Maison des la Culture | i |
name: Maison des la Culture
location: Rennes (France)

The opening of Maisons de la Culture from the early 1960s onwards in certain key urban centres throughout France (and also in overseas territories) was the symbolic culmination of the post-war drive to democratize and decentralize French cultural life. When André Malraux was put in ministerial control of cultural affairs in 1959 cultural development became part of the central planning process. Malraux saw the Maisons de la Culture as institutions which would make the important works of the world’s cultural heritage available to the largest possible number of French people. The creation of the Maisons de la Culture was closely allied with, and indebted to, the movement of décentralisation théâtrale, which had exemplified the democratic cultural ideals of a whole post-war generation. In a broader sense, the idea of Maisons de la Culture was part of the Utopian dream of cultural democracy promoted by the Popular Front in 1936.

Although the Maisons de la Culture were given multi-purpose facilities, it was theatre of the highest artistic and professional merit that was at the heart of their work of cultural creation and diffusion, not least because theatre was considered to offer the aesthetic and spiritual communion that Malraux and the high-minded people of the theatre found so obviously lacking in the rapidly growing domain of the mass media. In this respect, it is important to remember that the Maisons de la Culture came into existence just when television was entering the homes of most French people. Malraux opened the first Maison de la Culture in Le Havre in 1961, and by 1973 there were 12 in total. After this date no more were built. They soon proved to be cumbersome and excessively expensive institutions. Serious financial problems led to constant crisis, and in some cases finally to closure. Long before this, however, they had been shown not to be fulfilling their aim of reaching uneducated people. In May 1968 they came under special attack, as the democratic idealism that underpinned the creation and operation of the Maisons de la Culture was denounced as bourgeois oppression and mystification. In later years they rationalized and diversified their activities and became more responsive to local needs. In addition, a national network of more modest Centres d’Action Culturelle was formed.


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