Alongside the urban areas which surface noisily every so often in the media, there are other places – rural areas, villages and small towns – which have for decades been slowly and silently disintegrating.
In these places the population is ageing, businesses and young people are moving away, and public services are closing down. Those who have no choice but to stay often live in a state of deep despair.
Even if the responsibility is shared, the State has not yet been able to put a stop to a trend which is now being seen in numerous countries. The disintegration of rural areas is exacerbated by the phenomenon of metropolization, creating around these expanding cities an almost terrifying void.
Today, despite warnings and appeals, this abandonment of a vast part of the country is clear and the public has responded with protest votes. However, just like city suburbs, rural areas possess a potential for development which must be recognised, liberated and supported. They are home to immense cultural assets, landscapes which are unique in Europe, and economic, social and cultural initiatives which it is now time to draw upon.
These rural areas have a development model which has emerged from local commitment and drive, based on partnerships with local players, business and with national organisations. This dedication and these local initiatives can lead to the transformation of an area which has become isolated and withdrawn.
So how do we help people to understand that innovation and progress are linked to an interdisciplinary approach, to collaboration, to openness and a willingness to discover, to changes in behaviour and therefore to education, training and to cultural policy? At the heart of the policies necessary to encourage this model of regional development are two work streams – developing a permanent cultural offering where this is missing and, where it exists, supporting the cultural initiatives which bring together multidisciplinary enterprises.
To achieve this, we can draw on the participation of artists, theatre companies and musical ensembles, visual arts centres and touring groups. In addition to the artistic works themselves, it is this process of shared creation, and the obstacles overcome together with local people to create a performance or an artistic work, which brings benefits to an area.
Working in rural areas for 40 years
These methods often diverge from the normal operations of the cultural sector and institutional reference points, which themselves sometimes sit on the periphery of cultural policy. Among those involved is a national network which has been working in the rural environment for 40 years and which today is growing in leaps and bounds – the network of Cultural Encounter Centres.
Established by local initiatives, the Centres are housed within remarkable heritage sites which give them a solid foundation and a strong presence. Their aim is to develop artist residencies and cultural events which attract a large audience around a specific cultural project.
Officially recognised by the Ministry of Culture and Communication and supported by local communities, the Centres are committed to a multidisciplinary development policy which brings together culture, heritage and creation. They unite tourism, economics, the academic world, the professional insertion of young talent, a global outlook, networking with community organisations and outreach work with children, families and the older generation.
Alongside the Ministry of Education, the Centres provide practical and tangible ways for young people to discover the creative world and to participate in cultural activities. Together with other networks and partnerships, they make a vital contribution to the revitalisation of their local area.
An opportunity to act
The presence of one of these Centres in an area can, in collaboration with other regional players, allow the area to retain jobs, families, a post office, a small village school or a bus stop. On a wider scale, it is this synergy between different policies – economic, social, educational, ethical and environmental – which can transform the dynamics of a region.
More than ever, in the context of isolation and loss of confidence among inhabitants of rural areas, the people involved and the facilities made available represent a chance to act and a hope for the future. The Cultural Encounter Centres in particular work to create a climate of innovation, an openness towards other networks, a positive image and a new attractiveness. The draft bill “relating to the freedom of creation, to architecture and heritage” is an opportunity to support this network and these centres.
Alongside the Centres, local communities and notably the wider regions are making use of new, contemporary tools to stimulate the cultural revival of rural areas. The regional authorities must take these tools into account within the framework of the development plans for which they are responsible.
Yves Dauge, president of the Association of Cultural Encounter Centres
Isabelle Battioni, general delegate
The directors of the following Cultural Encounter Centres
Abbaye aux Dames, la cité musicale, Saintes
Abbaye de Noirlac – Centre culturel de rencontre
Abbaye royale de Saint-Jean d’Angély*
Abbaye royale de Saint-Riquier
Abbaye de Sylvanès
Abbaye de Vaucelles*
Ambronay – Centre culturel de rencontre
Centre culturel du Château de Goutelas
Chartreuse de Neuville sous Montreuil*
Chartreuse de Villeneuve lez Avignon – Centre national des écritures du spectacle
Château de l’Esparrou*
La Corderie royale – Centre international de la mer
Domaine de Fonds Saint Jacques
Domaine de Kerguéhennec
Domaine de la Vergne – Maison du comédien Maria Casarès
Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace
IMEC- Abbaye d’Ardenne
Parc Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Ermenonville
Le Prieuré de la Charité sur Loire – Cité du mot
Royaumont − abbaye & fondation
La Saline royale d’Arc et Senans
* Projets pris en considération pour devenir Centre culturel de rencontre