The Dominicains de Haute-Alsace Cultural Meeting Centre

AN ALTERNATIVE CONVENT

Who still thinks that convents are closed-off, austere places for troubled young women? In any case, not the Dominicains de Haute-Alsace, where concerts range in style from the music of Clara Schumann to immersive audiovisual performances. So many spiritual experiences to nourish your soul and your mind.

At the crossroads between France, Switzerland and Germany, in an idyllic valley of vineyards nestling at the foot of the Ballon d’Alsace, the Dominicains de Haute-Alsace is a venue that’s full of pleasant surprises. It seems like a tranquil place… but appearances can be deceiving. The religious community was chased away during the French Revolution. Music took root here in 1826, showcased by the exceptional acoustics created by the 24-metre-high wood ceiling of the nave.

Registered as a Historical Monument, the convent is now fully devoted to music and digital art.

Think it’s quiet here? Sure, but people come here to spend a special moment, amidst the 14th century pink sandstone walls, in a setting ideal for unexpected experiences, accessible to all. Coming to this scenic spot in Guebwiller also means discovering a region, at the nearby Architecture and Heritage Interpretation Centre (CIAP), and a city where two celebrities were born: the French Nobel Prize in Physics winner and poet in the German language Alfred Kastler, and the ceramic artist Théodore Deck, famous for his luminous blue artworks that you can admire at the Théodore Deck Museum. Life is coloured blue, here…

At the Dominicains, no musical style is off-limits. From early to contemporary music, from cinema-concerts to audiovisual performances: artists have free rein to express themselves, and art knows no boundaries. Every concert is a unique experience, designed as a sensory immersion in whichever part of the convent is the most suitable. Kick off your shoes and listen to classical music in the Nave; relax in a deckchair to experience a video projection in the Cloister or under the geodesic dome. Lie down in the Upper Choir and gaze up at the sky through the Gothic arches; prepare yourself to enjoy a classical concert to the fullest by doing some Qigong beforehand. There’s a variety of modules - the convent even offers “Union Libre” evenings, where you can pick and choose between performances in very different styles. 

In winter, the programming is invigorating, with the Au Sorgenfrei cabaret, and when the nice weather arrives, the Été Zen summer festival offers you a refreshing chance to let off some steam. Trend-setting performers run the show, adding to the cool mystique of the Dominicains.

Burning with curiosity? The Dominicains has so much in store for you! “Heritage Sites for Culture” (CCR) provide carefully curated offerings and low prices, drawing visitors in to experience music. As for the younger crowd, the Dominicains opens up their minds by sending the convent’s artists-in-residence into schools. Their actions, targeting a variety of audiences, all have one goal: to encourage curiosity. Their motto: shake things up, get rid of old habits and make culture more accessible.

The Dominicains doesn’t just schedule concerts: it builds entire worlds, thanks to the AudioVisual Centre (CAV), a digital design laboratory in the convent that produces content, such as immersive projection mapping, digital stage design, sound recording and digital installations, deployed in France and across Europe. In the shade of the Cloister, the artists-in-residence have cutting-edge equipment at their disposal: 3D software, equipment for projection onto a 360-degree screen, Dolby Atmos sound, and more. And the centre has also recently developed skills in geodesic digital design. The convent has its own projection space: a 14-seat dome set up on the premises, called the DOVNI.

Timeless, thanks to its architecture, and at the forefront of technology, thanks to the facilities it offers, the convent offers artists-in-residence a cocoon that’s conducive to creation, a peaceful haven that combines complete liberty with technical skills and attentive service. In 2019, the artists-in-residence hailed from around the world, from countries such as Iran, Germany, India, the US, the Netherlands and Russia. They came to the centre to make the most of all the technological possibilities made available to them. What their projects had in common was a great freedom of tone and a strong desire to share. And they all embraced the important role that artists have to play in society.

Initiatives for the general public

The convent is also attentive to everybody who feels forgotten, left out, with social or personal difficulties. Its doors are wide open to them, offering activities that are so appealing that many participants have become true believers of the centre. 

The convent is also a production accelerator: it doesn’t only present shows; it also creates and produces them on-site, thanks to the know-how of its Audio-Visual Centre. This includes digital stage design for a cabaret, production of a film, an extraordinary digital show for a Baroque music ensemble, managing a media installation in a geodesic dome, and more. More than 15,000 spectators enjoyed the output of this creativity in 2019. Productions were presented in France and abroad.

So, come to the Dominicains, a convent that isn’t closed off to the world. Quite the contrary. This exceptional venue aims to push back the boundaries, take off the blinders and open up hearts and minds.