arts and cultures

Khiasma, end of an artistic utopia?

In Les Lilas, the Espace Khiasma, a production and distribution space dedicated to image and storytelling, will close its doors at the end of October. This decision taken by the team is an act of resistance that attests to the agony of the public service of culture. Revealing artists and often the only point of access to creation, local art centres are disappearing in indifference.
C’he closure of Khiasma at the end of the month was made official by a press release from its president Aline Caillet, published on the art centre's website on 5 October. This news, dreaded by many, had been expected since the withdrawal of certain regional subsidies two years ago by the cabinet of Valérie Pécresse, then recently elected president of Ile-de-France.
This disappearance follows those of the Churches in Chelles, the Forum in Le Blanc-Mesnil, the Wharf in Herrouville-Saint-Clair, the Quartier in Quimper, to name but a few. It shows how fragile the model of public support for cultural structures is. Even more so than the State, local authorities, which are more and more vigilant when it comes to spending as allocations melt away, do not hesitate to purely and simply abolish entire subsidies, thus jeopardising the structures concerned.
The cultural domain seems the most vulnerable because it is the easiest to throw to popular vindictiveness in the event of a dispute. It is the local art centres, often dependent on their supervising community because they are usually directly managed (this is not the case for Khiasma, which is under an association regime), which disappear in indifference. Modest structures in the Parisian suburbs or in the regions, these places are nevertheless indispensable. On the one hand, they are very often the only point of access to plastic creation for local populations and as such embody the democratization of culture desired by politicians. On the other hand, by taking risks, they "do the job" of revealing the emerging artists who will later be found in the major Parisian institutions. The Khiasma case allows for the analysis of a system.
Espace Khiasma aux Lilas

Giving air to minority practices" 

The Khiasma association was created in 2001 with the will to develop artistic projects for and especially with the inhabitants of the north-east of Paris, around current social and political issues. In 2004, the Espace Khiasma moved into the three floors of a former printing house located at 15 rue Chassagnole aux Lilas (Seine-Saint-Denis). The new contemporary art centre is a meeting and dissemination space dedicated to image and narrative, with a protean programme bringing together visual arts, performance and living literature. It also aims to be a place for the discovery of contemporary artistic forms open to all free of charge and a citizen's space where conferences, colloquia and debates animate the "society" cycles.
Behind the famous red door that marks the entrance of the place, Olivier Marboeuf, its emblematic director and co-founder, puts artistic exigency at the service of the hospitality of the word. He explains that "space doesn't dominate people, people make the place. We wanted to keep a domestic dimension. » A place of conviviality, of crossroads of the public, Khiasma hosts workshops for all next to residences benefiting from the support of the Phantom platform (whose activity will continue). Above all, the association is one of the first structures of this type in France to have initiated a reflection on the post-colonial question in art.


What leads to the disappearance of a cultural place? What are the reasons that lead an establishment to close its doors for good? In the case of Khiasma as in many others, the financial imbalance seems to lead to this ultimate solution. The public subsidies from which the Khiasma association benefited are also the reason for its downfall. The significant drop in the regional subsidy two years ago meant that the association was no longer able to cope with a growing financial deficit. After the election of Valérie Pécresse as President of the Ile-de-France Region, the reorganisation of services places the Directorate of Culture, headed by Muriel Genthon, former Regional Director of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) Ile-de-France, directly under the authority of the Directorate General of Services. Following an inventory of the situation, the Region is proposing a multi-year agreement to the cultural structures it supports, an important step forward since the contract between the local authority and the establishment makes it possible to define the commitments of each in the long term (in this case over four years) by affirming the role and identity of the place.
At the same time, a rebalancing of the amount of subsidies allocated to the structures within a sustained cultural budget is being undertaken. Khiasma retains its subsidy in the plastic arts sector but loses those allocated to it in the book and film sectors and sees its subsidy reduced by fifty thousand euros, from ninety thousand to forty thousand euros. These new rules condemn transdisciplinary structures such as Khiasma. By only acknowledging its anchorage in the visual arts, the Region denies its plural roles, which are nonetheless very present with, among others, the "re-readings" festival or the "platform" programme which, launched at the beginning of 2017, transformed Khiasma into a space for research and experimentation where workshops, screenings, readings, meals, conferences, performances, constituted as many different and complementary openings. At a time when the frontiers of art are being abolished, or disciplines are mixing in the greatest porosity, Khiasma seems to be the victim of an anachronistic cutting up of culture by the administration. The strict application of the rules put in place attests to the end of the cultural exception. Today, the cultural field meets the same "objective" criteria as the other sectors.
But culture is not a sector like any other. In addition to the objective criteria, specific expertise in each of the disciplines concerned has so far been added to the objective criteria. A classical music concert does not meet the same evaluation criteria as an exhibition of contemporary art. In order to carry out the evaluation, the agent must have a minimum knowledge of classical music and be sensitive to it. Wanting to contain artistic creation in predefined boxes is tantamount to denying its floating, sensitive, subjective side. This is why culture has until now occupied a special place. It takes a minimum of interest and sensitivity to understand what is at stake. This undoubtedly explains the lack of understanding between territorial administrations and cultural structures, which too often seem not to speak the same language.  

Closure as an act of resistance 

In appearance, the closure of Khiasma would therefore be foreign to the populist wave of closures that we witnessed the day after the last municipal elections, which had changed from pink to blue and which had won, among others, the Churches in Chelles, the Forum in Le Blanc-Mesnil, the Wharf in Herrouville-Saint-Clair. It would simply be due to the rigid application of administrative rules. Unless these new rules, applied in a brutal manner because they are immediate and leave no room for disengagement which would have allowed structures receiving important aid to turn around and look for other models, allow unwanted partners to be disposed of legally (because of their divergence of spirit, the difficulty of controlling them or simply because they are judged to be too close to the previous majority). 
Since the beginning of the term of office, in addition to the end of the Contraception Pass and the end of funding for research on gender and discrimination, there has been a drastic reduction in subsidies to the regional association for information and musical actions (ARIAM), the Festival d'Ile-de-France and thus the Khiasma association, which led to their disappearance. These disengagements, completed by the suppression of the modest but symbolic financial aid paid to the Jerk Off festival, draw a map that is obsessive, to say the least, in its targeting of minorities. At the moment, the decision to withdraw all financial support from ARCADI, a public institution for the performing and visual arts in the Ile-de-France region, even though it was created by the Region, condemns a structure that provides long-term support to project leaders and leads to the disappearance of Nemo, the International Biennial of Digital Arts - Paris / Ile-de-France that it organized. 
During her campaign, Valérie Pécresse promised a twenty percent increase in the culture budget if she was elected head of the Ile-de-France region. The development of culture in the third belt, a priority once elected, remains invisible to this day. But promises, as the famous saying goes, only commit those who believe in them. Unfortunately, this muffled strategy, committed over time, gradually redrawing the contours of the cultural landscape without appearing to be, is not the prerogative of the Ile-de-France Region, the richest region in Europe.
Other examples, more or less uncomplicated, such as the will to take over the CAPC Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux by the municipality or the closure in Châlons-sur-Saône of the Nicéphore Niépce Museum, for which the municipal majority has generously granted a room in the future Wine Museum, show the lack of knowledge or even contempt in which cultural places (and professions) are held.
At a time when corporate foundations are triumphing, we must guard against the lark's mirror and the temptation to hand over to them a hitherto public culture. For if American philanthropy at the beginning of the 20th century allowed the constitution of specific cultural models, including missions that can be qualified as public service such as education (the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the perfect example), the corporate foundations that are currently multiplying to the point of modifying the French ecosystem of contemporary art are reversing the situation by placing art at the service of the company in order to enhance its image. The art collection becomes a communication tool, a business card. Too often reduced to their aesthetic value alone, the works of art are given to be seen in the queue-leu-leu, a succession of masterpieces without purpose or context.
Olivier Marboeuf reminds us that the closure of Khiasma is not only linked to economic issues, it is also and above all a political decision, taken in agreement with the team. For him, there is no question of playing the survival card. The material conditions are not in place to continue. For the time being, he invited all those who wished to do so to a last festive evening on Saturday 20 October around a meal where it was undoubtedly a question of imagining new forms of sharing. « So Khiasma is leaving. You have to learn to disappear. To become a fable that acts and poisons. That others will replay, undo and redo elsewhere. And the beauty won't come to beg for her survival. That's the way it is. Remnants of a class consciousness, as they used to say in the 20th century. We will soon be watching around the elegant dead woman winking from the bottom of her coffin. We'll take our eyes off her in her wake. To those who have taken a mandate to destroy, we say that we make alliances with the dead, that we cherish the ashes that feed the future. To those who spare violence and polish banker statues, we say that we will make our return in another body and a dirty face. It is not common to say goodbye like this, we would like a platform that calls for something. We're not asking for anything. We are here. » (Olivier Marboeuf).
Guillaume Lasserre, Art Historian - Author of the blog A certain look at culture
Espace Khiasma 15, rue Chassegnolle, 93 260 LES LILAS
Header image Khiasma fighting spirit since 2001" © Association Khiasma

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