59 Rivoli is located behind the Louvre. Once a squat, but today it is an important artistic centre. This is the tale of its transformation from taboo to one of the celebrating places in the whole of Paris.
Once 59 Rivoli housed a Crédit Lyonnais, but the bank moved on leaving the building empty for around 15 years. Then, in 1999 a group of squatters took over the very valuable piece of real estate and used it to stage performances and exhibitions. These were quite successful and drew up to 40,000 visitors a year, due to this the city decided that rather than evicting the squatters it would legitimise their activities.
This was to be just the first of a massive programme for the City of Paris. There are currently twelve similar venues throughout Paris. The message is that collective creativity is now a vital part of Parisian culture. Such venues provide artists with spaces where they can create and share their work. They have to pay a nominal rent and they are not allowed to live there, but the income that they generate offsets the cost of renovation.
These artistic centres attract many itinerant artists from all over the world. The cost of renting a creative space in 59 Rivoli is just €130 a month which, as you can imagine when compared to the rest of the city this is nothing other than a peppercorn rent. While many artists in the city still occupy illegal squats, gradually they are being encouraged to rent spaced in the legitimised ones. The advantages are that there is no danger of being evicted, there is running water, electricity and heating, and they attract potential buyers keen to discover the avant garde of the Paris art scene.
Anyone can visit 59 Rivoli the studios of which occupy six floors. Visitors can explore the studios and meet the artists who work and live there. As you would anticipate, the art on display is very diverse with just about every media being covered. Art is in the form of photograph, illustrations, sound and of course paintings.
Although noble in concept and successful in implementation, the scheme to legitimise these former squats is not without its critics; particularly amongst the housing groups which are concerned that is does nothing to help the massive housing shortage in the city. Moreover the amount these ‘squatters’ are paying to stay in some of the most sort-over places in Paris have enraged some people.
However Paris has a tradition of itinerant artists. Even Pablo Picasso lived once in a Montmartre squat called Le Bateau-Lavoir. Other Montmartre squatters included Modigliani, Apollonaire, Cocteau and Matisse.
Perhaps some artists from the current commune of legitimised squatters will one day be as famous as these. Many visitors to Paris make a point of exploring places such as 59 Rivoli in the hope of discovering one and bringing some artwork back from Paris to London; and even if they are unsuccessful there is generally cheap wine in plastic cups available in return for a suitable donation.
This is a guest post by Claire Chat a new Londoner, travel passionate and animal lover. She blogs about Pets and Travelling in Europe. If you want Claire to write you specific content, you can find email her here or contact her on Twitter (Claire_Chat).