Refuge cities welcoming artists in danger

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Philippe Ollé-Laprune, former cultural advisor to the French Embassy in the Honduras, co-Founder and co-Director of the agency, Ad'Hoc for Cultural Development, and Director of the Book Office of the French Embassy in Mexico. For a year, he has been developing the ICORN network in Latin America, a network of cities offering shelter to artists in danger.

Would you please explain precisely what the ICORN network is?

ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) is an independent organization composed of cities and regions offering refuge to artists in danger. 24 cities in the world are now members of the network, created in 2005 after the dissolution of the International Parliament of Writers, also a network of refuge cities that offered refuge to writers in jeopardy. The cities in the ICORN network offer a haven for several months, even one to two years, not only to writers but to artists of all disciplines who are threatened because of their creative activities. Our network has already welcomed more than 200 artists.


What exactly is your role?

I just left the direction of the Casa Refugio Citlaltépetl, which welcomed and published the works of threatened writers, that I had created in 1999. I am now Cultural Advisor to Mexico’s UAM (autonomous metropolitan university) and my role is to assemble a network of refuge cities in all of Latin America. For the moment, only Mexico City, which has a long tradition of welcoming intellectuals from around the world, is a member. The history of Mexico in the 20th Century is noted for the immigration of Spanish Republicans and anti-Nazis, then later Chileans, Argentines, Uruguayans, Brazilians… The country has deeply changed and been modernized thanks to their contributions. Let’s not forget the important exiled figures like Trotsky, Victor Serge, Benjamin Péret, Ana Seghers, etc.


Why are you based in a university while developing this network?

In Mexico, knowledge is held more and more by the university. And it is all the more true with the nation-state’s loss of power. The University of Mexico, the source of numerous initiatives, is a veritable intellectual pillar of the country. Even if the State still maintains an important cultural machine, the weight of its bureaucracy doesn’t allow for new initiatives. The university keeps cultural activities with an editorial policy in the foreground, including performances and a film library. For example, we are going to create a collection of books written by exiled authors through my post at the UAM.


How does the network function? Is it the artists who contact you?

Yes, they connect with us on our Internet site to solicit our help. The network studies their requests, verifies their information and whether they are in danger or not in their respective countries. Then we officially submit their applications to a city. Often affinities work in relationship with the project that each suggests carrying out with the resident artist. In general, each city accepts one resident. Mexico City is a case where two were received. The artist’s stay is financed by municipal cultural services. The artists are lodged, receive a grant and can also benefit from education programs, like learning the language of the country that hosts them.


How many cities do you hope to bring to the network?

I am in contact with nine Latin American cities: four in Mexico outside of Mexico City and five in the rest of the continent. It is very important for these countries after a wave of dictatorships, wars, and political uncertainties that from now on, they can welcome imperilled artists coming from other countries. For them, it would also be a fantastic window on the world. Today, we have 24 artists waiting on the whole network. The number of requests coming from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia and Central Asia… There is an urgent need to act.


Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark​


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