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« Cities, creation and cultural events in the Mediterranean: a view-point »

Boris Grésillon
p. 7-9

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1In recent years, culture and creativity seem to have become the key words of urban policies, and Mediterranean cities are no exception to the rule. Quite the contrary. They compete for major cultural projects and international artistic events that will encourage and attract tourists as well as establishing a new cultural view-point and legitimacy on the map of creative cities (R. Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, Basic Books, 2002). In the age of communication, cities need to be seen promoting cultural events, but more importantly, publicising them through an active marketing and communication policy. In an era of increased inter-city competition, it is necessary that they distinguish themselves (Bourdieu, La Distinction, Minuit, 1979) via a symbolic project or facility, like Bilbao and its Guggenheim museum, which today serves as a “model”. Finally, in an era of accelerated festivalization of culture, it is necessary to continuously attempt to create the event, to ensure that festivals and exhibitions are strung together at a dizzying speed ; in a word, to make believe, as Barcelona and Berlin succeeded perfectly in doing, that “the city never sleeps.”

2With communication and marketing, intense competition, and the festivalization of culture, the concept of art for art’s sake has become far removed ! Culture has become a major economic, touristic, political and urban stake, and has certainly been recognised as such for the past ten years (F. Leriche, S. Daviet et alii (dir.), L’économie culturelle et ses territories, Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2008).

  • 1 It is this dialectic between city and culture that I analysed a decade ago, using Berlin as a case- (...)

3But in fact, what “culture” is being spoken about? In the vast epistemological field of social sciences, there are few words as polysemous, hence the need to clarify the meaning or meanings. In this issue of Méditerranée, dedicated to cultural cities, the majority of authors interpret the word “culture” as idealistic, artistic and intellectual productions of an individual or a society. Hence, it is neither in the anthropological sense (culture versus nature) nor in the sense of civilization that are retained here, even if these elements are underlying in the words of certain writers - notably in Catherine Bernié-Boissard’s introductory article. Moreover, what interests the specialists in the cultural texts gathered in this special issue is the spatial dimension of culture; more specifically, the fact that, in the words of J.-F. Stazsak in the Dictionnaire de la Géographie edited by J. Lévy and M. Lussault (Belin, 2003), it “manifests itself in practices and is inscribed in different spaces”. Thus, it will be a question of either artistic venues, such as structural facilities for the cities that house them - theatres in Marseille, the MADRe Museum in Naples, the “cultural art districts” – (where factories have been decommissioned and converted into new art zones) - of Mylos in Thessalonica or that of Belle-de-Mai in Marseille, private museums in Istanbul, etc, - or large polarizing and attractive cultural events, such as the universal exhibitions of Seville in 1992 and Lisbon in 1998, the European capitals of culture, namely Genoa and Lille in 2004, Istanbul in 2010 and Marseille-Provence in 2013; or again, the painful counter-example of Jerusalem, the aborted cultural capital of the Arab world in 2009. In all cases, despite the diversity of the areas studied, the methods and the view-points, the central question is the following: How does culture transform a city? Conversely, how does a city, by its socio-spatial dynamics, its particular urban structure, its economic vitality, and the “power of the areas” (B. Von Hirschhausen) transform culture; indeed, create an extremely favourable terrain for all artistic and aesthetic expressions?1

  • 2 «Cultural art districts» and artists’ squats seem to lend themselves particularly well to these hyb (...)
  • 3 The two days of workshops, studying «Cities and Culture in the Mediterranean», organized by UMR Tel (...)

4This publication of Méditerranée is based on two principles: the exchange of fields of study and the exchange of different view-points, both in my view, necessary so as to grasp the concept of “culture” in the prism of all its facets. Indeed, despite the slow disciplinary decompartmentalization observed in France over the past ten years, the majority of urban and cultural worksare either “academic” books marked with the seal of their disciplinary membership (sociology, anthropology, cultural economy, cultural geography), or art books, where in the best scenario, the works reproduced (images,photographs) interact in parallel with contributions from sociologists, philosophers and anthropologists, although more rarely with geographers2. For this special issue of Méditerannée, I have opted for an open formula, which for the time being has rarely been tried out in scientific journals. Alongside researchers – principally geographers, but also city planners and historians – invited together to address the central issue already raised above, cultural operators and artists have also been invited to give their views on the role of art in the city and the scope of major cultural events. Of course, it was necessary to avoid the trap that would have been to divide on one side the “scholars”, and on the other, practitioners and artists. Based on the successful operation of the two days of study that served as a canvas for this publication, it is the mixture of genres that has been sought here3. The informed reader should therefore not be surprised to see contributions of different lengths and genres, including leading articles, short articles, artists’ testimonials and transcribed interviews. In addition, a coloured insert brings together the images of certain original works chosen by the artists to illustrate their vision, and they are warmly thanked. Thus, this volume of Méditerranée is not looking for a colourful anthology, but, by the interaction of view-points and disciplines, is hoping to provide an original and in-depth vision of contemporary cultural and urban reality in the Mediterranean.

5The second principle concerns the area of study. Of course, as is often the case in the Méditerranée journal, the northern Mediterranean arc, that is to say, Spain, France, and Italy, extending to Greece, constitutes the heart of reflection for the majority of the contributions collected here. From Seville to Thessalonica via Marseille, the cultural cities of the Northern Basin have many factors in common. We wished however, to widen the area of study to the Eastern Mediterranean, which is spoken less about in Western Europe, but whose cities are enjoying a full renaissance, like Istanbul, the European Capital of Culture in 2010. Finally, from a comparative perspective between the North and South of Europe, two French regions, the city of Lille and Lorraine, have been studied. They are, for various reasons, exemplary in their cultural reconversion and might, where appropriate, inspire the cultural policies of the cities in the south of Europe.

6This publication is divided into two main parts. The first part focuses on the cultural development of Marseille, which is in preparation for becoming the “European cultural capital” in 2013. Following a historical reminder by Pierre Échinard of the importance of the city of Marseille within the entertainment field, we will focus on the heart of the matter - and debate - with different view-points from Bernard Latarjet, director of Marseille-Provence 2013 (whom we warmly thank for his input and support), and Bernard Morel, city planner, economist and vice-president of the Urban Community of Marseille. Christine Liefooghe recounts the adventure of “Lille 2004, European Capital of Culture”, to which the Marseille project officials regularly refer to as regards Marseille 2013. On another level, as regards a strategic cultural facility in the Marseille dossier, the Cultural Art District in the Belle de Mai district, another type of dialogue has been evoked between Philippe Foulquié, founder and director of thethis district known as the “Friche la Belle de Mai”,and the geographer and city planner, Lauren Andres (University of Birmingham), a specialist in abandoned spaces “on standby”. Finally, Guy-André Lagesse and Nicolas Rubinstein, both visual artists based in Marseille, deliver their personal vision of art, supported by their own instructive comments, with colouredphotographs of some of their creations.

7The second part is devoted to other cultural and urban experiences conducted around the borders of the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Maria Gravari-Barbas is interested in the ‘cultural art district’ of Mylos in Thessalonica, which, like the FricheBelle de Mai in Marseille, plays a polarizing role in the city but whose destiny is altogether different. Pascale Froment, also a geographer, focuses on a particular cultural facility, the MADRe Museum of Naples and the urban issues that have arisen from the implantation of this contemporary art museum. Sebastian Jacquot has beenstudying the case of Genoa, which, after having been the other European capital of culture in 2004 along with Lille, is attempting to extend the “2004 effect” on the implemented policies of urban regeneration. Jean-Bernard Castet, city planner, analyses the impact of universal and international exhibitions on three cities on the Iberian Peninsula : Seville, Lisbon and Zaragoza. The in-depth and detailed contribution from Nora Seni, director of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies in Istanbul, gives us a very modern vision of the importance of private actors in the development of museums within Istanbul and beyond, in the cultural and creative rise of the city of Bosphorus. Yves Gonzales-Quijano evokes countless setbacks in Jerusalem in 2009, the cultural capital of the Arab world.Finally, far from cities and urban issues, far from the Mediterranean, Sylvie Daviet and Jean-Luc Valin remind us that there is also cultural development other than in town, namely in the former industrial area of Lorraine.

8To close this publication, various reports from recent cultural geographical worksfocusing oncultural and urban events have been gathered to portray both the dynamism and variety within this field of research, which however, still remains, in part, to be invested in.May this issue of Méditerranée contribute in its own way and encourage, in particular, young researchers to invest in this exciting field of study.

9NB : Given their brief, personal and spontaneous nature, it didn’t seem appropriate to summarize the accounts of the artists and operators who had been called upon. Nevertheless, all the notable articles are preceded, as is usual, by summaries and keywords, both in French and in English.

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1 It is this dialectic between city and culture that I analysed a decade ago, using Berlin as a case-study. (cf. B. Grésillon, Berlin métropole culturelle, Belin, 2002), and that I am now striving to identify and reveal in the cities within the Mediterranean basin, starting with Marseille.

2 «Cultural art districts» and artists’ squats seem to lend themselves particularly well to these hybrid expressions. Amongst the numerous works of this genre that have recently appeared are: Saskia Cousin (anthropologist) et al.(ed.), Le sens de l’usine. Arts, publics, médiations , Paris, Créaphis, 2008; Marie Vanhamme (journalist) and Patrice Loubon (photographer), Arts en friches. Usines désaffectées: fabriques d’imaginaires, Paris, Ed. Alternatives, 2001; and in a slightly more specific area, Freddy Muller (photographer) and Florence Bouillon (sociologist), Squats: un autre point de vue sur les migrants, Paris, Ed. Alternatives, 2009.

3 The two days of workshops, studying «Cities and Culture in the Mediterranean», organized by UMR Telemme (Time, Space, Languages, Southern Europe, Mediterranean), were held on 28 November 2008 and April 10, 2009 at the Mediterranean House of Human Sciences (MMSH) in Aix-en-Provence. Around a hundred participants from markedly different backgrounds attended: researchers, students, artists, politicians, directors of cultural organizations, association members, ordinary citizens ...

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Boris Grésillon, « « Cities, creation and cultural events in the Mediterranean: a view-point » », Méditerranée, 114 | 2010, 7-9.

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Boris Grésillon, « « Cities, creation and cultural events in the Mediterranean: a view-point » », Méditerranée [En ligne], 114 | 2010, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2011, consulté le 28 septembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Boris Grésillon

Senior Lecturer, Dept of Geography and Regional Planning, University of Provence, Researcher at the UMR Telemme / MMSH,

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