Subculture and counterculture are the backbone of the art world, challenging the established order and values, preventing the arts from falling into complacency and decadence. Much like a single party political system, a cultural scene devoid of counterculture is doomed to be stagnant, elitist, and ultimately counterproductive both to its own progress and to the fulfillment of its members. Yet, as valuable as this natural opposition to mainstream culture may be, local governments seem ever more intent on shutting it down for no better reason than conservative stubbornness and self aggrandizement.
A prime example of such egotistical government is the ongoing struggle that faces l’Usine (one of Geneva’s most notorious alternative haunts) and the Geneva city council. The abridged story goes as follows: about 20 years ago, a group of people took the initiative to make constructive use of an abandoned building that used to be part of a factory which has since fallen into disuse. They did it up at their own expense and developed it into an independent, non-profit cultural center with the sole aim of promoting the arts in all their forms. This, however, did not sit well with the city council, whose world view did not have place for such an organisation and they proceeded to pressure l’Usine to shut down over the years. This was neither the first nor the last clash that Geneva city council had with its local underground scene; over the past 10 years they have successfully shut down several comparable cultural venues, among which are Artamis and Rhino, but where others failed l’Usine triumphed in the face of adversity and has managed to stay open and active. Today, l’Usine serves an average of 5,000 persons per week (more than any other venue in the city) and provides a wide variety of social and cultural activities for the alternative community.
However, the venue’s future has now been put in question once more by Geneva’s city council; they have approved a new law that imposes numerous restrictions on the owners and operators of establishments dedicated to serving food, beverages, and hospitality. Among the many conditions it imposes on such establishments, it requires every bar within to have a separate alcohol vending license on grounds of public safety. They also require the owner, as well as every employee to be officially qualified to exercise their function (that is to say: be in possession of a certificate either granted or approved by the government). Furthermore those running the establishment must have the express authorization to do so from the owners of the premises to do so if they are not the owners. [Read more…]