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Social change under the Chapitô

When people talk about Chapitô, the first image that usually comes to their mind is the stunning view of Lisbon they get from the terrasse of the restaurant, Chapitô à Mesa. But the project of Chapitô goes beyond the simple borders of its restaurant: Chapitô reunites education, justice, arts and culture in one historical project. Through its different aspects, Chapitô has built a sustainable ecosystem which successfully addresses the issue of marginalized youth and social exclusion, while standing as a landmark in the cultural agenda of the main Portuguese city.

Starting the visit at the local store where I met Catarina from the communication department, I went from the bar to the youth house through the restaurant, the library, the day care, the oficinas, the classrooms, and the offices. I followed Catarina on a very enthusiastic journey throughout the history of the project, discussing its various aspects to better understand how Chapitô has been using circus arts as a tool for social change for more than 30 years.



A pioneer in the Portuguese social economy

The project of Chapitô is a pioneer in the small world of social economy in Portugal. The story and success of the project invariably arise from the leadership of its charismatic founder, Teresa Ricou. First woman clown in Europe, Teresa Ricou was also known as Tete since the 1980’s. When working in the historical neighborhood of Bairro Alto, Lisbon, she started exploring the potential of bringing circus arts into the streets for helping kids at risk. Soon after, working in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, she convinced the administration of the benefits of her innovative approach to address social exclusion. Chapitô was born, it was in 1981. Five years later, another agreement with the Ministry of Justice granted the organization of a building located on Costa do Castelo, the former premises of a prison for girls. This agreement also supported the development of Chapitô’s activities in two juvenile detention centers.


Building a sustainable ecosystem

Throughout the years, Chapitô extended its spectrum of activities, developing opportunities to generate income without compromising its commitment to social change. The financial stability of Chapitô relies on a solid ecosystem in which the Animation department and the theater company, Companhia do Chapitô, exert a primary role. The Animation department sells animated shows and circus-inspired activities to both public and private organizations that want to associate their products with positive values or target a specific audience. On the other hand, the Companhia do Chapitô has developed its own repertoire since 1996, featuring today more than 30 original productions that were sold nationally and internationally. To a lesser extent, students at Chapitô have access to a “recycling and eco-design atelier”, also known as the oficinas comunitarias, to work on their own creations. These can then be sold or exhibited at the local Chapitô store. The innovation not only touches the activities proposed but also the space and the physical environment of the organization. For example, from a restaurant on evenings and weekends, Chapitô à Mesa is used as a canteen for the school during the day; while Bartô turns from a library to a famous bar at night.



Justice, education, culture: dynamics and intersections

Every person you will meet at Chapitô will be as enthusiastic as the previous one. If you ask them about their work, their mission, their impact, they all give you a smile first, and then explain to you, either in French, Portuguese or English, but always in their own terms, how Chapitô has built an innovative approach to bring together justice, education, arts and culture. The justice aspect of Chapitô brings us back to its very beginning and its intervention in two juvenile detention centres; the education aspect is related to the professional circus school; and the cultural aspect refers to Chapitô as a major cultural center in Lisbon.

Starting with justice, a team of about 15 project workers and animators have been working since 1985 with young inmates of the Centres of Bela Vista and Navarra de Paiva proposing different workshops of circus arts, capoeira, plastic arts, music, oral narration and focusing on collaborative practices, self-esteem and personal development. Chapitô also welcomes and accommodates up to 6 children at Casa do Castelo, a youth residence that fosters both autonomy and collaborative practices, and tackles social exclusion at its earlier stage by offering access to a nursery center.

Chapitô’s educational aspect lies in the creation of EPAOE (Professional School of Arts and Crafts) in 1991, the first and still unique professional circus school in Portugal. The school welcomes more than a hundred students and provides two programs over a three-year curriculum: Interpretation and Circus, or Scenery, Costums and Props. Once the course is completed, Chapito’s graduates are ready to start their career in the large entertainment industry. In addition to this professional curriculum, a wide range of arts-related classes are offered for free to the community. Young people come to enjoy a friendly social and cultural space while discovering and practicing different activities. In all these classes, all kids learn, practice, rehearse and work together, there is no distinction between students, there is no classes for former inmates. As Catarina simply said:

“They came here as vulnerable kids, they come out as artists, it’s fantastic”.


From all the people I conversed with, each of them described their personal experiences observing the kids changing and growing at Chapitô. All of them mentioned their smile and self-confidence only getting bigger as the school year went on.

Finally, Chapitô has become a major cultural center in the Portuguese capital. Through its rich programming at the bartô Tent, its worldwide productions, and local animations, Chapitô’s activities foster active citizenship and civic empowerment, stirring up the civil society through the arts.


Untapping the potential of arts for social change

When raising the vital question of the social impact of Chapitô, various numbers and figures can be looked at and interpreted: not only Chapitô has been active for more than 30 years, it employs about 100 people, provides education to more than a 100 students a year, has sold more than 30 original productions through the world. Yet, these numbers might not give justice to the work done by the organization. Instead, we could measure Chapitô’s impact by looking at the number of “lives we saved”. The absolute values don’t matter that much when you look at kids’ smiles at the end of their curriculum. “What we do at Chapitô, it is saving lives, building hopes and brighter futures”, that’s what I heard in the financial department.

Targeting art, education and justice, Chapitô provides a holistic answer to a complex issue: the marginalization of youth at risk. Different initiatives and actions hence intertwine to provide an innovative solution to social exclusion. On that Friday afternoon, I also had the chance to exchange a few words with Américo Peças, advisor for education and social affairs at Chapitô. As it may be difficult to summarize Chapitô in a few words, it becomes very clear when you ask him the question:

“Chapitô is about empowering people. Chapitô is not welfarism, it’s neither a cultural only nor an elitist vision, it is an empowering experience for marginalized kids”

For more than 30 years, Chapitô has successfully used circus arts as an effective tool for social change: circus calls for teamwork and a combination of strength and intelligence, it helps people develop a sense of belonging, it allows creativity and freedom, and it requires perseverance as well as discipline. Starting at the youngest age, this empowerment process through arts and collaboration is at the core of Chapitô’s mission and social business model.



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Indigenous community, resistance and media

Mainstream media has often misrepresented Indigenous community and resistance. Last Monday, the McGill campus community radio CKUT 90.3 hosted a panel around “Indigenous community, resistance and media” gathering three indigenous activists and journalists: Irkar Beljaars, award winning Mohawk journalist, writer and radioactivist from Montreal ; Kahnentinetha, publisher at Mohawk Nation News ; and Steve Bonspiel, editor/publisher at The Eastern Door, a community-based newspaper serving the community of Kahnawake since 1992.

While not being overly familiar with the topic of Indigenous media and resistance, this panel was a unique opportunity to explore the two facets of one of my most fascinating question at the moment: how can media and communication can be used as tools for, and therefore against, social change?

For almost two hours, the three guest speakers were invited to express their motivations for taking actions, share the role they play as both journalists and activists and discuss how mainstream media has acted as a “propaganda machine” against Indigenous communities.


Source : CKUT 90.3

Source : CKUT 90.3


Citizen one and Citizen two

Canadian mainstream media has always been selective about the coverage of Indigenous communities. Through this selection process and by depicting a false reality or ignoring the real stories of Indigenous communities, mainstream media has clearly contributed to create two distinct classes of Canadian citizens. This “propaganda machine”, as it was called by two of the panelists, worked really hard to ignore the diversity of Indigenous communities, sharing only selected aspects of what they decided to show in order to put them in a little box under the title of “Indigenous”. Through such incomplete information treatment, so much talents and beauty have been ignored and hidden from the public.

All three speakers emphasized the importance for journalists to go visit and spend time in communities before writing about any Indigenous stories. On the other side, Indigenous journalism is more important than ever to share the stories that no one else is telling.

“My role is to act as bridge and bring our issues to the public in a healthy way. My job is to change the way mainstream media depicts our community, because my community deserves it” – Steve Bonspiel


Betrayal of Indigenous women

Irkar started his intervention by underlying the pillar role of women in Indigenous communities, opposing this reality to the white male-dominated societies that we know. Irkar is also known for organizing the first Montreal vigil in 2007 for missing and murdered Native women. These marches have continued and grown over the past years to gather hundreds of people two days ago in Montreal. On this topic, mainstream media has betrayed Indigenous women by depicting them as prostitutes, drug addicts, and hopeless. Instead of telling citizens actual facts about who murdered them and how they died, mainstream media turned this coverage into a victim-blaming issue, accusing Native women to be responsible for what happened to them. Again, in the perspective of the propaganda machine, the big picture was ignored to keep everyone ignorant and maintain the vision mainstream media has worked so hard to build.


The power of stories

Mohawk nation news started about two years after the Oka Crisis when Kahnentinetha published stories on paper then on a blog to keep people updated about the situation, gathering a pool of journalists to bring their own stories to the public. These stories are essential,  they are much more than simple pieces of news, they allow for community memory and legacy.

For Steve Bonspiel, the Oka crisis and the 1990’s can be seen as both the best and worst time of our existence. This decade saw the rise and wake up of people for knowledge and truth, harnessing the power of written words for justice and resistance.


Stand up and Open your mouth

That panel was also an important call for action. In addition to the pledge that opened the panel, stories, words, and acts are necessary. Indigenous communities need our help, us sitting in the SSMU Ballroom. So, what to do? Simple and meaningful actions proposed by our panelists that should be considered:

  • Stand up and march
  • Volunteer to a Friendship center
  • Stop listening to the mainstream media
  • Go to communities, Kahnawakee is right across the Mercier bridge by the way.  

“ I don’t walk the line, I make the line” – Irkar Beljaars

It is only going to change if Non-Natives stand up and fight with and along with the Natives to put an end to the racial system that was integrated into the justice, medical, and cultural systems.


Mainstream vs. Alternative

Alternative media is though growing as a direct response to the increasing public distrust towards mainstream media. So much beauty and talents have been ignored in the mainstream media, it is time to give Indigenous and independent media the credit, the tools – and the funds – they need to share that missing piece. Crowdfunding platforms are also increasingly seen as one attractive solution to make alternative media happen and last. In Montreal, the magazine Ricochet managed to raise $16.000 this summer to finance the Indigenous Reporting Fund. All stories are published on their website!


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GreenPiece #cop21 – Empathy in Action: Two days at the Creative Factory

I just returned from Paris where I stayed at Place To B for a bit more than a week. It is now time to gather my thoughts, reflect, and share part of this beautiful, inspiring and creative journey. Located right at the entrance and a little apart from the general coworking space, the creative factory proposed a stimulating environment to develop fresh thinking and provoke debate around a new narrative for climate change using arts and a diversity of creative processes. Co-developed by Place To B and the Forever Swarm team, the creative factory proposed six sessions over two weeks to explore climate change through different perspectives: consumption, nature, religion and spirituality, childhood, and empathy.

Think outside your creative box

The day started as early as 9 am. I directly felt the energy of the space where a lot of artworks from previous sessions were posted on the walls. People from all ages and nationalities were sitting around the tables, on the couch or on the stools, which made me feel comfortable as soon as I got in. Lucky us, we also had Scott from OpenIDEO to open the session and break the ice through a dynamic name game. I became “Smiley Julie”. We were about twenty participants in the room, along with a few photographers and an artist in residence capturing the conversations of the day. The creative factory is open to everyone, whether you are a visual artist, a writer, a citizen, a traveler, an activist, a poet, a thinker, a campaigner, a journalist, a dancer, it does not matter. The purpose is to gather all these complementary skills to co-create innovative narratives that go beyond our formal creative box to support climate action.


Empathy in Action: put your map upside down  

I registered for the two-day “Empathy in Action” session because I wanted to explore that concept of “Empathy”, often used these days as a “buzz word” covering different aspects. I was also very intrigued by the role we can play as empathetic individuals to tackle the climate crisis.

More practically, the purpose of the session was to revisit our perceptions to draw closer connections between the global south and the global north and establish a motivating empathy to build more effective collective actions. Doing nothing is no longer an option, we need to access people’s hearts to overcome their feeling of overwhelm or irrelevance in the climate change debate.

The morning started with a series of presentations. Nigel from the Solomon Islands shared the story of his island which is already seeing the devastating impacts of rising sea level. Along with crops falling and lands disappearing, a critical issue becomes the relocation of these communities in outer islands. That relocation not only increases the risk of multi-ethnic conflicts in the region, it also threatens the preservation and survival of these communities’ culture, heritage, and identity. Following this emotional presentation, Alice Vivian from The Institute for Desirable Futures, shared her experience of increased empathy through her travels in the global south and the development of an art project. Along with travels, empathy can be developed through meditation and a deeper work on ourselves. A few powerful quotes illustrated her speech:

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together” – Desmond Tutu

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign” – R.L. Stevenson

The first morning ended on a presentation from Singa, a non-profit organization working with and for refugees in France.

These three inspiring talks and the conversations they entailed emphasized the importance of creating the necessary connections with communities and shortening distances between the global south and the global north. Our brains and creative spirits were ready to kick off in the afternoon.

Empathy, Arts & Climate Action

During the afternoon session, we dived into the core content of the workshop, exploring the role of transformative arts to create empathy and foster climate action. Roman Kriznic,  contemporary writer on the art of living and social change, argues in his last book that we need to “switch on our empathetic brains” to solve many of the world’s issues, including climate change. “So far, economic, moral or other arguments have not been enough to spur sufficient actions from individuals”: empathy is a fundamental approach that has been missing. Education, conversation, and experience are the three methods he identified to generate empathy. With respect to education, art plays an instrumental role to better understand personal experiences of climate change in distant parts of the world through powerful images, pictures, photographs, videos, etc.  All of us in the creative factory room experienced empathy through conversation when listening to Nigel’s presentation.


Confronting climate change and disrupting current narratives face considerable barriers, whether it relates to short-term political visions, traditional media, or individuals’ behavior who remain “locked in their personal psychologies of denial about the realities of global warming and its destructiveness”. These obstacles are mostly explained by the way we think about climate change, not the way we feel about it. We are more likely to act because we feel, and not because we think. A recent study by Lisa Bennett suggested that the reason why people don’t engage in climate action has less to do with whether they believe or accept climate change, but has much more to do with their emotional response to it. As powerful motivators of change, emotions and feelings can then be accessed through arts, whereas facts access our brains. Art leaps the language barrier to tell stories that will inspire different emotions, whether positive or negative, to create empathy. Arts also has the role to emphasize solutions and positive actions around climate change in order to diminish individuals’ feeling of overwhelm. In our world dominated by irony and overly constructed images, artifice has become the enemy of empathy. We do need truthful and powerful images and artistic messages to inform everyday actions on climate and beyond. As an example, the Institute for Desirable Futures has launched its “positive propaganda” campaign. We are all #positiveconspirators.

Re-experience Empathy

Back to the Creative Factory where we took an hands-on approach to reflect on the new information and perspectives we shared and engage in a unique art project. By the end of this two-day session, all three groups created real things – an app, an online platform, a campaign – all capable of existing in the real world and achieving real changes.

  • Heartivist offers a digital platform of collaboration to overcome the usual loneliness of the activist and the artist, combining ART and EARTH.
  • “Stories in a Bottle” aims to create a new generation of virtual storytellers to preserve the cultural memories climate change is devouring.
  • “Would you have sex with a climate refugee?” is a provocative campaign aimed at tackling the rising fear of “The Other” in the global North, using humor to defuse the growing racism against refugees and pointing out that without action, we might all become climate refugees.


I want to thank all the participants and both teams, Ophelia and Tiphaine from place to B, David and Chris from Forever Swarm, for leading this incredible creative workshops. By participating in the creative factory for two days, I felt part of a creative collective, I felt connected to a dynamic group of changemakers and I felt stimulated by a diverse, respectful and balanced group of open-minded people. I am eager to go back to Montreal and share these beautiful experiences with others. The creative factory has been an amazing opportunity for me to look at climate change from different perspectives and disrupt my modern automatisms.

Revivez la creative factory en photos <


Featured Image : Place To B

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GreenPiece #cop21 – The stories of our Tomorrow

What if showing solutions through inspiring stories would be a great way to inspire action and induce the transition to a sustainable future? Following the publication of a report in 2010 announcing the extinction of part of the humanity by 2100, a team of 6 young leaders led by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent decided to hit the road to better understand the origins of this societal crisis. They explored a series of potential solutions and compiled it into a movie-documentary called “Demain” (Tomorrow). Cyril Dion was at Place To B last Sunday night to talk about this adventure.

“We don’t have more time. Maybe 20 years. It is a critical time for humanity”. Although the movie begins on this dramatic tone, the stories told throughout this journey send an inspiring message for building the world of tomorrow. Through this succession of positive stories, Demain meets a collective need for positive and constructive stories.

World tour: 5 themes and 10 countries

Demain takes us around the world, traveling in ten countries to explore a series of solutions organized in five themes, ranging from sustainable agriculture to energy, economy, democracy and education. Each chapter follows a rhythm and a certain order to align with the founding principles of the Colibris movement. Where to start? Chapter 1 addresses the food and agriculture crisis, reminding us that when a civilization collapses, it is mainly due to a rupture in the food chain. From solutions to solutions, Demain profiles a series of changemakers, entrepreneurs and pioneers who tapped into their creativity, along with a series of interviews with experts and worldwide leaders.

“How can you afford not to become green?”

Solar panels, wind mills, electric cars, organic food: Being green is often perceived as a luxury only wealthy can afford. So, how can you afford to go green without paying the Earth? The first step is simply addressing the major environmental problem, which is over-consumption. Going green involves questioning our lifestyle, habits and automatisms. This does not cost any money and involves small actions to start: connect with your neighbors, share your appliances, grow your own food, buy local, seasonal and ethical produces from independent shops, get rid of your car and jump on your bike, measure your electricity usage,  insulate your house, get informed, smile to a stranger every day, use what you need and keep questioning your habits. Individual and little changes will add up so the question becomes: How can you afford NOT to be green?

The power of positive stories

From changemakers and pioneers to experts, the movie Demain relies on the power of stories to build hope and develop impactful solutions for a brighter future. Too many people still live in the past economic and political story that was posit as a science. Our society calls for renewed stories that will build a new narrative around the world we want for our future generations. In contrast with the alarmist call of the beginning, Demain focuses its narrative on solutions to send not only a message of hope but also a call to action. We are the leaders of tomorrow: by gathering and taking collective actions, small-scale initiatives will lead to impactful actions on a larger scale.

The movie resonated with the people at Place To B. The whole challenge is to bring these inspirational stories beyond the walls of Place To B and reach a wider audience, creating hope and sharing the energy that such a documentary ignites.

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GreenPiece #cop21 – Cop21, Place To B, and transformational media

As part of the cop21 conference and as a COPilot and a resident at Place to B, I am starting today this short series called “GreenPiece #cop21”. Throughout the week, I want to share some thoughts, debrief a talk, invite you to an event, tell you a story, or introduce you to someone I met.

This first GreenPiece #cop21 is an opportunity to go back to the Transformational Media Summit that took place earlier this week at Place to B and explore the intersections between the cop21, Place To B, and transformational media. How do you think a journalist, a blogger, a media professional can contribute to the climate change debate and spark some good?

The cop21, the 21st Conference of the Parties, has already started. The giant family picture was taken and hands were shaken. National negotiators have taken over, going from meetings to meetings to cover the 55 pages of a draft document. Besides this “official” cop21, I am also interested in the citizen-driven version.

Too often, I hear my friends, my family, my neighbors in the metro saying: “Is it really going to make a difference if I drive to work? if I buy that brand new pair of jeans? Am I really going to save polar bears by throwing my banana peel in the compost bin?”. With a certain sense of humor, I always take the time to start the conversation. Why? Because I do strongly believe that each individual effort has an impact on the planet, because it has an impact on your neighbor, fellow, brother, coworker, etc. Every individual effort is worth the move because everyone is someone’s model. There is here a domino effect, that goes both ways.

This domino effect hence justifies our need for examples, models and inspiring stories to refer to. I belong to a generation of changemakers, a generation that brings hopes, creativity, innovations and solutions. Here in Paris, I am not part of any organization per se, but I refuse to think that I don’t have a role to play during the cop21 conference.

There are plenty of ways to look at climate change, at environmental justice, at sustainability.  You can be a scientist, you can be a farmer, you can be an entrepreneur, you can be a student, an architect, a lawyer, a truck driver, a doctor, you can be a movie maker, you can be a journalist, we all have a voice, a voice that is worth to be heard.

As a blogger and journalist, Place To B was the perfect answer for me: “Place to B offers to international civil and media society a general headquarter and a soundbox in the heart of Paris”. Its motto? “Refresh the climate, Rewrite the story”. Place To B has invested the premises of the St Christopher’s Inn at the Gare du Nord train station to provide storytellers with both a living and a working space. Besides the large coworking space, Place To B has set up a radio studio, a “creative factory”, as well as a lounge area for all community events. From morning to evening, you can find something to do, somewhere to rest. You feel surrounded with a community of changemakers, all of them ready to share their personal experiences and motivations. The diversity of profiles and events along with the renowned speakers make Place To B a unique headquarter for creativity, optimism, and change.

As part of its rich programming, Place To B hosted the Transformational Media Summit on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1st. This two-day event brought together storytellers, social entrepreneurs, artists, pioneers, innovators and media professionals to discuss the power of stories and creativity to induce positive change. Many ideas were discussed, many projects were shared, and a lot more remains to be experienced over the next weeks, months and years. Here are some “storytelling thoughts” I compiled during these two days:

  • Three rules of a good storyteller [ Anne-Sophie Novel – Place To B, Gilles Vanderpoten – Reporters d’espoir, Slater Jewell-Kemker – An inconvenient Youth ; Katherine Adams – Goodness tv ]
    • Make long stories short, focus on the solution, spend minimum time on the problem ;
    • Find the emotional connection with your audience (readers, viewers, listeners, etc.) ;
    • Be simple, but accurate.
  • Art is transformational: art has the potential to link the language barrier to reach someone’s deepest potential. We need to process new images and stories around climate and enter a “radical dreaming” process [ David Holyoake – ForeverSwarm ]
  • The two times of creation: there is first a short-term or “reactive creativity” that responds to the needs of a fast-changing world ruled by social media, and a second creativity that lasts the time of a human life, which is also the time you need to mature a project or an idea.  [ Maxime Riché – Climate Heroes ]
  • It’s all about human connections: as we are overwhelmed with online interactions, local connections, those happening at the human-scale, are missing. From the workshop sessions, out of the 5 groups, 3 addressed the issue of recreating a sense of belonging, a sense of community within our big, so-called smart and connected cities.
  • Act now: all the people Morgan and Garrett met during their 6-month bike journey from Vermont, USA, to Paris, France, shared this same idea: getting involved in the climate change battle was the best thing they have ever done. #foodforthought [ Climate Journey ]

Lessons, advice, and thoughts that will be put into practice over the next few weeks.

Make your voice and be an actor of the cop21!

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Le lien social traverse les murs de la prison française

C’est en m’intéressant aux dernières actualités de l’agriculture urbaine parisienne que j’ai découvert l’association Champ Libre. « Atelier du champ à l’assiette, centre pénitentiaire sud », tel est l’intitulé du dernier atelier organisé au mois d‘octobre par les organisations Zone Ah! et Vergers Urbains en partenariat avec Champ Libre. De quoi me faire réagir et susciter mon intérêt.

Prison, centre pénitentiaire, centre de détention, maison d’arrêt : nombreux sont ces lieux avec lesquels nous ne partageons plus aucun lien social. Ces derniers nous semblent loin, inaccessibles, tabous, ou interdits. Aujourd’hui, ce sont deux mondes – « hors les murs » et « dans les murs » – qui n’interagissent pas, amenant également deux categories de citoyens à s’ignorer.

Êtes-vous déjà allés en prison?

Née de l’expérience humaine incroyable vécue par trois Genepistes – Mai-liên, Mathilde et Natacha – l’organisation Champ Libre a pour mission de décloisonner les prisons en proposant une expérience humaine et innovante à un public plus large que celui des étudiants.

“On veut faire entrer plus de monde en prison”, dit Mai-liên, co-fondatrice du projet.

En premier lieu, Champ Libre organise des ateliers hebdomadaires sur des thématiques diverses auprès de détenus de deux établissements de la région parisienne, le centre pénitentiaire de Réau et la maison d’arrêt de Bois d’Arcy. Ces ateliers sont co-développés et animés par des associations ou intervenants externes indépendants et formés par Champ Libre. En plus de créer des liens nouveaux entre les mondes associatifs, culturels et les personnes en situation d’isolement, Champ Libre mobilise les citoyens « hors les murs » autour de conversations informelles pour débattre de sujets variés en lien avec le milieu carcéral. Organisées sous forme d’apéros-citoyens, ces discussions ouvertes invitent les participants à se questionner sur le sens de la citoyenneté et les pratiques du vivre-ensemble.

Champ Libre ne se présente pas comme un organisme de réinsertion. Ce qui anime l’association, c’est avant tout la (re)découverte d’un lien social entre deux réalités cloisonnées et l’accès à une culture et des savoirs souvent perçus comme élitistes.

Champ Libre se distingue par la diversité des ateliers présentés en milieu carcéral

Champ Libre se distingue par la diversité des ateliers présentés en milieu carcéral. Crédit Photo : Champ Libre

Samedi, 9h : Astrophysique

S’appuyant sur une solide équipe de bénévoles, Champ Libre développe et accompagne des intervenants en prison dans le cadre d’ateliers hebdomadaires. De l’astrophysique au burlesque en passant par la philosophie, la danse et l’océanographie, les ateliers proposés chaque samedi matin traitent de sujets divers et variés pour favoriser la plus grande ouverture d’esprit possible, tant du côté des intervenants que des participants.

Dans le cadre de l’atelier “Be cool Be clown” organisé sur quatre semaines, trois étudiantes de l’école Le Samovar sont venues introduire une note de burlesque à la maison d’arrêt du Bois d’Arcy. Une dizaine de participants se sont laissés guider au cours de quatre ateliers dans l’exploration de la figure du clown et dans la découverte de leur propre version de ce personnage. Une approche unique et innovante favorisant l’introspection et la découverte de soi à travers différentes activités individuelles et collectives.

C’est ensuite en partenariat avec des étudiants doctorants de l’IAS (Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale) de la Faculté Paris 11 qu’un cycle d’ateliers d’astrophysique a été organisé pour “questionner ensemble l’univers”, grâce notamment à l’intervention de Jean-Pierre Bibring, responsable scientifique de la mission Rosetta, et Michel Spiro, ancien président du CERN, l’Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire.

Autre thématique abordée, celle de « la ville d’aujourd’hui et de demain ». S’étalant sur huit semaines, le cycle d’ateliers a rassemblé participants, urbanistes, géographes, sociologues et collectifs citoyens pour explorer, s’interroger et s’exprimer sur la ville à la maison d’arrêt de Bois d’Arcy. Ces ateliers se sont terminés par la production d’un ouvrage collectif intitulé Champ Libre City, regroupant en un document le contenu des échanges et mettant en avant la grande diversité des perceptions et des opinions sur comment réinventer le vivre ensemble dans l’espace urbain.


[ Consulter la liste complète des ateliers proposés par Champ Libre ]

Depuis la création de l’association il y a un peu plus de deux ans, Champ Libre a organisé une trentaine d’ateliers, mobilisant plus de 75 intervenants, 150 participants, 10 bénévoles et 2 établissements, le centre pénitentiaire de Réau et la maison d’arrêt de Bois d’Arcy.

Ces ateliers offrent un regard nouveau sur deux mondes séparés par des murs, se traduisant aussi par une expérience humaine hors du commun. À ce titre, Mai-lên raconte l’atelier de Yoga proposé par Alice et Zineb au centre pénitentiaire de Réau. En démystifiant le contact physique dans un milieu où le rapport au corps est souvent négligé, voire inexistant, l’atelier proposé s’est revélé être un véritable catalyseur de changements et d’émotions, tant pour ses participants que pour ses instructrices.

Champ Libre espère également servir de « projets pilotes » pour les intervenants qui, séduits par leur première expérience en milieu carcéral, trouvent ainsi l’énergie de développer des projets autonomes, le premier pas dans la prison ayant été franchi accompagné de Champ Libre. C’est notamment l’idée des organisations Zone Ah et Vergers Urbains actuellement en discussion avec l’administration pénitentiaire pour le développement d’ateliers plus poussés sur l’agriculture urbaine. Affaire à suivre.

Le décloisonnement par les intervenants  

Les activités de Champ Libre ne se limitent cependant pas aux personnes en situation d’isolement. L’association travaille aussi en étroite collaboration avec son deuxième public cible, celui des intervenants. Professionnels, experts, étudiants ou simples passionnés, ces derniers ne se sont pour la plupart jamais imaginés transmettre et partager leur champ de compétences avec des personnes du milieu carcéral. Cependant, comme le souligne Mai-liên, co-fondatrice du projet, pour qu’une rencontre soit fructueuse, les deux groupes doivent être formés et avertis. L’association organise avec les intervenants des sessions d’information, d’échange et de sensibilisation en amont de chaque atelier pour les familiariser avec les principales problématiques présentes en milieu carceral. Ces échanges permettent à ces derniers de développer des ateliers aux contenus adaptés.

Champ Libre se présente comme une invitation à ouvrir un domaine professionnel à d’autres publics, et offre une opportunité unique d’ajouter une dimension sociale à des secteurs qui n’avaient pas vocation à se rendre dans ces lieux. Au fil des ateliers, Champ Libre décloisonne les prisons pour démultiplier son impact social.

Du dialogue citoyen à la réflexion collective 

Enfin, Champ Libre mobilise les citoyens « hors les murs » autour de conversations thématiques sur différentes problématiques en lien avec le milieu carcéral. Organisés sous forme d’apéros, ces moments d’échange rassemblent à nouveau citoyens, associations, chercheurs, experts ou professionnels pour faciliter la réflexion et alimenter les débats. À l’image des ateliers, les apéros mensuels proposent une programmation riche et variée : du rôle de la religion en prison à celui de la presse et des journalistes, les citoyens se sont aussi interrogés sur l’architecture carcérale et prononcés sur les propositions de la réforme pénale.

Pour Champ Libre, le décloisonnement des prisons se fait autant de l’intérieur que de l’extérieur : ce décloisonnement n’est possible que grâce à des actions citoyennes organisées des deux côtés de murs. Il ne s’agit pas seulement de s’adresser aux personnes en situation de détention, mais également d’inviter l’ensemble des citoyens à s’intéresser à ces problématiques et à contribuer activement à la (re)création d’un lien social.

Apéro-Citoyen Champ Libre.  Crédit Photo : Champ Libre

Apéro-Citoyen Champ Libre.
Crédit Photo : Champ Libre

Au-delà du milieu carcéral

Depuis deux ans, l’association tournait grâce à un fond de 300 euros collecté lors de la fête de lancement. Système -D de qualité et bénévolat ont permis à l’organisation de se maintenir et de se développer. Plus récemment, une campagne de crowdfunding organisé via le site HelloAsso a permis a Champ Libre de collecter plus de 3 000 euros. Ces fonds serviront à l’achat de matériel, au développement de la programmation des ateliers et d’outils de communication permettant de toucher des publics plus larges.

Autre nouvelle, à partir du mois de janvier, Champ Libre ne limitera plus ses interventions au milieu carcéral mais proposera ses activités à l’Ilôt Chemin Vert, un centre d’hébergement de la région parisienne. En s’ouvrant à d’autres types d’établissements cloisonnés, Champ Libre se démarque un peu plus de l’approche Genepi qui a inspiré ses fondatrices.

Suivez Champ Libre sur Facebook, participez au prochain apéro-citoyen ou prenez contact avec l’association pour proposer votre atelier ! Pour les simples curieux, consultez les nombreuses ressources disponibles sur le site de Champ Libre.