Wandering through Paris‘ many museums, it’s easy to see how the city was once a place to which artists flocked from all over the world in order to practice their crafts.
But wait, it still is! And the new art being created isn’t hidden away behind closed doors. The Centquatre center in the 20th Arrondissement offers visitors a chance to mingle with artists of today as they watch new masterpieces take shape.
From dealing with death to the birth of new art
Centquatre or “104,” so named because of its address at 104 Rue d’Aubervilliers, was constructed by the Church in 1873, but the Municipal Funeral Service took over the building in 1905 as a sort of giant funeral home for all of Paris. In 1993 the burial process was decentralized, and the building eventually closed in 1997.
Work began on transforming the site into a space for artists nearly a decade later. Centquatre opened to the public in October 2008. This year (2009), almost 200 artists from around the world will have the opportunity to take up temporary residence in one of the center’s 18 studios.
Discovering the artists at work
Although visitors cannot wander through the work spaces as they please, the artists’ often throw open their doors to show off their latest works or even let the public participate in the creative process.
Just last week (May 2009), visitors mingled in the main hall of the Centquatre under murals created by the Peruvian artist Juan Diego Vergara. A few doors down, actors held an open rehearsal for the plays “Phèdre” and “Hippolyte,” to be performed in October 2009.
Events vary by the day, so check the agenda online to find out what’s going on during your visit. Pay special attention to those marked with a “G” for “gratuit” (free). Most studio openings take place late in the afternoon, and there tend to be more events on Fridays and weekends.
Show me more Centquatre!
Centquatre also offers three tours each week for a very-manageable 5 €. A general tour takes place on Sundays at 3 PM, the history and architecture tour is Saturdays at 4 PM, and tours conducted by neighborhood residents take place Sundays at 4 PM.
The center is a bit off the beaten path but easily reachable by metro line 7 (station Riquet). Centquatre is open every day, except Monday, from 11 AM to 9 PM; it closes at 11 PM on Friday and Saturday.
About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.