Cédric Van Styvendael: “The label “capital of culture” is an incredible opportunity for Villeurbanne!”
Barely elected, in 2020, to the head of Villeurbanne, the mayor launched his city in the competition that positioned it, forever, the first capital of French culture. He explained his strategy.
Villeurbanne will forever be the first capital of French culture. What motivated you to apply?
Stéphane Frioux, my cultural assistant, came to my office one evening. We are in October 2020, in the middle of covid. He informed me that the Ministry of Culture is launching a label. He has a pierced nose. We told ourselves that the moment is complicated for Villeurbannaises and Villeurbannais, extremely difficult for cultural actors, and that it could be a good opportunity to open a window to a corner of the blue sky to come.
You have to believe!
We believe in it. We brought together cultural actors, one night, on video, not knowing how we would be received. Everything is closed, they and they are alone in their theaters, their places. We start showing the project and, immediately, we see smiles, eyes that light up. And everyone agrees, without exception. We have started writing our dossier.
What guided you?
The theme “A place for young people” quickly imposed itself. In the political program that we have presented, we have really put culture at the heart of our project. And in our promises, we announced a cultural policy focused on youth and education in arts and culture; 50% of our inhabitants are under 30 years old, this is a form of evidence for us. In addition, we were among the first to sound the alarm about the consequences of covid on young people. And so we told ourselves that we have to offer them a way out of the crisis…
And when you find out that Villeurbanne is on the list of finalists…
… We begin to build a statement around two elements. One, the “minimixes”, culturally oriented areas in schools with cultural mediators. It’s a local, regulated appellation (he smiles). The idea is that in each school group there is a place to help teachers, make links with artists and set up artistic and cultural education projects (EAC). And one of our commitments to the municipality is to make sure that these “minimixes” remain. With mediators hired on permanent contracts and one million euros a year outside the cultural budget.
A municipal action has already been initiated and therefore fits your file.
And the French Capital of Culture label acts as an accelerator. In addition to the “minimixes”, another original idea was proposed: a festival for young people. We gave young people, between 12 and 25, the responsibility and the budget (1 M€) to set up a festival. From September 2021 to June 2022, 120 children created entirely, with autonomy, a free musical festival, called Réel, which, over two nights and a Sunday for families, attracted 50,000 person They chose everything, the stage was that of Eurockéennes de Belfort and on Saturday night we had to close the doors!
Without the label, would this festival be possible?
No! The label is an incredible opportunity for us. No one will let us spend so much money! Also for culture… As soon as we said that we will launch our candidacy, many people came to help us. And when we won, others joined in to offer us projects. In the beginning, we submitted a budget of 7.50 M€, specially allocated, and in the end, the budget increased to 14 M€. But because the Nuits de Fourvière or the Opéra de Lyon then offered us co-productions. In Villeurbanne, we already have a huge cultural vitality, with the TNP (Popular National Theater which was directed by Jean Vilar, Ed), the national center for street arts, etc. What is interesting is that in the beginning, we did it with the Villeurbannais, and then, the actors from the Metropolis of Lyon came to join us.
Have you made a balance yet?
An estimated one million people were affected. In internal city surveys, 85% of residents know that Villeurbanne is the cultural capital and 94% say they are proud of it. In the shadow of Lyon, Villeurbanne is not considered a city of its size. There, we put it a little bit on the map of France. Several mayors have asked me if this label is worth it. In particular in Bourg-en-Bresse, which like in Montbéliard called me – no, no one called me from Alès -. And I tell them that this label is a great accelerator of the project!
What makes a good cultural capital?
The honesty of the project. The reality of the renovation, in the history of this city, is its commitment to culture. This candidacy was us, we didn’t talk anymore. We honor a kind of legacy, even if we say we have one more page to write, new to share. This label is a tool for political mobilization, in the civic sense of the term. Culture, it drives us, it challenges us and from this aesthetic shock that creates emotion, that creates reflection, this is where we build the collective story. Above all, we should not entrust culture with the task of rewriting the collective imagination, because that is called propaganda. Above all, the chosen one must not say what he wants in terms of creation, he must leave the possibilities…