Closure of the Colony: “Reimagine this place without associating the cultural center with a bar”

Kader Attia accuses the blow, but does not hide his sadness. Opened in October 2016 at the initiative of the artist, the independent venue La Colonie, a hybrid militant space between the bar and the cultural agora located in the Gare du Nord district (Paris Xe), put the key under the door. The health crisis dealt the final blow to this meeting of ideas (decolonial, feminist, on gender, minor thought currents “which initiate the work of living”) where debates, exhibitions and performances were held in a spirit of festive and popular.

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Seen from afar, the Colony looked very successful. What precipitated its bankruptcy?

Our cultural center has guaranteed intellectual independence by equipping itself with its own economic lung. We did not receive any private support or public subsidy, all our economy was generated by the activity of the bar. It is true that the Colony was full on weekends, but the other days of the week it was more complicated, we were always on the tightrope. What really precipitated the closure was the Covid-19. We have seen the accumulation of invoices without benefiting from deferral of charges or exemptions. The rent, the rental of the equipment, the repayment of the credits, the assumption of responsibility for 30% of the short-time working… We rowed, rowed with the cash that we had, we asked for help, including insurance which did not didn’t want to hear anything. The icing on the cake was not being able to reopen at the same time as the other Parisian bars because we do not have a terrace. With the very costly logistics that would have had to be put in place to welcome the public in an enclosed space, we would not have been able to reopen for a long time … What I regret is that a place like Colonie n found no help when he needed it. If we had received significant support, if only from the town hall, we could have paid off our debts.

How do you see the experience that this place will have allowed?

I created the Colony so that conferences on contemporary art, colonialism, queer, all questions that need space to speak, have a place to express themselves. Great thinkers have passed there: Françoise Vergès, Toni Negri, Etienne Balibar… I strongly believe in the field of emotion that places of life such as cafes and bars bring to a society. I was the first to be surprised to see the young people from the neighborhoods arrive, with the same background as me, who grew up in the suburbs of Sarcelles. They came with the pride of having a place where they could be at home in Paris itself. The disappearance of the Colony is all the more regrettable at a time like this, when decolonial actions such as the unbolting of statues are increasing, and people are claiming these spaces for free speech.

What are the prospects for reinventing the Colony in another location?

To continue the fight, I would like to re-imagine the place without associating the cultural center with a bar project: we no longer want these constraints. We appeal to institutions, or to private individuals who have space to rent, with the clear desire to set up an independent agora, not controlled by political parties. I was not a big fan of the idea of ​​crowfunding because I would have preferred to find the place before, but I think it is ultimately a good idea. The Colony also existed thanks to the activists, to the people who came to organize things on a voluntary basis with the desire to take concrete action. We will try to be more modest in terms of operating costs. Today, I tell myself that the project was viable until such time as a disaster arrives. Without the coronavirus, we would still be here.

Sandra Onana


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