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Defense of a ‘Cultural Factory’

by Cristiana Strava

The Casablanca art world has been up in arms since the Feb. 15 print edition of Al Ittihad announced that the city government planned to transform a popular cultural space into a parking lot.

Source: Nafas

The site of Casablanca's old slaughterhouses — known locally as "les abattoirs" or simply "l'batoir" — covers five hectares in the historically industrial neighborhood of Hay Mohammadi. Its buildings were designed by French architect Georges-Ernest Desmarest and completed in 1922. Abandoned 80 years later, the site became a rallying point for local artists and architects with ideas for its reuse. They attracted support from King Mohammed VI and managed to register the slaughterhouses on Morocco's heritage list in 2003. Artist Georges Rousse started a project in one of the buildings later that year, and multidisciplinary cultural events soon appeared.

Source: Cinéma-Maroc

In 2008, Casablanca officials collaborated with officials from Amsterdam on a series of workshops dedicated to connections between industry and culture. Mayor Mohamed Sajid later authorized the architectural preservation society Casamémoire to manage the slaughterhouses with local artists, and they formed the Cultural Factory at the Slaughterhouses Association. Yet despite the Cultural Factory's status as a national heritage site and world-renowned center for the arts, it remains a piece of underfunded city property at risk of ruin and redevelopment. Casamémoire has been trying unsuccessfully to renew its lease, and when government officials began parking on the grounds last month it appeared to indicate a plan to reclaim the space.

Source: Telquel

The arts community mobilized rapidly via online and offline networks. Within 24 hours a petition campaign amassed 1,200 signatures and a "Save L'Batoir" page appeared on Facebook. Blogs and online forums were abuzz with indignation, and young designers created signs for the growing protest movement.

Source: Mehdi Ayache

Authorities eventually issued a statement explaining that the vehicles were there as a temporary measure to deal with overflow in their parking lots. City Council Vice President Ahmed Brija assured everyone that the 260 cars would eventually be removed, and they disappeared within the next two weeks.

A protest stencil reads, "The slaughterhouse is not a parking lot." Source: Zied Ben Cheikh

Supporters of the cultural space are nevertheless on edge, and an "Occupy L'Battoir" movement has emerged to keep the slaughterhouses dedicated to the arts. Despite the massive show of support, Aadel Essaadani — current president of the Cultural Factory — maintains that a longterm solution will require stronger political and financial commitment from the city government.

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