Marseille has always had a reputation for being independent. Writers have claimed that the city loves revolt and the poet Andre Suares wrote: “Anarchy is the tide of Marseille”. It is also the European Capital City of Culture 2013 and as a result has seen investment injected into the city. The long-term benefits of this and for whom will become more evident in the coming years.
Funded by the Open Society Foundation, the first year of our work in Marseille is concerned with researching how our approach to tackling social issues could be replicated in Marseille. The possible areas include health, education, aspiration, and entrepreneurship.
There is a particular framework social, cultural and political within which any work focusing on Muslim communities in France has to be considered. The constitutional presence of laicitie, or secularism, means any practical work with minority communities has to be carried out through the prism of culture as well as issues of integration, or tackling discrimination, or fostering an environment of equality of opportunities.
Information for national statistical data is not collected on the basis of religious or ethnic affiliation. You are either French or foreign-born. There is also a tension between the concept of laicitie and the demand for Muslims to be more French, and a sense of inequality, discrimination and lack of opportunity felt by Muslim communities.
The government called upon the Conseil d’Etat (State Council) to make laïcité explicit in positive law. Taking into account previous French law as well as international human rights instruments, the State Council formulated a liberal conception of laïcité, which grants individuals the right to express religious and other belonging as long as this does not injure anyone or hamper the smooth functioning of public services. This remains the constitutional principle of laïcité which has not changed during two decades of political debate about it. However a law passed in 2004 to prevent students from wearing religious symbols in primary and secondary schools in 2004, was felt by many to unfairly target Muslim women, and create further friction between the State and Muslim communities.
Our two-year project in Paris provides useful insights into how we might work in Marseille despite the current social and political context. We successfully finished running workshops in Paris replicating our I Can Be She project with young women from the suburbs. By working with associations based in the suburbs, and local entrepreneurs, we were able to recruit Muslim participants - 85 per cent of the total group. The age range of the participants was 16-20 years, and the workshops focused on empowering young women to fulfill their potential with a view to finding employment.
Our approach is to interview individuals and organisations from diverse backgrounds with the view that some of these will be potential partners in delivering a practical resource. Initial meetings have suggested that there appears to be little cross-disciplinary work or awareness of other organisations or individuals working in similar fields. We therefore believe the potential to run an innovative project by mobilizing a diverse range of people is significant.
Marseille has a strong cultural tradition that is edgy and can at times cross ethnic and religious boundaries. As European Capital City of Culture 2013, a number of city-wide programmes are underway.
The range of people in our initial network range from those working at the grass-roots on community issues such as housing and community empowerment to those working in the arts in terms of music, artistic exhibitions, and urban identity.
Radio Grenouille is an online radio with an emphasis on urban culture and design. It also runs workshops with other cultural organisations and schools. The station also takes part in cultural festivals in France and internationally, including in Istanbul and Liverpool. Founded in 1981 in the northern outskirts of Marseille, it attempts to cross geographical, social, and cultural boundaries, linking artists with local communities.
The radio station is currently working on a sound project which works with musicians and historians to create a project where the listener walks through certain parts of Marseille and hears music and history relevant to that part of the city.
Universitie de Citoyen
Created 20 years ago in the north of Marseille, to create communities who could become more active citizens. A methodology was created which unusually was under copyright. The guiding principle for the organization is that the citizen is an expert.
Universitie de Citoyen uses a number of formats to try and mobilise communities to become more active citizens including one-day debates about specific issues such as the regeneration of a local neighbourhood. They try to use the collective intelligence of communities to highlight issues and then to create solutions. The Universitie also tries to provide training for Council members in terms of how they deal with their communities.
Friche Belle de Mai
A cultural hub over the past two decades dedicated to contemporary artistic experimentation which is connected to the political, economic and social challenges of the environment, at a local, national and international level. Belle de Mai aims to be in tune with its district, with its city and its youth.
Lieux Public and the In Situ project
A European wide network exploring the challenges of linking art and public space and the construction of a contemporary European society. Financed by the European Commission, the network will over the coming years host seminars, innovative projects exploring shared territories in a city, create laboratories of cross-disciplinary creative organisations and individuals.
This project is funded by the Open Society Foundation.