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There are those Parisians who’ll tell you there is nothing of note going on in the suburbs, or worse that they’re a cultural wasteland to be avoided at all costs. Au contraire! Inside a converted 1970s office block on the outskirts of Saint-Denis, in the middle of a new housing development squeezed onto a narrow tract of land between the Seine and the upper reaches of the city’s canal, there is a thriving alternative artistic community: Le 6b.
Opened in 2010, the 7,000-square-meter complex is a base for up to 200 creatives – painters, architects, musicians, filmmakers, graphic artists, artisans, and even social workers – at a time. The professionals, charities, and enthusiastic amateurs share 150 workshops spread over the building’s six floors, working on their individual projects in a collaborative atmosphere and contributing to the establishment’s mission to be a positive force in the industrial neighborhood regenerating around it, the Néaucité. There is also an exhibition space, projection room, and dance hall. And all this just a six-minute train ride from Gare du Nord – eight if you take the RER.
Though in many ways it may resemble a squat – an imposing, somewhat decrepit concrete façade, unkempt patches of greenery, and walls, interior and exterior, covered from top to bottom in graffiti – Le 6b is an efficiently and ethically run machine. Its regulating administrative council is headed by Julien Beller, the young architect who was a driving force behind the center’s creation, and it meets once a week to discuss everything from operational issues to specific questions raised by its resident artists.
The appeal for those lucky enough to work here is obvious: not only do they have sufficient space in which to work, something in short supply for all too many artists in cities with rents like those of Paris, but it offers a break from what can be the crippling isolation of the creative life. This sense of a team spirit is something that those behind the project are keen to see spread out into the wider community.
Seine-Saint-Denis, the department in which Le 6b resides, has the largest population of immigrants and the highest levels of poverty in the country. Numerous events have been organized in order to involve disadvantaged groups. A show entitled The Wish Factory was staged at the Stade de France, attracting upwards of a thousand people, and an 80-foot mural named The Palissade was created in collaboration with local schools to brighten the environment. The mere fact that so many artists are choosing to work, and often as a consequence live, in this part of Saint-Denis, it is hoped, will transform perceptions of the area and attract more Parisians to its shores, which in turn will bring further investment to local services.
In addition to the exhibitions, concerts, demonstrations, and debates that Le 6b hosts, it has also developed as a major nightlife venue. Its electro club nights and festivals attract huge numbers of revelers, who with their admissions and enthusiasm at the bar keep the center’s bank balance in fighting shape.
If you’re a local artist looking for space to work, contact Le 6b through their website.
Open Monday to Friday, 10:00am to 6:00pm. Open on weekend evenings for specific events.