ArtSpace Gites – an inspiring belief in community

New to the Further Afield collection in January 2018, ArtSpace Gites provide not just a characterful French retreat, but their owner also represents a true Further Afield inspiration. For her, the gites needed to give back to the community she belongs to, which they do with your stay helping to fund artists’ retreats – the local community then benefit through lectures and exhibitions.

In this blog, Ursula Benjamin, the heart and soul behind the gites, offers up what it was that inspired her.

La Source of the it all

I am an author and I live in France. In 2014 my book, The Source came out in French and I found myself in Laval having lunch with the booksellers there. I happened to be seated next to a quiet man who said we lived not far from one another. He invited me to a place I had not heard of, called Fontaine-Daniel. We had coffee in the newly formed co-operative epicerie there. The building we were in was called La Source – the same name as my book. I do love a coincidence.

He then took me around the village and told me of its 800-year history; first as a Cistercian Abbey and then as a home to the family-owned fabric manufacturer Toiles de Mayenne. Many of the original buildings still exist and the founders supplemented them with housing of their own. This was a social enterprise, caring for their workforce long before Bourneville and Saltaire. They built homes, a school and a church. It was an extraordinary encounter in an even more extraordinary place, and soon enough I found myself back here with a project.

A community with art at its heart

I had always wanted to start an arts community and I quickly realised that this was the perfect place to create it.

Among its other credentials, Fontaine-Daniel hosts an eco-festival once a year, with talks from writers and philosophers from all over the world. The village itself takes on an other-worldly quality which I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world. I created ArtSpace Gîtes to actively promote and encourage artists who embrace their differences. It is now a community within a community and it delights me to hear musicians who have come to the retreats in the local co-operative epicerie play just for fun, and see writers wander and painters sketch.

The Gîtes provide the means to support the artists and you can find in them examples of their work for sale. Below is an example of one of the artists talking about his work wth ArtSpace Gites

All are encouraged to come back and exhibit their work here, and the sense of community within the artists of different medias is now growing.

Although it is still in its infancy, it is nice to see it develop, and those who come to visit and support this project become as much a part of the community as the artists they support. My most recent book ends here, however for me this is only the beginning of the story…


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