Bringing art back to a Montmartre street

Paris is often accused of being a museum city, more preoccupied with its past than its present. Those fresh out of school dreaming of changing the status quo often find they get entangled in red tape before they even begin. But it didn’t discourage filmmaker Valery du Peloux and artist Axelle de Boynes cutting through the red tape, and embellishing a street corner on the fringes of Montmartre.

First published on RFI on 26 March 2011. Listen to interview here.

They aim to breathe life into one of Paris’ tourist destinations, and re-create the atmosphere of the Belle-Époque by decorating shop blinds of the local businesses on Rue Cavalotti, right near the Montmartre cemetery.

Walking down the street, a careful observer will notice that du Peloux and de Boynes’ project is not the first of its type. In 1994 a team of artists known as the Gazelles painted shop blinds with reinterpretations of works by turn-of-the-twentieth century artists, like Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso.

For the most part today they are hidden behind a riot of graffiti. The new project is a twist on that original design.

“Of course people change and the street changes, it’s not the same time,” says de Boynes. “But we can create the same kind of spirit… It’s not only a matter of decorating the blinds. It’s also to recreate a dialogue among people who live on the street.”

But the initiative is not without its detractors, who say that the works of art will fall prey to the spray cans of graffiti artists, as they did 17 years ago.

“When I arrived here, there were metal blinds which were beautifully painted. Even tourists were coming,” says the baker on Rue Cavalotti, known as Gigi. “But with graffiti what can you do? Every week, I call up the town hall and ask them to come and wash it off.”

The grocer tells the same story: “It was nice enough, but the problem is the graffiti. When it was first done it was immaculate. There were even people coming to see it, tourists even.”

De Boynes says she hopes the new paintings will attract tourists to the area, and recalls the atmosphere during the first initiative in 1994 when the street was set up as an outdoor museum.

“They closed the street, and for one day and night the street was totally without cars,” she says. “We also put some lights on the blinds like in a museum… People really loved the idea, and for a few years after that, people really took care of the street.”

Despite some worries about graffiti, shop owners are generally in favour of the project, and are even willing to pay the 100 euros requested to have their blinds painted.

That will not completely cover the cost, though. Valery du Peloux, of Artisans du Film, has been engaged in a long correspondence with local authorities to raise funds for the project. He has collected some 20,000 euros, mostly from the state, though he has also accepted money from private donors.

“One very, very good friend of the previous president François Mitterrand personally gave 5,000 euros,” says du Peloux, adding he is unable to disclose names.

The initiative is aimed at locals, but all artists are encouraged to get involved. If you are interested, more information can be obtained from the Artisans du Films on Rue Cavalotti in Paris’ 18th district.

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