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The story of the Festival de la Cité Foundation begins with a motion tabled in Lausanne by the socialist municipal councillor Marx Lévy in 1966, which proposed a study to look into the possibility of holding an annual public event in the city of Lausanne.
The Association pour la Fête à Lausanne was created on 21 March 1968, with the first event taking place on 28 and 29 June 1968, its primary aim to provide, free of charge, a wide range of shows. It was met with great enthusiasm by the public. Supported on a voluntary basis by numerous local artists, clubs and societies, in 1969 the Fête de Lausanne extended the area it initially occupied in the Cité quarter by embarking on a more ambitious cultural offering that incorporated the Place de la Cathédrale and Place du Château.
The first three editions of the Festival were marked by numerous incidents involving protests – some political in nature. These times of social unrest in Europe prompted the organising committee – fearing confrontations – to cancel the 1971 event just two weeks before it was due to open.
The cause of the trouble was a perceived lack of access to culture for the population at large, particularly low earners, young people and workers. Some political parties backed the movement, and 240 prominent personalities in Lausanne signed a petition protesting against the lack of a cultural policy.
It was in this context of protest mobilisation, coupled with the abandoning of the 1971 edition of the Fête à Lausanne, that the Association des Amis de la Cité, on the initiative of actor and writer Gil Pidoux, proposed a more substantial cultural event within the framework of the original event in the Cité quarter: birth of the Festival de la Cité. The municipality supported the projected. A new multidisciplinary event launched in 1972 and took up residence in the heart of the historical quarter of the city: lasting a week and with free admission, it complemented the two-day Fête à Lausanne.
The organisers of the Festival de la Cité separated from the Fête à Lausanne in 1983, grew the event and incorporated it as an independent financial entity two years later. In 2002 it morphed into a private foundation, which changed its name to the Fondation Festival de la Cité and initiated a process of professionalisation.
Several figures have left their mark on the Festival, including Jean-Claude Rochat, Géraldine Savary, Silvia Zamora, Olivier Pavillon and Jacques Bert, the long-standing Director of the Festival who left office in 2002.
After the 2007 edition, the Governing Board of the Festival de la Cité chaired by Georges Caille decided to restructure its operations. It appointed Michael Kinzer as Artistic and Administrative Director, who entered office in September 2008. The Festival de la Cité Lausanne began offering six nights of unbounded cultural vibrancy in 2010 across 15 stages within the Cité quarter. The Festival celebrated its 40th edition in 2011. 2013 saw the addition of a curtain-raiser to the Festival (Prélude en ville) comprising a series of offbeat and offstage shows throughout the city during the week preceding the main event.
Driven from its stronghold in the historical quarter by construction work for the new Canton Vaud parliament building, in 2014 the Festival resettled successfully in the city in the wider sense.
Two years on, the challenge had turned into an opportunity: that of reaching out to residents in other neighbourhoods and motivating them to discover or rediscover the city of Lausanne through the lens of an artistic, convivial event featuring out-of-the-ordinary programming presented in unexpected venues.
Returning to the historical quarter in 2017 after most of the building site had been cleared, the Festival once again sought to strike that magical balance between art and celebration.
In 2018, the Festival moved into the Place du Tunnel, for the first time ever.
Audiences in 2017 were able to enjoy in excess of 80 artistic offerings (creations and situational installations, shows, installations and concerts) and up to 153 performances at 19 different locations, some novel.