On the outskirts of Paris this week, in the suburb of Aubervilliers, 250 artists opened their studios to the public for a program called POUSH, which kicked off in 2020. Conceived by Hervé Digne, co-founder of art production consultancy Manifesto, POUSH features emerging artists have heavily subsidized the studios by making deals with property developers who keep huge abandoned buildings.
“At first, the owners were skeptical,” Digne said, as we stood in the huge arts complex. Its site was once a perfume factory, then a data center. “Artists in an abandoned building? They didn’t think it would go well.
But Digne, who had experience with government officials and developers through his work on the Manifesto, eventually convinced a developer in the suburb of Clichy to offer the office tower to artists. In return, POUSH had to cover utility costs and some taxes, and so POUSH was able to offer studio space to artists at a heavily discounted rate of around 10 to 13 euros per square meter per month. After two years, the promoter of Clichy wanted to recover the space.
“We returned it on time and in the same condition,” Digne said. It was important to him to set a good example so that the program could hopefully spawn similar projects.
Digne started POUSH as a way to address two key issues he believed artists faced: a lack of affordable studio space and an epidemic of loneliness. He said to himself: “These artists come out of school, and they begin a very intense period, often very alone. What if they weren’t?
Having opened during Covid, the space offered solidarity during an isolated and difficult time.
POUSH provides common workspaces, but it also offers support in a variety of other ways. A cafe for residents has been set up on site and artists can benefit from legal aid and assistance with the production of works of art. Perhaps most importantly, artists can access the networks that their colleagues and POUSH organizers have developed over the years, making it a privileged environment for those seeking gallery representation and institutional exhibitions. Just a few weeks ago, the artist POUSH Dhewadi Hadjab was represented by one of the biggest French galleries, Kamel Mennour.
Since POUSH launched two years ago, word of mouth about the program has spread and artists are eager to land a coveted spot. Juan Gugger, an Argentinian artist who has lived in Paris for four years, immediately jumped at the chance to apply for a studio when POUSH began taking applications for 90 additional artists once he moved into the larger space. d’Aubervilliers. Gugger has been in his new studio for two weeks.
“The community here is very different from a residency, where people come for two or three months and that’s it,” Gugger said. “People move here, people want to do something amazing here.”
So far, Digne’s hope of giving artists a richer community seems to be working.
“It’s easy to think, ‘This thing you’re doing is crazy. What are you spending your energy and time on? It doesn’t make sense,'” Gugger said as guests watched his little drawings of Our -Lady on fire “But when you’re with 200 people as crazy as you are, you don’t have those thoughts anymore.”
POUSH comes at a time when Paris is experiencing a revitalization of its art scene. Yvannoe Krüger, the artistic director of Manifesto and POUSH, marveled at how much the city has changed.
“Twenty years ago I went to London to escape Paris, and nothing was happening here,” Krüger said.
Now, noted Krüger, the art scene is vital as more and more artists have begun to live and work in the suburbs of Paris, a city whose class divisions have long been particularly pronounced. Long associated in the eyes of middle-class Parisians with poverty, violence and immigrant communities, the suburbs are now gentrifying.
Parisians, Krüger said, have never been keen to see its outskirts as part of the city. “It’s like you’re not enjoying Brooklyn because it’s not Manhattan,” he said. But now that that’s changing, Kruger is excited to be part of the effort to bring art to the suburbs.
An offer within the framework of the open studio program, the POUSH team also set up two exhibitions, “On Abstraction” and “The Peasant, the Researcher and the Believer”, of which Krüger was the curator. The show is made up of 50% POUSH artists and 50% established artists, most of whom have won major awards and exhibited in major Parisian institutions such as the Pompidou, such as Mircea Cantor and Edgar Sarin. Including major artists is a way of connecting POUSH artists with these established figures and their networks.
Plus, Krüger said, “It’s a way to get people to come to the suburbs.”