From Factories to Artworks – The MACS in Grand-Hornu
Once one of the largest collieries in Belgium, Grand-Hornu is now a gem of European industrial culture. Despite its seclusion, this UNESCO World Heritage site attracts contemporary art lovers as well as architecture enthusiasts. For more than two decades, contemporary art has been shown in relation to the history of this industrial complex in the MACS, the Musée des Arts Contemporains. “From Factories to Artworks – the MACS in Grand-Hornu” looks both at the chequered history of the site in the coal-mining era and the courageous way in which the museum was founded.
In order to mine more coal in Grand-Hornu, an effort was made to attract workers from around the world. To do that, Henri de Gorge, who owned Grand-Hornu, launched an ambitious urban planning project in 1810. He had a housing estate for workers built – with a school, a library and a hospital, green areas and even a ballroom. His plan worked: within a mere ten years the number of workers rose sevenfold, and coal extraction skyrocketed. It was a strong community, which he looked after – and which he exploited at the same time.
As a result of the coal crisis in the mid-1950s, Grand-Hornu had to shut down the colliery. In 1954 the last lump of coal was excavated from the mines and the factory doors were closed. For decades the complex lay in a deep slumber and fell into decay, until a spirited and courageous campaign by the founding director of the MACS, Laurent Busine, ensured the site’s rebuilding and rediscovery. His daring plan: not only to found a prestigious contemporary museum but also to involve the local residents.