Atelier Observatoire is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2012 purposely as a place for art and research. The intent is to develop participative projects and support the creation of the Moroccan population. The idea is to bring artists, students, researchers, and inhabitants involved and engage in these participatory projects. Activities are involved on the geographical fringes of Morocco, from suburbs to rural areas and marginalized territories, targeting the most vulnerable communities.
The programs developed involve numerous partners, enrich the visions, ideas, and knowledge of the communities involved, and these are long-term programs that include:
– The Collective Museum: is a citizen museum for the collective memory of cities in Morocco and several recovery actions are led by activists for this purpose.
– Madrassa is a regional research, meeting, and training program for contemporary curatorial practices.
– La Ruche is a program for the production and support of emerging Moroccan artists.
– Les Invisibles is a research program that aims to trace the history of the lives of societies.
– L’Aquarium is a collective reflection for future new activations of public, educational, and heritage places in Casablanca.
– La Serre is a temporary, shared place that takes place in public places, suburbs, and rural areas to encourage the emergence of new ideas, breaking with traditional constraints and visions.
The areas in which L’Atelier de l’Observatoire is developed are the office and residence for artists in Casablanca (Maarif) as well as the space for creation, research, and archiving in Laassilat. The project was born in Morocco from the significant political fragmentation of the territory and the strong weakness of local governance, which caused disparate alliances between a poor and slow local development and a development of projects with a strong centrality of the State, which has always maintained control over local issues and projects.
Since 2015, the adoption of advanced regionalization has aimed to break this traditional governance model by giving local representatives more prerogatives in their local areas and promoting citizen participation in the management of local affairs. Despite its achievements, the project is still far from being completed. The main challenge for territorial development in Moroccan cities remains the transfer of powers to local elected representatives and the lack of clear and established governance. This counts as a major obstacle to the development of collaborative cities in Morocco.
Three design principles of the Co-Cities methodology characterize L’Atelier de l’Observatoire:
First is the collective governance principle. This principle is identified as strong as all actors are united together around the Atelier de l’Observatoire. For instance, in 2016, the Casablanca Aquarium, part of the city’s historical heritage, closed since 1980, reopened to the public at the initiative of the artist Mohamed Fariji for an ephemeral project dedicated to a collective utopian reflection on the future of the place. The Atelier de l’Observatoire played a substantial role here, with various partners such as foundations, the support of the municipality, and the artists’ collective. The project involves:
1) Active citizens, ordinary citizens, social innovators, city makers, and local communities.
2) Public authorities.
3) Private actors.
4) Civil society organizations and NGOs.
5) Knowledge institutions.
The enabling state principle seems to be weak. L’Atelier de l’Observatoire has the support of the Minister of Culture, which means a lot in the top-down approach of power in Morocco. The main reason why the enabling state is weak id due to a lack of collaboration at the public level; indeed, L’Atelier de l’Observatoire denounces the lack of institutional structures and policies in the cities. The aim of the project, however, is not to denounce the failures of public policies or governments, but to introduce the notion of civil society; to set aside the usual dichotomy that defines the state and capital as the only holders of power in our contemporary societies, and to support and empower civil society agency through art.
Thanks to the Atelier de l’Observatoire, a large network of artists has been created, making social and economic pooling a strong principle. In fact, several actors in the neighborhood create an economy of aggregation around cultural and social issues. The Collective Museum, for example, is the result of the research, collection, reflection, and creation of groups of artists, activists, students, children, and residents acting in their neighborhoods to bring out unknown stories, thus dedicated to the collective memory of the city and the suburbs of Casablanca.
L’Atelier de l’Observatoire has other innovative projects, that enable a whole community to access cultural heritage through various approaches, such as meetings, surveys, exhibitions, educational programs, conservation projects, production of works, and publications. Madrassa is a program of residencies, meetings, and pieces of training in contemporary curatorial practices for the North Africa and Middle East region. It is the first of its kind and has been successful in the Mediterranean region, with other initiatives active in several countries. This curatorial program is indeed a good example of experimentalism, that has been spread in different places. The pilot Madrassa session took place in October 2015 in Casablanca, bringing together 15 participants from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Cameroon and more than 12 international instructors, with the support of the Arab Fund for Art and Culture, the Goethe Institut Maroc, the Institut Français and Art Moves Africa. It enabled them to work directly with the European Union and apply for funds through the Med Culture program.
Finally, we can say that the potential of digital infrastructures and access to technology to facilitate collaboration does not seem to be considered in the various Atelier de l’Observatoire projects. However, there is an awareness of this weakness and a willingness to improve this dimension.
In conclusion, this case study of the Atelier de l’Observatoire shows us how it could be relevant to adopt in the state of Morocco, a co-city perspective, in order to identify that the weakness of local governance constitutes a major obstacle to the development of the territory. This analyzed model has a collaborative artistic structure, based on strong local action, to bring about a general renewal in Casablanca and from a more national perspective: it creates new ways of approaching collaboration, from the bottom up in the cultural sphere and new methods of interaction between people. The Atelier de l’Observatoire is currently negotiating with the public authorities to launch its project. It would be in the government’s interest to use this initiative to continue advanced regionalization, creating new possibilities for urban life.