The French artistic director Jean Blaise in question and answer about the specific strategy the city of Nantes took to combine urban change, arts, creative industries and tourism. The director of "Le Voyage à Nantes" discovers an aura that could serve as a role model for cities in France and Europe.
LABKULTUR.TV: „Le Voyage à Nantes” is a totally new communication concept for a city which has become well-known in Europe. What inspired you to come up with it?
Jean Blaise: You have to say that Jean-Marc Ayrault, the mayor of Nantes who is now the Prime Minister of France, has been collaborating with the cultural sector in Nantes since 1989 – almost 25 years of cultural policy without any interruption. When we had a final look at it, we recognised that everything we had invested during the last 20 years could also be interesting for visitors from somewhere else, be it French, European, or other people from abroad. And so we decided to show all these locations and institutions altogether, to link them with each other, to create a cultural path titled “Voyage à Nantes” which makes you explore the city by means of all those artistic and cultural creations.
"Mont Royal(e)" by Block Architects at Place Royale © lvan
You have created a new institution which has caused the city to redefine its paradigms. How important was this new institution for the success of the strategy?
Jean Blaise © Thibault Dumas
It was important that there was complete unanimity, a common strategy and a coordinated communication to provide the outside world with all necessary and relevant information, and so we have created a structure also called “Le Voyage à Nantes”: it comprises locations which are suitable for cultural, but also for touristic purposes such as the castle, the museum of history, the Machine Museum, and Estuaire, the biennale of contemporary art along the estuary, and also the tourist office. Today, we are the only city in France that has an institution comprising all these elements, providing an extremely coherent strategy.
In Germany, no such setting exists – are there similar concepts for other cities comparable to yours in France and would you recommend your model to others, too?
In France, we are the only city with this kind of strategy. I think all the other big cities are observing us very closely because they have the same setting, the same issues. You have to make sure that the investments in culture do pay off – the question at hand is: should culture really play such an important role these days when the current discourse labels culture as an industry. Investing in culture, you will get revenues from tourism, of course, and that is what we are trying to accomplish.
Does the non-cultural environment understand this reformation of municipal policy by culture – do people in Nantes and other cities also understand it?
It is well understood because there is a real cultural policy, clearly defined which is observed by all within a certain frame. The people in Nantes understand that because there has been a coherent policy for a very long time, for more than 20 years. The directors of the respective institutions in the city have been chosen by the same person, after all. And there is a real cultural policy which can be seen, which is coherent, so it’s like a reflex to agree with it – so, it is possible. But in a city without a determined and strong culture policy, it will be much more difficult.
"The Rings" installation by Buren and Bouchain © lvan/Gérard
When you invented this concept two or three years ago, the financial crisis didn’t exist to the extent it does today – now, we are in the middle of it without the end being too close. Do you believe in your approach in spite of these difficult circumstances?
I think that in a time of crisis, you have to create new economic fields. You have to capitalise on the culture industry to the greatest possible extent – and I think anybody will understand that. Creating a culture industry means generating jobs, a flow, business, as is proven by current figures and surveys. A survey made in 2011 has the following results: per 200.000 tourists who visited Nantes within the period of two months, the city made 42 million Euros – the restaurants, accommodation facilities and the transportation benefited from the visitors - and people understand those figures.
"Le Grand Éléphant" by Delarozière and Orefice © lvan
Your touristic concept has attracted a lot of attention in Europe, even more because Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has been the long-time mayor of the city. Do you already notice this increased attention?
Yes, when Jean-Marc Ayrault became Prime Minister of France, in a very difficult moment, people have talked a lot about his experience in Nantes because he had never been a minister before. So, the only reference the media had was his tenure and experience in Nantes, resulting in an extreme interest in Nantes – a great benefit and great PR for us.
Nantes - a unique place © lvan
Other French cities are certainly envious of the additional interest in Nantes caused by the name Ayrault.
I think this will have a nation-wide effect, not necessarily limited to the culture industry.
Jean-Marc Ayrault is an extremely balanced and calm person, so if he does something, he will try to be fair. I believe justice is important for him, and also for his general political behaviour. What do you have to do to be balanced and fair? I think this behaviour will calm down the society in the time of an alarming crisis. I think his temperament, his qualities, will calm down the French society – and I think that is the best way to get out of the crisis. We wait for a discourse on the French culture industry which we really do not have now.
"Manny" building by TETRARC © lvan/Nautilus Nantes
One last question, a prognosis, please: during his election campaign, Sarkozy promised there wouldn’t be any cuts in the culture budget under his tenure. What do you think the new government will do facing the deficits recently discovered? Will it be hard for culture to thrive or will it still be supported and protected in spite of these bad news?
No, I don’t think there will be culture budget cuts in the future. The ministry of culture will have to make some efforts with its public officers, meaning that there will definitely be some staff downsizings in the ministry of culture, but there won’t be any reductions as far as the institutions depending on the ministry are concerned, that’s what I think.
"Banaball" by Bacle and Ducasse © lvan
Vielen Dank. Merci Beaucoup!