In Casablanca’s outskirts, in the working-class neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi, a surprise awaits visitors. Behind the imposing pediment of the city’s former slaughterhouses, among a labyrinth of alleys and small squares, you can come across young skateboarders, rappers, and dance crews putting the final touches to their performances, and in the large hall graffiti and contemporary works form the basis of an exposition. Welcome to La Fabrique Culturelle: Africa’s first brownfield turned cultural space, located in Casablanca’s former slaughterhouses since 2009.
Since its opening, La Fabrique Culturelle has welcomed more than 400,000 visitors. The location’s rehearsals and installments have attracted a wide range of talent. The space’s objectives – helping artists to share their art, especially with the populace of Hay Mohammadi – have been wholeheartedly fulfilled. It is open to a multitude of different expressive mediums. “Classic” arts, as well as rap, skateboarding, graffiti, and fashion are all represented. The result is truly vibrant.
However, the existence of this creative hotspot is still not secure. Hay Mohammadi’s slaughterhouses ceased operation in the early 2000s. The building was constructed in 1922. At the time, it was necessary to provide Casablanca with a large slaughterhouse to meet the needs of the fast-growing city. The Parisian architects Albert Greslin and Georges-Ernest Desmarest built an impressive building in the Art Deco and Neo-Moorish styles. This architectural work allowed the building to be registered as a historical monument in 2003, which subsequently facilitated the transformation of the slaughterhouses into a cultural center.
A Resounding Success
Discussions about the future of the slaughterhouses began immediately after their closure. Artistic ambitions conflicted with urban planning developments envisaging the construction of residential buildings. From that point on, artists invested in the space. Artist Georges Rousse spent several months in the disused building in 2003. In 2004, the producer Cyril Teste presented a new version of Sophocles’ Ajax.
Despite many initiatives, the building’s future is still uncertain. In 2008, the city signed an agreement with the preservation organization Casamémoire. It lasted for a year and anticipated the space’s outfitting for artistic projects. A year later, in April 2009, the artists of Casamémoire scored a stunning success. The festival Transculturelles drew more than 30,000 visitors in three days, mostly residents from the local neighborhood.
A Parking Garage in Place of Paintings
Yet, it was a success that local officials seemed to not have anticipated. While La Fabrique’s first year of existence was a great success, the city has hesitated to renew the agreement. The enthusiasm surrounding the former slaughterhouses seems to be disconcerting. It is far removed from the more conventional vision politicians have of official cultural spaces. Five years later, the new agreement has yet to be signed. Since then, La Fabrique Culturelle has faced difficulties trying to sustain its activity. Without official designation, it is impossible for the collective to obtain grants and sponsors. The buildings have therefore not been renovated yet.
Evidence of the city’s defiance came in January 2013 when artists discovered that their spaces had been invaded by government vehicles. Not knowing where to park, authorities parked between paintings and sculptures. The affair only lasted a few days, but it served to increase misunderstanding between the artists and officials. La Fabrique Culturelle’s situation is contradictory. In a matter of years, the former slaughterhouses of Casablanca have become a symbol of culture in Africa, far exceeding original expectations. However, the collective still does not know if they will be able to continue their project in the future. The transformation of the space into an artistic hotbed has been an overwhelming success. Evidently, it has been too overwhelming for local officials.
Given that La Fabrique is well integrated into the neighborhood, can this creative use of a former brownfield represent a model for cities outside of Morocco?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.