe in digital. The pigments I use are long lasting, permanent.
Alt doesn’t like to rely on public funding to make work:
When you have public money you have to do public things and that is not always aligned with art.
Alt makes the work he wants to make how he wants to make it. He finds the public for that work in museums, galleries, and private commissions in a way that has sustained his career for 30 years. He models the kinds of artist entrepreneur that is always keeping the art at the center. I note, however, that La Friche itself was developed with public funding in what in the US we would most probably call a “creative placemaking” effort.