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MAJA HOFFMANN, FOUNDER OF THE LUMA FOUNDATION, MARIA FINDERS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE LUMA FOUNDATION, AND VERE VAN GOOL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE IDEASCITY PROGRAM AT THE NEW MUSEUM
IN NEW YORK, SHARE THEIR PERSPECTIVE ON THE OCCASION OF THE LUMA DAYS, AN INNOVATIVE MULTIDISCIPLINARY WORKSHOP AND CONFERENCE SERIES TAKING PLACE IN LATE MAY AT THE LUMA FOUNDATION IN ARLES, FRANCE.
Dorothée Dupuis – Small towns in Europe, even ones like Arles which possess important historical pasts, are currently facing an important number of challenges, whether they concern economic, environmental, or cultural issues. Rising unemployment due to deindustrialization, isolation from larger hubs, cultural and medical deserts, and the constant growth of far right politics in the region in the last 20 years have led to quite explosive situations, where it feels the central state withdrew itself without thinking about possible replacement strategies. Could you tell us a bit more about the Foundation’s vision and mission in regard to these issues?
Maria Finders – Indeed, these are the issues we all dealing with, and of course it is not new. For the far right, culture will never be as nourishing or as job generating as agriculture, and of course it is hard to argue with that… upfront. While in the 70s disused factories around the Western world became artists’ studios and then galleries, today they become co-working and co-living spaces for a transient generation which faces the uncertainties of the “gig” economy. This is the starting point… LUMA Arles is not an event based project. It is by its size and by its ambition a turning point – even as a piece of equipment, in a city and in a region and nationally. Through its program and links with every important cultural institution around the world, it also has the potential to raise awareness on issues that can move things forward on many fronts. However,
the first place to start is Arles. This is why the LUMA Days 2017 program is so focused on the City and the territory, as a starting point for a yearly rendezvous of topical encounters around art, science, technology, history, in a way tracing a path from archeology to the avant-garde. Not avoiding of course the politics of day-to-day activism, to encourage diversity and exchange, critical thinking, new means of production in respect for the environment
and based on a circular economy… so many topics that for the years to come will be the building blocks of the LUMA Days.
Dorothée Dupuis – Does LUMA consider itself, despite its privately funded structure, like a public institution?
Maria Finders – The notions of public and private in France are very unique. The role of the state is still benevolent, and culture is very central, and France and culture are intrinsically linked. So behaving like a public institution in France is not applicable of course. That said, as a Foundation, LUMA is linked to a duty of putting the greater good first. Obviously the enormous commitment of the Foundation to Arles, goes much further than any other private initiative, and with that goes the reasonability to engage with all levels of the community and the public realm.
Maja Hoffmann – In the next 10 years a cultural institution may need to re-define the parameters of its mission, whether it be to collect, to display, to disseminate and to preserve, or to produce art and culture. In this process, the notions of culture, nation, identity, society, and hospitality become essential points of examination for any institution outlining its place in the cultural realm.We believe that now, more than ever, in a time of intense globalization, relations and more vivid interactions should occur between art and culture, human rights, environment, and education and research. With LUMA Arles we have created in Arles, a production platform that allows
for the necessary convergence of people in order to cooperate and bring the cross-disciplinary thinking required by the era we have entered.
Dorothée Dupuis – Do you feel that the different components of the public instances in Arles and beyond (even at a national level) are committed to helping you make LUMA a success and possibly a lever for cultural or community oriented innovative initiatives?
Maria Finders – The presence of LUMA in Arles is very much about continuing a process that began almost ten years ago, and has always involved a very close collaboration with the City, the territory, and the State. In Arles the deep roots in the past are physical but they have never limited local ingenuity. One has to read French historian of the Mediterranean, Fernand Braudel to understand that Arles has been for centuries not only an important part of France, but also a gateway to Europe through the Rhone.
This vantage point today becomes visible in other ways. One example is through the important environmental mission around the understanding and protection of the wetlands, through the Tour du Valat, and other related research organizations located in the heart of the Camargue. Culture is still central to the City, as it has been for the past 2,000 years and in a big way. Of course the Roman sites are predominant landmarks. Van Gogh is also the focus of the Foundation with the work of the Van Gogh Foundation, which accompanies the impressive work of the artist with a contemporary narrative. Photography has been part of the new history of Arles for the past forty-five years, with the yearly arrival of the Rencontres Photographiques. Arles also has many important museums
that already create the ideal conditions for the ambitious art program of LUMA Arles. This program has since its inception benefited from the ongoing guidance and impulse of the Core Group: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Beatrix Ruf, Liam Gillick, Phlippe Parreno, and Tom Eccles. Furthermore, LUMA Arles recently announced a fundamental element of its program that will be centered on an evolving and living archive, and what it will generate in terms of education and exhibition. Architecture is another key, with the obvious impact to the city of Frank Ghery’s construction
of the central building, and the renovations of the site of Annabelle Seldorf. By working with social designers Jan Boelen and Henriette Waal to establish Atelier LUMA, the foundation’s research and production program that uses design to study the city as source of inspiration and of local production within a bioregion, LUMA becomes an active part of the development of new ideas and even new professions. Technology is a big part of that, but so is preservation,
as in Arles it concerns as much the cultural heritage, natural heritage, and industrial heritage. This creates a very interesting starting point for many conversations and projects to come.
Dorothée Dupuis – American Museums, especially in NY, have been quite instrumental in forging the “outreach” concept, which envisions the missions of a museum going beyond its own walls and its own strict “belongings” that form a collection. IdeasCity could in that sense be quite representative of these initiatives, with the New Museum exploring territories through this program that obviously have no relation to its core public, but rather “expand” its missions conceptually — sometimes at the risk of imperialism. The IdeasCity program already occurred in Detroit and Athens — two emblems of fallen cities albeit due to very different sets of causes and contexts — and now in Arles. What does this program tells us about the New Museum’s vision of itself as a possible ideal representative of a 21st century American institution leading the way in
the field of the arts? Could you expand on some of the aspects of IdeasCity in order to make this ontological statement about the nature of the institution visible?
Vere Van Gool – IdeasCity was founded as the New Museum’s initiative to explore the role of art and culture beyond the walls of the museum. Inaugurating its first program in 2011 in New York where the museum is located, IdeasCity was conceived as series of encounters between 200 local partners, ranging from Chinatown resident associations, to local high schools in the Lower East Side, the Bowery Mission, city politicians, and downtown nonprofits and art spaces. This initiated collaborations and partnerships with local organizations that one normally would not see inside a museum gallery context, thus recognizing the value of the multiple actors that are contributing to art and culture, shaping cities and life around us. At IdeasCity we aim to provide a collaborative, civic, and creative platform that investigates key issues, proposes solutions, and seeds concrete action, while fostering new ideas by recognizing the importance of embracing multiple viewpoints, discussion, and debate, regardless of race, gender, class, or identity. We integrate these topics deliberately into our programs by inviting outspoken activists, social justice leaders, cultural entrepreneurs, designers, and policy members to include their voices in a cross-cultural dialogue on the future of art and the space. Since then, and hyper aware of the global shifts in paradigms concerning art and politics, IdeasCity has spread to other cities, developing into offsite Residency and Conference programs inviting emerging practitioners at the intersection of art, design, urbanism, activism, community leadership, and technology to come and work together and foster new ideas for a specific city. The first two cities chosen were Detroit and Athens, two places subjected to key economic, social, and political forces that define how people live together today. In Detroit we worked together with local community activists and the art scene on a Memorandum of Understanding, basically wondering how we can positively contribute to the narrative of the city, its art scene, as an outsider. Since then, we have held up this Memorandum wherever we go. When we say local, we actually mean local, to the point of taking French classes now that we’re headed to Arles: it might seem like we’re just there for a week, but it’s more like a few years of preparation and groundwork. The work we’ve done in Athens, Detroit, and are now undertaking in Arles exemplifies this. By collaborating with local organizations like the LUMA Foundation we can offer a new reading of their city and territory by offering the outsider perspective, which can result in bringing different and new stakeholders to the same table and ultimately new collaborations.
Dorothée Dupuis – Can you tell us more about the IdeasCity Arles event within the larger LUMA Days and the nature of the local and global participants involved? While the New Museum will possibly move on to another city after
the program, LUMA is staying in Arles: how do you plan to prolong these local dynamics that are not strictly linked to art production or exhibition in your future program? And how does the New Museum make the grassroots work you initiated in these various cities last? How will that enduring link eventually be reactivated in the future?
Maria Finders – LUMA Days sets the stage to go one step further in the work that has been engaged with the local community. With the help of the New Museum, under the direction of Lisa Philips and her team led by Vere Van Gool, along with Joseph Grima and the IdeaCities program Fellows, we will bring together over 100 local voices to join with the Fellows to look at Arles as a forward-facing city, which it has always been. So LUMA Days in 2017 is the place where all of this will be revealed and discussed around the evocation of five Scenarios for the City within a Bioregion. The collaboration of LUMA and IdeasCity will focus not only on these five scenarios, but also on five specific sites in the city and in the territory, which have already been identified by the City and the territorial administration as high-potential zones of interest. Therefore,
the work we will do together will have lasting results to impulse new ideas in these plans and help to visualize scenarios that could in factbecome master plans. So this is really a rare dynamic that we hope will play out at the end of May.
Vere Van Gool – IdeasCity is implementing projects through special seed funding in each of the residency programs. In Detroit we are supporting a new community merger organization that’s developing a special policy process to ease arts initiatives for young arts organizers (who lack commercial budgets to pay legal fees to even get the permit). In Athens a group of Fellows from the Residency Program was invited by a local organization to continue their work under their umbrella. In Arles, one of the scenarios we will work on will receive seed money to get produced: later, we as IC have a voice and stage to value and highlight this to international audiences. But aside from this, each residency program – and each IdeasCity edition – brings together practitioners from all over the world, creating global connections and fostering future independent collaborations. That’s where it gets really exciting!
Interview by Dorothée Dupuis