Each year since 1990, the artists of Belleville open the doors of their studios! This year’s Open House days will be held on October 2nd-5th to explore the theme “Anima, the Latin word for air, breathing, what holds us back to life”.
The annual art walk organized the Belleville Artists’ Workshops (Ateliers d’artistes de Belleville – AAB) is always an opportunity for an exciting cultural stroll to meet the creatives who live and work there. During four days, visitors can explore secret hidden courtyards and discrete workshops turned festive, as the atmosphere of the whole neighborhood becomes more vibrant than ever.
This year’s event will bring together more than 130 artists and collectives. Their works will be visible in about a hundred workshops and galleries of this district like no other, spread across the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements. From Place des Fêtes to Avenue Parmentier, from Buttes-Chaumont to Rue de Ménilmontant, dozens of thousands of visitors can attend workshops, concerts, dance performances, conferences and screenings planned during each of these four days.
Typically held in May for the last thirty years, these autumnal Open House days will for once coincide with the “Nuit blanche” celebrations organized on Saturday, October 3rd. The AAB have prepared a very promising program for night owls. Once the sun sets, installations and performances will bring a dozen courtyards and workshops to life, for example around the Villa Belleville and in the iconic paved courtyard at 48 Rue Ramponeau.
This charming urban oasis, where Paris’ last metalwork factory still stands to this day, is a privileged witness to the history of artists in Belleville. As early as 1990, the courtyard saw visual artists (and, more broadly, residents of the neighborhood alongside the association La Bellevilleuse) rallying against the Ramponeau-Belleville “concerted development zone” (Zone d’aménagement concertée – ZAC). This misnamed urban planning project, which would become the focus of several years of citizen protest, included the destruction of most of the faubourg-era buildings between Rue Ramponeau, Rue Jouye-Rouve and Boulevard de Belleville.
In this neighborhood linked to the history of popular struggles, up in arms during the June Days uprising of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871, an unprecedented coalition of artists and residents attached to the local heritage and identity pushed the authorities to review their projects. Thanks to their activism, which soon attracted the media’s attention, the lower Belleville avoided the fate of other neighboring blocks in eastern Paris, such as around Rue Rébeval, Place des Fêtes and the Amandiers areas. A mosaic of cultures composed by the many waves of immigration that shaped the history of the neighborhood since the 19th century, the small streets that still stretch from the foot of Parc de Belleville Park are undoubtedly among the most charming in the capital.
Their cobbled courtyards and former craftsmen’s workshops, where many visual artists settled from the 1980s onwards, are intimately linked to the popular tradition of eastern Paris. In her study “Art and activism in the Parisian neighborhood of Belleville”, urban planning professor Sophie Gravereau explains that because of the cheap real estate of the time and the advanced state of dilapidation of certain buildings, these generally modest creatives managed to become “owners or tenants of disused factories, abandoned warehouses or old premises emptied of their workers, remnants of Belleville’s artisanal and industrial past”.
The association AAB and the organization of its Open Studios (Portes ouvertes) were at the heart of the artistic and citizen mobilization that helped save this unique heritage of Belleville, celebrated on the pictures of Willy Ronis as in the voice of Édith Piaf. From the very beginning of the event in 1990, artists threatened with eviction intended to “defend the workshops, open up to the public, and create bridges between cultural expressions”.
Over the course of the decade, the shared struggles for the preservation of the lower Belleville and the annual Open House event have indeed enabled artists to open up to their neighborhood, and their neighborhood to discover their creations. The number of visitors increased every year, bringing the event further into the spotlight. Its success highlighted the demands of the residents — to preserve the historic buildings that could be saved, while ensuring that locals could stay in their neighborhood. This mission was accomplished in 1998, with the initial project finally discarded by authorities. As part of a new program (Opération Programmée d’Amélioration de l’Habitat – OPAH) launched by the municipality, 80% of the buildings were preserved and all the residents rehoused.
Their history now linked to the neighborhood’s, the artists and their studios became part of the Bellevillois décor, just like its Asian restaurants, small stores specializing in cuisines from all continents, and terraces that never seem to empty. After the success of the mobilization against the ZAC Ramponeau-Belleville, the Open House initiative has continued year after year until today.
Yet the struggles of the 1990s have not been forgotten, and the artists of Belleville have had the opportunity to make their voices heard more recently. Under the vines in the courtyard at 48 Rue Ramponeau, a new mobilization of artists and residents, supported by the Grésillon metalwork factory, led to the amendment of a 2015 real estate project that initially included the construction of a hotel complex. Instead, the Ramponeau collective and the mobilized residents obtained the creation of a “Belleville Craft Center”: an architectural project consisting of the rehabilitation of the Halle Grésillon and the installation of “twenty or so craftspeople’s workshops” between the courtyard and the former Maestrini mirror factory on Rue Bisson. The delivery date for these new creative spaces was originally set for 2021.
Today, it is on the other side of Belleville’s main crossroad, in the 10th arrondissement, that the fate of local artists has led to new worries. A historic complex built to house the workers of the Haussmann transformations, the Sainte-Marthe neighborhood is known for its small square resembling that of a village and its colorful shopfronts. An ambitious urban planning program was necessary to renovate its former “insalubrious blocks” and ther disreputable streets, with several operations and nearly 19 million euros in public spending between 2003 and 2013.
Sharpening real estate appetites, the assets of this unique “micro-quartier” have unfortunately turned against its ow residents. In a context of generalized rent increases, the artists who have settled there over the last thirty years are facing a new threat since the purchase last November of a majority share of the historical owner (“120 lots including 80 business premises”), the Société immobilière de Normandie, by the investment company Edmond Coignet, which specializes in the “valuation of real estate assets of all classes”.
Artists and residents have led several actions just before the confinement in order to draw attention to their difficulties: support lunches, conferences and round tables as at the Paris-Belleville School of Architecture, organization of the exhibition “We work here” (Nous travaillons ici) in the 10th arrondissement town hall, and even protestors banging pots and pans around Rue Sainte-Marthe. A resounding din that is not enough to express the anger of an entire neighborhood, whose artists and craftsmen seem to lower the curtain one after the other.
A sculptor working on Rue Jean et Marie Moinon, Adriana Popovic explains that the new owners “find it more profitable to convert the premises into Airbnb studios or co-working offices, where they can accommodate three or four people instead of a single artist”. President of the association OCBaux, which fights to keep craftspeople and visual artists in the neighborhood, she deplores the empty doorsteps that have surrounded her front door for several years, while pointing out the spaces recently converted into tourist accomodations that have gradually invaded the street.
Could the results of the recent mayoral elections be a sign of hope for the Sainte-Marthe neighborhood? Local artists received the support of the mayor of the 10th arrondissement Alexandra Cordebard, who was largely reelected in June. “The state and the city have invested heavily in this district, not for a private investor to take advantage of it”, she told the newspaper Le Parisien last January. City-wide, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s reelection campaign promised to “modify the local urban planning program to prohibit the transformation of commercial premises at the foot of buildings into tourist accommodations”, “provide a guarantee for the rents of non-salaried artists”, and organize a “referendum in each arrondissement” to limit the number of rental days authorized for Airbnb owners.
However, time is running out, as the health crisis has not extinguished the new owner’s real estate ambitions. According to OCBaux, “the investment company Edmond Coignet refuses to hear the government’s call for rent rebates for artisans and local merchants, and has instead taken advantage of the confinement to announce rent increases of 60% to 90% to several of its tenants”. Denouncing an “acceleration of this logic of exclusion” and “the progressive eviction of fragile tenants”, the association now fears “the resumption of proceedings against the most vulnerable” residents. Members of the association OCBaux will be present during the four days of the Open House event at 7 Rue Sainte-Marthe, a reminder “that once again in Belleville, artists and craftspeople are fighting!”
After more than thirty years, the mobilization of the neighborhood’s “citizen artists” alongside residents has not lost its relevance. The Open House days remain a major cultural event that demonstrates the attachment of Parisians to Belleville, and to the artists who contribute to its vitality. By supporting these painters, photographers and visual artists, the public has the opportunity to express its solidarity with an artistic world that is facing difficult times. The 31st Open Studios are the promise of beautiful creative discoveries — and with close to a hundred workshops and courtyards to explore, a chance for some pleasant detours on the cobblestones of the old Belleville.
Discover the full schedule for the Open House days of the Artists of Belleville on their website:
Two welcome centers will be open on October 2nd-5th:
– Galerie des AAB – 1 rue Francis Picabia, 75020 Paris.
– Belvedere of Belleville – 27 rue Piat, 75020 Paris.
The artists have all created original works for this year’s Open House! You’ll find these oeuvres at the AAB gallery. Proceeds of their small formats sale, starting at 45€, will go towards supporting the local arts association.
In the workshop of artist Catherine Rauscher, rue de Tourtille (20th arrondissement).