Every year in late spring (this year in October), over 200 artists working in Paris’ northeastern Belleville neighborhood open their studios for a few days to the general public.
The Portes Ouvertes (open doors) event takes place over a long weekend in late May, transforming Belleville into a fascinating showcase. Local artists display their latest or best work, conversing with fellow creators and enthusiasts. You’ll get to take in works in nearly all mediums under the sun: painting, illustration, sculpture, woodworking, street art, photography, performance art and video.
Seeing the art itself is only half the appeal. There’s something oddly fascinating about getting to wander through shaded courtyards that are generally hidden behind locked gates. Or strolling through enormous, airy lofts that once served as small factories or warehouses: telling relics of Belleville’s working-class history.
The event opens up a neighborhood that often feels both secretive and timeless. And for tourists itching for something a bit off-radar and unusual, this definitely delivers.
How to Make the Most of Your Studio Stroll?
While many continue to associate areas like the Latin Quarter or Montmartre with artists and writers, these districts have become so gentrified and touristy as to mostly stand in for a glorious artistic past. To encounter the city’s contemporary art scene in the gritty, complex present-tense, the Belleville Open Studios event is a much better choice.
You can get a sense of what’s in store at the Open Studios by taking a look at this short video from the Association.
Take Your Time
I don’t recommend rushing or attempting to see too many studios in one visit. Take the time to really appreciate the work and/or the space, even if it’s not entirely to your taste. The real point of this event is to experience a side of Parisian culture you’re probably unfamiliar with.
Have a chat with the artists if you find their work inspiring or intriguing. You may even decide to purchase one or two original works to bring home with you. And most artists are delighted to get the chance to talk about their work, especially with visitors who take a genuine interest in the arts. Don’t worry if they seem shy about their English or initially reluctant to chat. Many Parisians (with plenty of notable exceptions) are simply self-conscious about their foreign-language skills. It’s usually nothing personal.
See Some Local Street Art & Have a Drink
The neighborhood is also remarkable for its street art. More than mere graffiti, you’ll pass by elaborate, riotously colorful murals. Odd and enigmatic portraits of people both famous and anonymous. Since many of the participating studios are situated on streets that are themselves living works of art, you can’t help encountering some on your stroll.
See all my recommendations for Belleville, including where to have a drink or light bite in between ambling through the artists’ studios, in my full neighborhood guide.
Belleville Artists Ateliers Ouverts 2020 Program and Studio Locations
In 2020, the event was rescheduled for the autumn due to the coronavirus crisis. It will run from Friday, October 2nd through Monday, October 5th.
138 artists and 85 studios will take part in the 31st annual edition, which is themed around “Anima” . Entry is free to all participating workspaces across Belleville, dispersed around the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements.
Visit the official website for more information and updates on this year’s event. You can also see a full map of the studios open to the public this year to help you choose a route and navigate.
Finally, a list of this year’s participating artists (and their mediums) can be found at this page.
Getting There & Contacting the Association for More Info
- Meeting point and information center: Galerie des AAB, 1 rue Francis Picabia, 20th arrondissement (75020), Paris
- Metro: Line 2 (Couronnes or Belleville)
- Information by phone: +33 (0)1 73 74 27 67
- e-mail: [email protected]