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5 Free Cultural Centers to Explore in Paris

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Norah Deming has been a virtual Soul Food intern for most of the summer. She was originally meant to spend this time in France, but like many students, her plans changed drastically because of the pandemic. However, we got lucky when borders opened up and she was able to come to Paris for a portion of her internship and spend some time working with us here in-person. While here, she visited numerous cultural centers in preparation for this month's blog post. Typically less-visited than their colossal French counterparts (i.e., museums), even the most seasoned travellers and cultured Parisians should take a look at this month's post, featuring a few of these very special places.

As COVID-19 continues to affect the way we approach public spaces in France, it is important to consider how the cultural sector has been affected. Many artistic and cultural venues in Paris were forced to close during the pandemic, which resulted in significant public backlash. These centers are essential to France’s identity, and their closing emphasized the importance of having access to literature, music and other forms of art. Self fulfillment comes from experiencing and witnessing the variety of creative ways that humans express their humanity. As cultural centers in Paris continue adapting to the latest pandemic rules and recommended health protocols, they will require a reignition of public support. In this article, we will recommend five such centers and the exhibitions they are featuring this summer. Admission is free to all the centers we have listed.

Monday to Friday 10:00-13:00/14:00-18:00, Saturday 15:00-19:00

Photo © Soul Food / Norah Deming

The Cultural Institute of Mexico is one of the smaller cultural centers on this list, but well worth the visit. By chance, I was the only visitor in the space when I arrived to view an exhibition called “Extinción Continua” by the artists ​​and siblings Avelina and Alejandro Fuentes Quezada, which ran from June 1st to July 24th 2021. Their work was accompanied by extracts from the poet Claudia Luna. Throughout the two floors of the institute, the artists’ installations represented the desert ecosystem of the Coahuila desert through organic forms. The institute's curator made deliberate use of the relatively small space by thoughtfully pairing poetry and sculpture. It is clear that any exhibit featured here will receive the same level of consideration.

Monday to Friday 10:00-17:30

Photo © Soul Food / Norah Deming

When I arrived at the Canadian Cultural Center, I immediately felt welcomed; maybe I was affected by the Canadian politeness trope or perhaps it was the cooling gust of AC on a hot summer’s day. I was highly anticipating an exhibition at the center that put environmental issues at the forefront: “Mounds and Voids from Human to Global Scale,” by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. These photographs will be featured until September 19th 2021 and they revolve around the theme of profitable resource exploitation and its effects on surrounding populations. Burtynsky’s studio used augmented reality to depict technology in the Anthropocene that has terraformed “the earth through mining, urbanization, industrialization and agriculture.” The AR installations are thousands of images stitched together into three dimensional forms to view on an iPad in the center’s exhibition space. For any person driven by concern for the environment, this exhibit is a must-see. With other events such as the DIY “Paint your face like a caribou” children’s workshop, veneration of the natural world is fundamental to the Canadian Cultural Center’s programming.

Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Photo © Soul Food / Norah Deming

The Serbian Cultural Center is directly across from Centre Pompidou in the center of the Beaubourg neighborhood. The current exhibition, running from June 17th to August 31st 2021, is a collection of paintings called “The Passers-by” by the Belgradian artist Cile Marinkovic. Marinkovic used both acrylic and oil paint in his collection, creating a colorful contrast to the otherwise minimalist and simplistic gallery space. His collection was guided by an interest in depicting passers-by, the “people that we meet in the street, in cafes, in the metro, in airports, but that we do not know, that we do not meet.Using three floors to feature the exhibition, including a beautiful basement with old stone arches, the center has ensured that each piece has adequate space while retaining the capacity to hold literary evenings, concerts, conferences, and language courses. The center also hosts an impressive array of activities to help people discover and appreciate Serbian culture.

Tuesday - Sunday 13:00-19: 00

Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

The Swiss Cultural Center is a beautiful space tucked at the end of a passage within the Marais. With access to a quiet courtyard, two exhibition halls, a theatre/concert space, and a bookshop, the center has much to offer. In July, we visited the CCS with some of our young members. We viewed an exhibition from the Swiss artist Manon, who is considered “a trailblazer on the Swiss performance and art scene since the mid-1970s.” The center selects visual artists that work in a wide variety of mediums, so the exhibition halls are kept simplistic and conducive to transition. Beyond the walls of the center, the CCS has forged partnerships across Paris, including with Soul Food, the Centquatre, the Gaîté Lyrique, and the Carreau du Temple. The community-oriented essence of the CCS is evident in both its physical space and its collaborative relationships.

Monday - Friday 9:30-18:00

Photo © Soul Food / Norah Deming

The Korean Cultural Center in the 8th arrondissement is one of the largest cultural centers featured on this list. It has a sun-filled tranquil courtyard, which is a stark juxtaposition to the bustling Rue la Boétie just outside. During my visit, I explored three separate spaces of the center. The first was a permanent installation about various aspects of Korean culture, including cuisine, architecture and clothing. Second, was a temporary exhibit called “chaekgeori ... of the beauty of books," which was a colorful exhibit that featured work from 47 Korean artists who share a passion for minhwa, a type of Korean folk painting. This exhibit is running from June 17th to September 10th 2021. Lastly, I viewed a temporary exhibit featuring work from members of the Association of Young Korean Artists called, “Beyond Measure,” which is meant to provide an overview of the contemporary work by young Korean artists in France. The center artfully presented a wide array of Korean art and cultural installations, spanning from traditional to modern. With plenty to view, I felt as if I could spend my entire afternoon exploring the three floors of exhibition space and even more time relaxing in the courtyard. If you visit, try to grab a free copy of their biannually produced magazine!

Providing opportunities for youth to engage with cultural and artistic institutions is fundamental to the mission at Soul Food. Most cultural centers are free, which makes them accessible to people regardless of their financial status. Cultural centers are therefore more affordable than traditional museums, and they also represent a wider array of cultures (Paris is home to more than fifty foreign cultural venues). At a time when traveling is not feasible for many folks, these venues provide a unique opportunity to discover other places from their home city. As cultural centers progressively resume their regular programming, I will embrace the opportunities to appreciate a diverse array of cultures and countries. I hope you do too.

You can also check out the creative online content these cultural institutions offer, as well as their fall programming. Many feature concerts, new exhibitions and a few are participating in festivals, including Les Traversées du Marais, happening from September 3rd- 5th this year.

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