If you like culture, design and the performing arts, then Saint-Etienne is the city for you! This french former industrial city has been reinventing itself for a few years now through culture: with numerous museums and several theatres dedicated to live performances, there are many activities to choose from. Here is an overview of the cultural places to visit in Saint-Etienne.
The Saint-Etienne museums: an embarrassment of riches!
The Couriot shaft, a park-museum of the Mine to understand what the miner’s job was
The Mine museum is a must-see, it allows you to understand the history of the city which has developed strongly around mining activity. The hills surrounding the town are actually former slag heaps (piles of mining waste).
The museum is located on the former Courriot shaft, which was mined from 1919 to 1973. 1500 miners worked there at a depth of 700 metres!
The visit begins with the discovery of the impressive changing rooms, also known as the “hanging room” because the miners’ clothes were hung there. But the highlight is underground: although the original galleries are no longer accessible, a gallery has been specially reconstructed for the visit and gives an idea of what a miner’s work was like. You can see how coal mining techniques have changed over the years.
The City of Design, a place not to be missed in Saint-Etienne
In a completely different field, the City of Design is another emblematic place in Saint-Etienne, a city that is nicknamed the capital of design. With more than 1,000 patents registered in the field of design, Saint-Etienne has sought to highlight this know-how by creating the biennial design event in 1998 to showcase the best in the field. Since then, the place of design has been institutionalised with this City, which offers numerous activities for the general public.
The current exhibition
Until 29 August 2021, the exhibition “Flops!” highlights the failures of design. It’s a very funny and original exhibition that goes as far as imagining ubiquitous objects such as pierced boots, a flexible fork or a watering can that only waters itself!
The City also hosts a greenhouse and the design hut, a space for families to learn about design in a practical and creative way.
See you in 2022 for the next Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial which will take place from 6 April to 30 July 2022!
The Modern and Contemporary Art museum and its numerous exhibitions
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Saint Etienne – MAMC+ for those who know it well – was created in 1987. Its collection was originally an extension of the Art and Industry museum, created thanks to the passion of a curator, Maurice Allemand, who, in the aftermath of the Second World War, gave priority to modern art. This dynamism continued in 1967 when Bernard Ceysson, director of the museum, launched a vast acquisition policy oriented towards contemporary art. He was the first to acquire a work by Andy Warhol for a public collection in France.
The current exhibitions
With 20,000 works in storage, the MAMC+ has decided to present its collection in temporary exhibitions that change every year. Currently and until 22 August 2021, the exhibition “Déjà-vu, le design dans notre quotidien” explores the notion of domestic design through a presentation of 300 works from the museum’s collections.
In addition to these exhibitions, the MAMC+ also offers its visitors 6 to 8 temporary exhibitions each year. At the moment, there are three exhibitions on display, devoted to Hassan Sharif (until 26 September), Eric Manigaud (until 22 August) and Léa Belooussovitch (until 15 August).
I particularly recommend the exhibition devoted to Eric Manigaud, who works with archive photographs of key events of the 20th century, which he transforms into ultra-realistic drawings. By spending many hours reproducing these images, Eric Manigaud ‘neutralises’ their emotional charge and allows us to distance ourselves from the traumas of the past in order to better mourn them.
I also fell in love with Léa Belooussovitch who is presenting her first exhibition in France. Using press images of a violent nature (attacks in Pakistan or Somalia, shootings in Bangladesh, scenes of war in Syria…), Léa Belooussovitch brings out the part of humanity that remains by creating abstract drawings that blur the recognition of the scene. The pain of the representation is thus attenuated in a blurred drawing.
From 18 September, the MAMC+ will present the work of Lionel Sabatté – who recently exhibited in Paris on the occasion of the Résidence Saint-Ange exhibition – with a carte blanche over 800 m2.
The Art and Industry museum: the history of the city through its three flagship industries
This museum offers a contemporary look at the art and design industries that have marked the history of Saint-Etienne. There are three types of collections, dedicated to cycles, ribbons and weapons.
The cycle collection is the largest public collection in France and it is no coincidence that it is in Saint-Etienne! It was here that the first French bicycle was invented in 1886. The museum also boasts the world’s largest collection of ribbons, and the tour also includes machines and tools related to this traditional craft.
The current exhibition
Until November 14, 2021, the Art and Industry museum is looking back at the uses and perception of ribbons in underwear from the 19th century to the present day in the exhibition “Les rubans de l’intime”.
Finally, the impressive collection of weapons (more than 6,000 hunting and war weapons) seeks to highlight the creativity of Saint-Etienne’s arms manufacturers, because two centuries ago, under Louis XV, Saint-Etienne was home to a royal factory on the current site of the Cité du Design. And if such a collection can raise questions, rest assured: the museum’s aim is not to present a warmongering approach but to pay tribute to the craftsmanship hidden behind these unusual objects.
Tip: choose the City Card
If you are a culture addict and plan to visit several museums, then opt for the City Card. This tourist pass gives you free access to most museums, unlimited use of the tram and bus network and discounts with many partners. Valid for 1, 2 or 3 days, it is available from 16 euros.
Where to see a show in Saint-Etienne?
The Opera, 36,000 m² dedicated to the performing arts
Built in 1969, the Saint-Etienne Opera House is, along with the Paris Opera House, the only opera house in France to have carpentry, locksmith, sewing and set design workshops within its walls. This specificity allows it to show great flexibility in the setting up of its shows.
Spread over 6 floors, this opera house covers 36,000 m2! The auditorium was completely rebuilt in the early 2000s after a fire in 1998. This reconstruction gave the hall one of the best acoustics in Europe. Recitals, opera, symphony, dance, young audiences… the programme is rich and varied.
Tip for the students
15 minutes before each performance, the Saint-Etienne Opera offers the remaining seats at a rate of 5 euros for students!
La Comédie: a lively place
La Comédie is a national drama centre founded in 1947. The establishment has two halls with 300 and 700 seats and is also home to one of the six drama schools in France. With, in addition, a bar/restaurant and a terrace, this theatre is a living place at the service of the performing arts.
The programme is dense and even offers shows for young audiences. So you’re bound to find something to suit you, even if you’re a toddler!
Looking for more ideas for cultural outings in Saint-Etienne?
Find all the latest news about Saint-Etienne on the website of the Saint-Etienne Métropole tourist office.
The map of cultural places in Saint-Etienne
Find all the addresses mentioned in this article on this map:
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Article produced in collaboration with the Saint-Etienne Métropole Tourist Office.