“Montpellier 2028” aims to be a crossroads between Europe and Africa

Montpellier-Sète (Hérault). In its preselection report, the jury called to designate the next “European Capital of Culture” in France made a small remark on the“Europeanness” of the candidacy put forward by Montpellier: perhaps it should turn more towards Northern Europe… The staff of “Montpellier 2028” was not told twice, and a few weeks after the passage of the city in the final, here is the mayor and his team on their way to Finland. “When the mayor left for Scandinavia, then the Baltic countries, people, who didn’t really know where they were, asked themselves ‘where is Tartu?’ “, remembers the artistic director of the application, Nicolas Dubourg. With this field electoral campaign – which therefore stopped in Estonia’s second city, Tartu –, Montpellier is filling the last gaps in its program, and is aiming for 20/20 on the criterion of compatibility with European policies, a point scrutinized by the jury.

“We have grasped the expectations of Europe, the “why” it created this label, and all this stimulates us”, explains Michaël Delafosse, mayor (PS) of Montpellier. On one of the requirements of the European Commission, Montpellier and Sète (Hérault), associated in this competition, are however starting with a disadvantage: the expected leverage will always be more difficult to observe in these two cities with an abundant cultural life. as in Bourges (Cher) or Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme), competitors for the title. For the great metropolis of the South, the challenge is rather to become the standard bearer of European policies. “In the label cycle, the big cities have already passed, observes Fabrice Manuel, project manager for Sète. Today the programs are more modest. Yet Europe needs display, strong capitals. France also needs a strong capital. » Montpellier wants to go against the tide of this evolution of the label which would go from large cities, capable of carrying out international projects, to lesser known territories. An argument that can hit the mark: if “Athens 1985” is part of the history of the European Union, who has heard of “Eleusis 2023”?

City and port of Sète.

© City of Sète, 2022

Africa at the center

On the European network side, Montpellier caught up before submitting its second application file at the end of October. Eurocities network, “On the move” program dedicated to cultural mobility, and search for European funding: the Occitan city steps up its game. In its cultural programming, it was, from its first file, focused on European and international issues, to the point that the jury was worried about seeing the local identity of this year’s “Capital” disappear. “We are on a ridge line, explains Sophie Léron, general director of Montpellier 2028. Without denying its international scope, the candidacy must be re-anchored in the territory. » The common thread of the second “bid book”, the idea of ​​”crossroads” reconciles the assumed openness of Montpellier 2028 with a local history made up of exchanges since the founding of the city in 985, while this large town becomes a hub between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

As proof of this desire for international openness, Africa occupies a central place in the Montpellier proposal. From the Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo to the Burkinabé choreographer Salia Sanou, the city now relies on big African names to carry its message. By wanting to make Montpellier a meeting place between Europe and Africa, the candidacy this time takes head-on the concerns expressed by the European Commission: “We felt interest in this subject in Brussels, underlines Michaël Delafosse. A department director told us “this is a real subject for us”. That’s good, we’ve been working on it for some time…”

The European jurors are also sensitive to the city’s very dynamic audiovisual ecosystem (driven by the filming of television dramas), making it possible to create some 2,000 long-term jobs.

Small-scale tests

Very political, conceptual too, the Montpellier candidacy can appear wordy. “Sometimes we risk drowning in words”, recognizes Sophie Léron. To reassure a jury which certainly expects objectives compatible with Europe, but also guarantees on the feasibility of the project, the City also offers something concrete. Financially already, with an addition of 7 million euros to the operating budget (69 in total), in order to include the year 2029 and the question of inheritance, so important in the eyes of the jury. But above all, and although it was the last to enter the competition, Montpellier can present to the jury reduced versions of what the 2028 events will be like. Two call for project campaigns have already been launched, in 2002 and 2023, endowed with 700,000 euros each, for artistic interventions throughout the territory as part of the candidacy, and a first “Euro-Africa” biennial was organized last October as a precursor to that of 2028. “We are in the pre-application phase and already have a report to present! “, welcomes Sophie Léron.

Finally, it is on the question of major events that the Montpellier metropolis will perhaps fall short of what is expected of it. And this voluntarily, since Montpellier 2028 prefers to invest in the sustainable: the twenty-eight “Great crossings”, i.e. artistic journeys scattered throughout the territory, will thus mix lasting and temporary interventions. With the “Academy of the Future” program, the application takes on a major project “not flamboyant, but structurally heavy and important in terms of legacy”, which combines a cultural institution with a secondary school establishment over the long term. And in investment, credits are directed towards rehabilitation or already existing institutions: 29 million for the extension (1,000 m2) of the Fabre Museum, 15 million for a conservation center at the Latte archaeological museum. The working-class district of La Mosson will also benefit, with an important artistic component integrated into the urban renovation coordinated by the National Agency (Anru).

Considered by some observers as the jury’s “safety net”, in the event of failure of other competitors, the Montpellier candidacy presents itself as the best ambassador of Europe, a “inspiring demonstrator” for the Twenty-Seven, in the words of Nicolas Dubourg. “It’s like a huge laboratory where artists, researchers, decision-makers, entrepreneurs experiment with new ways of doing things, he explains. And if it works in a territory like ours, that means that it can work on larger scales. » And the mayor punctuated his artistic director’s demonstration with: “New Bauhaus!” »– or the major cultural project driven by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission. Clearly, Montpellier has revised well.



• City: 277,639 inhabitants
• Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole: 499,761 inhabitants.
• 154 “M28” municipalities: 900,000 inhabitants.
• 1 UNESCO World Heritage property (Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert)
• 106 historical monuments
• 4 Museums of France in Montpellier, 13 in the 154 municipalities
• 1 Frac Occitanie-Montpellier
• 1 Contemporary art center (the Mo.Co Panacée, Montpellier)
• 1 Higher School of Fine Arts (Montpellier)
• 1 National Stage (Moliere Sète theater, Thau archipelago)
• 1 National Drama Center (Théâtre des 13 Vents, Montpellier)
• 1 Zénith, Montpellier
• 1 Current music scene (Victoire 2, Montpellier)
• 4 remarkable heritage sites (in Montpellier; in Sète; Agde, Pézenas)
• 1 contemporary art fair (Art Montpellier)

The City’s 2023 culture budget:

• €127 million (13% of the Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole budget)

Budget European Capital of Culture

• Operation: €69 million
• Investment: €142 million

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