Yes We Camp


N.- My name is Nicolas, Nicolas Detris. I work for Yes We Camp. We were born in 2012 for a group project in 2013 when Marseille was Cultural Capital. We didn’t know it would continue after the event of 2013, but it continues. We continue today with interesting projects, with tools to do them, with salaries…very happy.


+ You’re not only in Marseille but also in Paris?

N.- Anyway, we’re not from Marseille, it was just because of the event of European Cultural Capital of 2013 that created our existence, so the origin of our mission is to join a group of people. We’re not a group of friends, or with the same studies. We’re not architects who studied at the same university, it was this event of 2013 that I’ll describe, the most artistic one we prepared for the European Cultural Capital . The idea itself was there before me, it was since 2000s or since the moment we found out that it’d be Cultural Capital. There was a group of artists, graffiters, creative from Marseille who said they should have a space for permanent exchange and meeting. That was a moment when all resource places rubbed their hands saying “we’re going to make a lot of money, we’re going to set up our business”. So we talked about a free place accesible to everyone and would do as a meeting place for local artists and external visitors. And it took the shape of a campsite. So this way, as everyone rose the prices and there aren’t many hotels in Marseille, people could come over to sleep in a healthy way, open air, enjoying the sun, outside, in family, with a partner, it could be intergenerational… The idea of camping is like an open air free house where you can sleep -which is important -, where there are artists’ residences, a canteen for eating, a programme of participative workshops, cultural and festive, with good concerts nights. And the objective was this global project was like a collective work. On the one hand, the result when you stroll and find out things that we’re not used to seeing, because they’re different, beautiful, innovative in terms of ecological engineering, especially water treatment, and the effect of having people living in the place. There were 200 people every day. That was an interesting critical mass to try out things, in particular for ecologic engineering. Because the people there are fastinated, they’re like guinea pigs. They let you see if you brush your teeth some way, up to down, meetings will be created, all the showers, all the baths, all the waste, how we organized them by having interesting volumes. So talking about the interesting data, the result is that it took place, but the process is even more interesting, the way we did it, that was the real value. I can’t say what we did was the best or the best finished, but I can say the way it was done was powerful. That’s what should be searched for, the process. What was created as a discovery, a learning, the affection of each one. So when we are asked “what do you do at Yes We Camp?”, I think we are esentially a machine of people who stop by here,so the volunteers are important. It’s not only an economic issue of not spending money but another way of saying what we do with authorising spaces, where one has the freedom to do, so we address to the public, people who can come. It’s important to ask: H ow can we do so that the space, just by walking or looking, we could feel we have the right to participate, more than in a shopping centre, with music and surveillance, or even more than in the street? So a space where we could feel that it’s being managed and there’s safety. It’s not a squatter place or somewhere we wouldn’t bring our children because we’d be scared, because it’s dirty […]. We can’t use a wall and paint a graffitti without authorisation because it’s being already run, but we are eager to build anything, it’s a possible place. It’s a European thing, I believe, we have the impatience illness. We feel there’s no public money to do anything, everyone has the arms cutted […].


+ You talked about the importance of the process and you are also in the process of doing Les Grand Voisins, which are also processes, in fact.. So, what are the process stages for you? The main milestones of the stages of the process?

N.- Anyway, what you have to wait is the moment where outer people and who live in, they’re going to feel authorised and invited to do it. And about the milestones, one would have the reglamentary right, you shouldn’t do everything illegal. After the regulation, the jurisdiction isn’t too adapted to ephimeral spaces, but we have to at least make an effort to do safety plans, to send things to the firefighters in case there’s a problem to say “evacuations should be done like this, here’s the phone number of the project boss, here are the materials we’ve used… ”


+ Before you said: there’s a moment that goes from ephimeral to be validated, so it goes on. Can that be a milestone?

N.- What you have to expect from this is there’s a defined space in which people feel authorised to intervene. And this is created by a mimimum of regulation, to be legal, because if not, we have the impression that illegally, only people who are activists, and if we want to get further, see the grandma who doesn’t want to participate in an anarchist topic, so that she can feel it’s a space where she can also go and participate as well. So just a bit of regulation, but then that has to be compensated with things that are a bit different and reach the head to break down barriers. […] And this is achieved with outer spaces, spaces with different rules, playing with paint, with artistic interventions, with different structures. If we have that security beforehand, this compensation turns into people who come with possibilities. We need to find the tourtstic link, when you travel, when you know you left the work or the studies behind, you travel, you are very alert, you look, observe… And we do this because we know we are in a different space and because we take our time for that. There’s an emergency to recreate this, to show people they are in a different space and to turn them more curious.


+ As for the meeting with local people, what’s the process to involve them?

N.- There’s necessarily a meeting at the beginning, generally I think it’s not very useful but it’s important. We should start doing what it’s going to foster a real necessity of dialogue.


+ Is it throughout action that it’s going to be stimulating?

N.- People can say to us “what do you do?” and we can say “what do you want to do?”, It’s a dialogue. If you go see them and you say to them “how are you, guys? We have this project to do this”, everyone has their projects, politicians talk and say they’re going to change things and they don’t change. The change must be started, and once it’s done the important thing is not rob people, to be very pleasant.


+ I have two questions: Once they’ve come, how do you do to introduce them in the process, because you mentioned leaving at some point and hand it over, when do you do that relay? And the other question: Being able to talk to people is a role, what means there are other roles you need in the process?

N.- Before anything, the maintenance role. The place has to be clean, tidiy, with a timetable, rules, clean bathrooms, with food if it’s said there’s food, well organized. A cleaning person, a reception person and a mediation person. A «trunk» is needed and then, when the inhabitants are there, the neighbours. There are some people who at the beginning will be «consumers» and they need to be proposed some things, and there’s the role of a cultural programme: you suggest a concert, a film, anything, and people come for that and that way, they are transformed into contributors. When you go to an event and there are signs everywhere saying «Act», «Involve yourself», «Collaborate». We can say it works well. But people feel more predisposed to contribute if there’s a platform. We, the way we carry out the project, have to create that platform. A space, well managed, tidy, well. Once you say that to people: «Do you want to suggest us something? We can accompany you, we have the tools, I’ll take care of the insurance responsability, of the legal matter, what do you want to do?» Ant there, you break down a lot of barriers, what I said before, people think they can’t do for two reasons: because they believe they don’t have rights, and it is true that nowadays in public space if you want to sell sardines, you don’t have rights. So one of the reasons is that you don’t have rights, and the other one is that you believe there’s someone else who can do better than you. Today there’s a search for people who try to retrieve the «know-how» although we don’t know how to do it well, people who are willing to make their own furniture, even if it’s now as well done as IKEA’s or a carpenter’s. They want to cook, to crop, and we got to let people do it without being judged, and that’s the volunteering game. When you hire somebody, they have to know how to do because you’re paying them, and if you create the space so they come over to help, to contribute, and you tell them: «Come do this job for three hours and the rest of the time, do whatever you want. I’m not going to judge it it’s well done […]» And you get into a state where people feel comfortable to do because there isn’t a salary demand or anything. I think nowadays we’re wrong about this organization where everything has to do with a salary.


+ Who has to be paid?

N.- The organizers, the maintenance. We need money so the workshop works with the tools, the order…


+ And for example the people who make up the platform and help with the concerts, who talk to the administrations so there’s right to carry out the events?

N.- Yes, and also who install the room, the sound materials, so money has to be generated to pay that.


+ Exactly, and how?

N.- Taken from the current, when there’s movement we can generate money over a people movement. For example selling beer, that’s the first way, suggesting people to pay a fee, once you have thousands of people who come, you multiply it by 1 or 10 euros and that gives you enough money to pay organizers and the maintenance. And later, you can go search for the gross production, the artists for example, can have another funding logic. But if you give them the plaftorm, I think that’s enought to do so, and then you can count on people during their individual careers to be able to donate space. We at Les Grands Voisins, in the milestones of Les Grands Voisins… We didn’t have money and we said: «OK, what shall we do?, What is necessary?» To create a logic of economy, we already said that we choose to work for free for at least 4 months to give the project a chance. We have to create an economic model. We set up a restaurant quickly, so we create a bar-restaurant, we do concerts and everything so people come, because if people don’t come, we invite them to drink (something not very expensive, because we have to show it’s possible, we’re not going to diddle people) but as they don’t pay, that creates money that allows it to keep on developing. After that money arrives, when we have a little, you start paying people little by little and some part must remain to continue and develop the space and this is important. In Les Grands Voisins when there was a little money, we launched urban agriculture, we made a greenhouse, we made some bathrooms… And we’ve paid the work time by doing a lot signalling in the place to transform the place and rate it. […] We’ve financed the salaries, we’ve increased them, and today there are 20 people who get paid and money keeps on arriving. So, what are we going to do? That’s a good question. For the moment we’re going to try to reach our funding investment, and we’re just on month 9, so in 1 year time, we’ll have reimbursed our initial investment. […] The money we’re going to make can be used to pay people, to start up, for the precursors, to pay them better. Because people, not because we work in a group like this, have to be badly paid. It must help to improve the place and to activate others too. The 5000€ we invested at the beginning of Les Grand Voisins we had earned them before with other projects, and if we make 5000€ with Les Grand Voisins could be useful for other ones, so forth and so on.


+ I think that after this you are thinking about handing over,how are you going to do it?

N.- I see your questions in two settings. One is related to what we talked before but it’s also in the interior of the project. It’s 9 months today we’re here (Les Grands Voisins). Next summer it’ll be 1 year. It’s a year in which we’ve really activated the place. We were in a closed unknown space, just with a few homeless people who lived in the space. We’ve worked little by little, slowly we’ve tried to tell a story, choosing peope that are part of the place, throughout specific themes, mainly related to art, craftwork, social insertions, and we’ve done urbanism,and we’ve introduced different elements: light, activities… And a year later we have a small city which is different, attractive, well managed, that works well. We’ve done this a little on our own, because at the beginning there must be control, especially to show institutions and the authorities that it works well. There ought to create trust with the police. Because a space is created like this, and they let us do it, they agree, or in any case they don’t oppose, they’re very careful because in fact, in the 20th centrury artists occupations ended up in illegal occupations (not being judged). They were more radical, but there’s a movement here that wants to create trust with the institutions by saying: «Let us some spaces and we’re going to take charge of them, and when we have to leave, we’ll leave». And this is new, it has to be maintained. And to maintain it when there are thousands of people who live in a space and you tell them «we are leaving now» and everybody actually leaves has to be respected like to «the mother of the village». So you have to turn into «the mother of the village» and to become that you have to control all the tools, build them, choose them. At the same time, it’s cooperative, because if you do it on your own it wouldn’t work, so it’s necessary to leave some space for the participation. But what I defend anyway is to say the first year: «I’m sorry guys, you have to do a co-production with us, but I’m going to say «no» now because we need…we don’t control your tools yet, because we don’t have the police’s trust, the authorities’ trust, the firefighters’ trust, so it’ll be in 1 year time, when it works well and we build the tools. And the second year, the motto is, this is not, there isn’t a story to decide this or the other team is going to do that, it’s a real thing, in the big team meetings we often have, where we talk about the problems we must solve, we try to ask about… Are you happy? How can we do? Shall we start projects? Are they interesting? We might be wrong because we’re lost in our routines? And the global wish, the motto for the second year is transmission. It’s like the handing over.


+ So, transmission because in fact it’s not only the transmission of how to run a space, but also creativity, which you are in the middle, you have the contact with the artists, you know how to talk to the artists and to the community, so you can join both. But, how do we do the handing over of this kind of creativity? Not only managing a space what it’s more or less feasible, but your specific role.

N.- Than can happen in many small blocks. We know how to the platform, we have a year to create the tools ( I refer to it as a model, although it depends on the project). But a platform needs to be generated, and when it’s there, we do a lot of blocks and we leave space because in creative stuff, there aren’t many people who want to perform the maintenance role, they prefer to be music, architecture creators and on the one hand it’s comfortable to have the possibility to do those tasks without… There are some people who are interested in the maintenance, everyone who joins the project and are volunteers at the beginning are later interested in the group, in the creativity block and also how to structure this creativity block. And the transmission can take place in the creativity spaces but it’s also in the tools. It’s necessary to know the tools well, the tools that create our economy but we need to share them. We finance our salaries by means of the bar, which is almost 10,000€ per month for commercial entry and so it’s necessary to share a part with other structures that are going to organize an event and enjoy … And do a restaurant business to fund my event or my activity. And I believe we should be able to say: «yes». At the beginning we couldn’t do it becaue it has to work well, you need to control well and every time you control well you can share. We share creation tools.


+ How are you doing that system?

N.- We co-produce an event, so we keep on being the only organizers if the police turns up,etc. But the group we work with brings the programme. We organize together the public hosting, the cleaning, closing, opening, advertising… We run the bar together and we go fifty-fifty with the results.


+ What’s the objective of activating this space? When you got there, what was the objective? I don’t think it was doing architecture, it was creating a cultural space.

N.- We have two, sincerely it’s a little what we said at the beginning, our reason of being is that people learn things. In fact, at some point when people call us and write an email saying «I want to go and learn things and I want to be able to do this», what it generates matters little. If we already have some type of washing machine that make people get in, everyone is going to obtain citizenship advantages of knowing how to do, the ability of being part of evertyghing, of the city. In the city we all add up, it’s us. So there’s really an objective, and after that there’s also an objective when we go to a space and we activate it, which might seem experimental, even, artisan, and then it ends up remaining. And there’s the question that we’re beginners, we don’t know if we’re going to get there or how to do it. In these pre-configuration activities of activation we can can set the obligations for those who want to make in a long-lasting way, those who want to build the buildings, transform the city. So this is at the same time public and private power. And that’s what’s interesting in the project of Paris, we are there for two, three years and later on, there will be buildings to be built and destroyed. So what we’re going to try to do is that the sponsor can continue and we can…. And they keep financing what we’re doing before, during and after the works. All we do is for free, not self-financing, it’s the public administration that has to pay it. And we could also say «no, it should be private money that has to fund this type of collective act». And at the same time today, after World War II Europe has been very rich, building highways, social protection,welfare state, and that is over, so we have to take over of paying collective stuff and if we get to do them a little funded by private hands, it’d be normal.
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+ Thank you very much!