Provence Academy - Workshop for an expanded concept of humanity

Christoph Klütsch 

At the beginning of 2019, the year of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, the idea of founding an art school was born in Saignon. In a small mountain village in Provence, this is an ambitious project, but also an almost obvious idea. The unique cultural landscape is rich in the most diverse stratifications: geological, botanical, historical, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, geostrategic... Their entanglements form nodes that create unique starting points for creative exchange and can be activated as a learning environment for education and training, as a retreat or place of concentration for artistic and intellectual practice. 

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, and in memory of Black Mountain College, we are founding a new school that is committed to the future. We have known for decades that our current approach to nature, the political and economic conflicts and the religious and cultural tensions threaten our existence as a species. We know that humanity is undergoing evolutionary changes and that major technological upheavals are imminent. The beginning of the information age through the development of computers and networks is only the beginning of an ever faster progressing transformation of mankind. So-called 'creative industries' are feeding a consumer culture whose consumption of resources is wiping out other species and heating up the planet, so that the natural balance we need to survive is already disturbed in the long term. Even a 'sustainability debate' that celebrates the status quo and commits itself to appearances will not help.

We are therefore creating a school that rethinks our approach to nature and is committed to the exploration of new humanistic self-images. To this end, old ways of thinking are to be questioned, new visions created and alternative life practices tested. We are working on a post-capitalist world, a world without national barriers, and a society that overcomes violence:

  • The biological part of our existence connects with nature.
  • Human intelligence is expanding technologically.
  • Spirituality concentrated and united.
  • Our creativity creates a new future.


With a kick-off week, the format was practically presented from 8-15 September 2019. Teachers* and participants* gathered to activate the landscape of Provence at some of these nodes. Walks, a perfume workshop, philosophy in the forest, workshops on the EU, a listening laboratory to contemporary music, garden and landscape explorations, and a historical-political walk through the village were part of this kick-off. 

In Saignon, one of the most beautiful mountain villages in France, an exchange takes place in studios and in the open air. But also and on excursions to villages such as Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Gordes, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and to important cultural centres such as Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Nîmes. We discuss and reflect at creative places such as the Lambert Collection and the Palais du Papes (Avignon), Villa Dartis (L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue), Foundation Blachere (Apt), MUCEM and the Vielle Charity (Marseille). Places like the Romanesque Cistercian sister monasteries Abby Senanque, arenas in Nimes and Arles, van Gogh's Yellow Cafe (Arles) and St. Paul Asylum (St. Remy), and Cezanne's studio in Aix-en-Provence offer opportunities for reflection.

Saignon is located on the ridge of the Luberon. But the Luberon is also a park (Parc Naturel Régional de Luberon) which has been classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Here you can find olives, almonds, cherries, apples, wine, vegetables, sunflowers and lavender. On the south side towards Grass is one of the most important perfume centres in the world, where the essences of the fragrant plant of Provence are distilled for the master noses in Paris and perfumers all over the world. And the Potager d'un curieux is a garden in Saignon, where seeds of rare vegetables and fruits are grown, preserving the great variety of tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, flowers and herbs and fighting against the extinction of species. To this day in Provence, craftsmanship is still considered an artistic activity, as evidenced by the terms "artésienne" and "atelier" used in connection with the production of local products.

Founding of the association

In order to meet the immense ecological, economic, religious and political challenges of the 21st century, a fundamental rethinking of how humanity consumes global resources and reflects political, cultural and spiritual identity is needed.

Europe, and within it the European Union, has a special significance in the Western Hemisphere due to its long historical development. Learning from this history and its conflicts is only made possible by the creative cooperation of cultures. At the same time, multicultural structures are highly innovative and have the potential to act as inspiration beyond the current European borders. Provence has an exemplary historical role to play. Its history stretches from historical hell paintings, ancient conflicts, medieval religious wars to the reformulation of European and Mediterranean identities. 

The association aims to promote creative structures that are committed to the development of new ideas. One of the aims is to develop responses to the challenges of the 21st century by reflecting on basic values, identities, artistic and creative practices. To this end, the association supports the development of a community of thinkers and artists committed to exchange and teaching. Central concerns are the critical questioning of industrial and information technology structures and the strengthening of human elements such as solidarity, diversity, sustainability and intellectual and creative innovation. 

Quite consciously, however, a bridge to knowledge and insight beyond the western horizon of thought is to be built at this place. The exchange of cultures is global today. A deeper mutual understanding in a post-colonial coexistence yet to be created, will be the way forward for a humane future. Central ideas of this practice feed a ThinkTank, which is committed to the dissemination and implementation of innovative ideas. The activities of the think tank also include the publication and dissemination of ideas at congresses and in public organisations, and are actively supported by the association.

At the first big meeting during the inauguration week on 11.9.2019 the foundation of the association was suggested, its constitutive meeting took place in January 2020. The association becomes a non-profit organisation, commits itself to the development of the European idea, the worldwide international understanding, the promotion of culture as well as the development of utopia and has its headquarters in Saignon. It will support the development of the above-mentioned structures, as well as the organisation of seminars and symposia, and the dissemination of creative ideas and methods. An explicit aim of the association is the cooperation with public organisations and institutions and the dissemination of its own ideas to the public. 

The seminars and workshops offered by Provence Academy range from artistic practices such as painting and drawing, photography and perfume making to experimental writing, languages, art studies, structural and musical listening, sustainable living, philosophy, design workshops and of course political and social work.

As the world stands still

April 2020. There are few moments in world history when humanity has stopped collectively. Unlike major conflicts or a state of shock of fear or pity, this time humanity is coming together in solidarity. We reduce social life to protect ourselves - and above all others. The consequence is a strong reduction. This moment is a special one. And while politicians and economists cannot yet estimate what the consequences will be, artists and intellectuals have a unique opportunity to develop alternatives and make them visible again. The rhetoric of "it can't be done because it's not enforceable" has been exposed as a lame excuse. Much is possible if we only want to. More can be done, and differently!

When the restrictions on travel and assembly are lifted, we would like to organise a workshop in Saignon, which will be a platform for the exchange of experiences during this period of solidarity. How has this changed us, what have we learned, and how can we direct our actions in the future so that solidarity can continue to grow? What cultural practices do we lack, and what new ones have we developed? Which ones must be critically examined and which ones should be promoted and how?

We would like to invite friends, colleagues, interested, curious, dreamers and revolutionaries to share ideas for workshops, reports, discussion ... please contact us.