In San Francisco, a Villa for French Artists

Villa San Francisco is set to offer French artists an apartment with views of San Francisco Bay and privileged access to Silicon Valley business leaders and leading West Coast universities. The residency will be inaugurated on August 25 by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.
© Villa San Francisco

France’s soft-power arsenal includes Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto, Villa Medici in Rome, and Casa de Velasquez in Madrid. These three are now being joined by Villa San Francisco, the first residency of its kind in North America. “This is the first step to creating a bigger, nationwide network in the United States,” says Juliette Donadieu, cultural attaché to the French consulate in San Francisco. “We are hoping to recreate what we are working on here in other American cities.”

The residency program was launched in 2017. That year, the consul Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens opened a floor of the French Residence – a hillside cottage overlooking the city just next to Golden Gate Park – and invited a selection of French writers. Novelist and essayist Martin Winckler was the first person to join the A Room with a View residency program. He was followed by science-fiction author Sylvie Denis, writer and translator François Bon, and illustrator Jérémie Royer, the author of a graphic novel about French ornithologist John James Audubon.

Creating and Networking

“This first writing residency was a chance for us to trial the format,” says Juliette Donadieu. Unlike a traditional residency, where artists are invited to create in a given space, Villa San Francisco will encourage residents to “escape the walls.” “Thanks to the network of the embassy and the Cultural Services, we are able to introduce artists to people they would never have met before, such as businesspeople from Silicon Valley and researchers from Berkeley and Stanford.”

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© Villa San Francisco

The first four artists were chosen for the multidisciplinary aspect of their work, as well as for the role technology plays in their creative processes. (An international jury will select the candidates for the following seasons.) The first guest, science-fiction writer Alain Damasio, will be able to intersect the world depicted in his latest novel – Les Furtifs, in which society is completely controlled by multinationals and the digital sector – with the reality of Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

The other residents expected for this first season are the new media producer Chloé Jarry and journalist Aude-Emilie Judaïque, photographer and filmmaker Mohamed Bourouissa, and the live performance duo Adrien M and Claire B. While the American borders will still be closed to French visitors when the program begins in October, a number of “micro-residencies” aimed at Californian artists will be launched. “Whatever happens, Villa San Francisco will not become an online residency.”

Local Guides to Help French Artists

“Physically meeting people is essential,” says Juliette Donadieu. In order to facilitate French-American exchanges, each artists-in-residence (whose time in the program ranges from four to six weeks) will be paired with a local artist who will act as a guide. This effort to foster transatlantic cooperation can be felt even in the apartment itself, which is decorated with works by Agnès Varda, JR, Nathalie du Pasquier, and other French artists who have lived in California.

Residents’ travel costs are taken care of and each person receives a 2,000-dollar grant. The program is supported by the Institut Français in Paris and financed by the French consulate in San Francisco and the French American Cultural Society, which supports cultural and educational projects in the Bay Area. “The first French artists may not be able to come to America in person before the end of the year,” says Juliette Donadieu. “But we are adapting, becoming more agile. In crises such as these, we must urgently help artists and remind everyone of the importance of art in our societies.”

=> To mark the inauguration of Villa San Franscisco, two panel discussions will be organized online on August 25, 2020, at 9 am PST. French ambassador Philippe Etienne, cultural attaché Juliette Donadieu, writer Alain Damasio, and Shannon Jackson, associate vice chancellor of the Arts + Design department at Berkeley, will be among the panelists.