An interview with Béatrice Jacobs, Artistic Director and Founder of Les Petits Riens.
- “Les Petits Riens” offers artistic activities to bridge connections between the people in the communities you work with and reduce violence. How has your association had a positive impact in these communities?
When we started working in these communities, there were conflicts between two schools (collège Georges Méliès and Edmond Michelet in the 19th district of Paris). Teenagers lived in the same neighborhood but they were separated by an imaginary border symbolized by the Crimée street.
In 2008, at the request of the City of Paris, we worked with the students of these schools on the opera Carmen by Bizet. The children immediately took ownership of the story and identified with the character of the excluded bohemian. Carmen quickly went from being a distant cultural reference to being their own heritage, a reality close to their daily life. After a year of working together, all students were brought together on the stage of the Opéra Comique (one of the oldest French dramatic and musical institutions). Their hostility was still palpable but we later realized that the project had unified them. After that, when they met, the discourse was no longer “I come from this or that place” but “Remember when we were together on the stage of the Opera Comique?” From that moment on, we realized that the utopia we had imagined had become a reality.
- Through your activities you teach values such as respect, perseverance, attendance, autonomy, commitment. How have these values rippled over into the community? Can you give some examples?
Through the practice of arts, children and teenagers indeed learn about punctuality, perseverance, dedication, self-respect and respect of others. These are necessary learning and life skills. We work with them for several consecutive years, so after a while these values become inherent to their behavior.
For instance, Louise started learning guitar at Les Petits Riens at the age of 11. She was unable to focus, to be assiduous and to open up to others. At 16, she played guitar, saxophone and flute, she danced and sang. These five years taught her self-confidence and trust in others. She had great difficulties in school and now she is completing her studies in artistic vocational school with great grades. She also started teaching guitar to our youngest students!
- What are some of the challenges you face in these communities?
Ever since the attacks in 2015, the situation has become very complicated. We observe more and more identity and cultural tensions, as well as less openness and willingness to engage in a dialogue.
However, we are convinced that it’s through arts and appreciation of cultural diversity that we can prevent violent extremism. This is why we started working on a new creation this year, a piece called “Nos Indes Galantes” (Our Amorous Indes). Through world music and dances, the piece celebrates the cultural diversity, of which we are all heirs. We have great richness within these communities, people coming from all over the world. We need to appreciate it. Everyone must have its place in this diverse society. Achieving this is one of our current challenges.
- What are your next steps to continue growing?
Our next step is to open our dedicated place (until now we have worked in the premises of our partner schools and cultural institutions). We have been granted by the City of Paris a 300m2 space and will open it by the end of this year. We are calling it “Le Local Suspendu” (The Pending Place). This space will be dedicated to artistic education, practice and creation, with a solidarity-based economic model. It will give us the possibility to reach out to new children, teenagers and adults, from new communities, with diverse backgrounds.
On the long term, our goal is to strengthen our model and scale it up to new places, in Paris and elsewhere.