“Participatory art cannot be decreed, and Villeurbanne has fifty years of experience in this field”

EWhat if the public programmed a theatre, a museum, a festival? Not all the time, let’s not abuse it. The idea is old, it is making its way, but is slowed down in the name of a dogma: that everyone stays in their place. The experts decide, the spectators communicate. Now the city of Villeurbanne is shaking up this protocol like never before. And it’s exciting.

From June 3 to 5, the popular neighbor of Lyon is hosting the real festival. Concerts, shows, street arts, chosen by 115 young people aged 12 to 25. They have done much more. They found the name of the festival – a dream becomes real –, managed the production, the scenography, the logistics, the communication, concocted the posters, the welcome… They imagined a universe in their image. With 2 million euros, a large but not astronomical budget, they learned to compose, to give up too expensive names, like Rihanna or Beyoncé, not to favor friends either.

They invited, on the music side, Eddy de Pretto, Romane Santarelli, Ofenbach, DJ Feder, Joanna, Roméo Elvis, PLK. No world stars, no strangers either. They added about twenty emerging bands. The house slogan is “an event created by young people, for young people”. For a bit, the party would be prohibited for over 18s. Let’s see instead the mark of a city of 150,000 inhabitants where the under 30s are dominant. Access to the festival will be free. Some 30,000 people, 50,000, or even more are expected outdoors in a park. The city expects to be gently overwhelmed.

“Guided but free”

Young people have the keys while being supervised by professionals, from solid places like Le Transbordeur, Les Ateliers Frappaz or the National School of Music. “We were guided but free”, summarizes a young organizer on YouTube. We feel pride. Well in the spirit of a socialist city that has amazed cultural France since the installation, fifty years ago, in the middle of the skyscrapers, of the National Popular Theater (TNP). Logically, Villeurbanne was elected French Capital of Culture 2022 on the basis of a participatory project that irrigates neighborhoods and schools far beyond the festive weekend. And who will see Ariane Mnouchkine, while presenting her golden island at the TNP from June 9 to 26, participate in a surprise event with young people.

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Villeurbanne responds to an observation that applies to all of France and beyond. Apart from a few films and concerts, the cultural public is aging and slowly becoming more bourgeois. So the political and cultural leaders multiply the actions. The most radical is precisely to transform the spectator into a programmer. But the gap is dizzying.

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