Photo credit (banner): David Paquin / SNCF

At SNCF, we support a wide range of arts—photography, street art, painting, theatre and opera—in France. Learn more about our nationwide effort to keep them thriving.

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Our commitment

Building bridges between people and regions is the heart of our mission. And because trains cross geographical borders, they’re a powerful tool for breaking down social barriers.

We believe that an active commitment to equality and diversity includes making the arts more accessible throughout France, and it’s this belief that drives our cultural agenda.

In our stations and aboard our trains, we work hard to create an environment where popular culture can flourish. How? By making the theatre more accessible. By holding nationwide auditions to fight discrimination. By hosting in-station exhibitions to promote photography festivals. And more.

Find out how we’re supporting high-quality popular culture through a variety of free offerings that are open to everyone.

Endless source of inspiration

Photos of passengers crowding onto a station platform. Farewells and reunions immortalized on film. Steam engines captured by old-fashioned cameras on tripods. Photography—in colour or in black and white—fills our imaginations with images from the photogenic world of rail, which continues to inspire professional and amateur photographers to this day.

SNCF has always had close ties to photography, and we support this powerful art form through a range of initiatives.

Photo galleries

You may already have noticed the exhibitions that regularly appear in our railway stations: perhaps you’ve even stopped for a few moments to admire one of the photographs. Custom-designed by SNCF Gares & Connexions, these displays have transformed our network into the biggest photo exhibition gallery in France. And we’ve promoted events showcasing this essential art form for many years.

  • Mobile Immobile exhibition: Paris Est station, 2019

  • Enki Bilal’s Printemps des poètes exhibition: Paris-Lyon station, 2019

  • Rencontres de la Photographie (Arles photography festival) exhibition: Avignon TGV station, 2014

  • La Gacilly Photography Festival exhibition: Paris Montparnasse station, 2014

  • Exhibition showcasing the Paris Philharmonic’s retrospective Davie Bowie Is: Paris Nord station, 2015

  • ImageSingulières Festival exhibition: Sète station, 2015

  • Photomed Festival exhibition: Toulon station, 2014

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Supporting festivals

Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles

SNCF is a partner to this “must attend” international photography festival. Our contributions include:

  • spotlighting the festival’s programme in our Aix-en-Provence, Marseille Saint-Charles, Avignon TGV and Paris-Lyon stations
  • featuring dedicated photo exhibitions organized by SNCF Immobilier on rail properties, to focus attention on the festival and our own portfolio of spaces. In 2019, a concourse in Arles station hosted a variety of exhibitions, giving travellers a preview of the festival they had come to attend.

La Gacilly Photography Festival

Every year we support the La Gacilly outdoor photography festival in the Breton city of Morbihan. As viewers walk from one work to the next, this immersive experience makes them increasingly aware of the fragile beauty of our planet. We contribute:

  • special offers on TER regional trains to encourage festival-goers to visit
  • photography exhibitions that complement the cultural programme at Paris Montparnasse station and our stations in Brittany—Rennes, Nantes, Vannes and St Malo

100 exhibitions held in our stations every year

Carte blanche for professional photographers

We work with a number of photographers, and we regularly encourage them to show us the world of mobility and travel as they see it—with no holds barred. In 2015, for example, five photographers captured reunion scenes in tandem with the “French Kiss” contest, and some 30 of their photographs were shown at Polka Galerie in Paris. 

The art of graffiti

Graffiti has been linked to rail ever since its genesis in the United States, where artists in Philadelphia and New York competed with one another by spray-painting the trains that ran between the two cities. In France too, a significant part of the art form grew up around trains—a favourite canvas for street artists.

At SNCF we regularly support graffiti, providing dedicated spaces where world-class graffiti artists can let their imaginations run wild. And we’ve launched a variety of initiatives to showcase street art.

In stations

We’ve hosted many performances in and around our stations:

  • in 2009, graffiti artists JonOne, Sozyone, Seak and Zedz came to Paris Nord station to paint a Thalys train running on the Paris-Brussels line
  • in 2015, French artist Nowart paid homage to painter Vincent Van Gogh by painting a giant fresco on the boards around the Thalys kiosk at Paris Nord station
  • in 2016 ten graffiti artists repainted a freight train at Austerlitz station
  • in 2018 artists from Vienna, Berlin and Paris created “Noah’s Train,” a freight train painted with images of species threatened by climate change

Beyond our stations

Street art is also central to the many temporary art spaces created by SNCF Immobilier to bring new life to disused rail properties. In all, over a million people have admired the work of street artists in a range of venues:

  • in 2013, La Tour Paris 13 brought 108 artists together in the French capital’s 13th arrondissement
  • Rosa Parks station, in the city’s 18th arrondissement, is home to a fresco created by five artists
  • the forecourt of the Musée des Abattoirs in Toulouse exhibited a rail carriage painted by the famous graffiti artist Futura 2000, and during the city’s Rose Béton urban culture festival, four artists created a fresco on a wall owned by SNCF
  • Aérosol, a temporary space on an SNCF property in Paris, was a street art mecca from August 2017 to October 2018

Temporary uses for urban sites

SNCF Immobilier, our real estate arm, launched its temporary-use initiative as a way to revitalize disused rail properties as they await redevelopment. Each pop-up art project is closely linked to the identity, history, geography and potential of its host site, and SNCF Immobilier takes a highly inclusive approach, cultivating dialogue with the local community, nearby residents and urban planners.

In addition to creating many temporary art sites in the Paris region, in recent years we’ve organized a multidisciplinary project in Rouen’s former Saint-Sever station, a special display at Elbeuf station in Normandy, and a projection in the Belcier neighbourhood near Bordeaux station.

In-station exhibits

Stations aren’t just about getting there—they’re about being there. So it’s natural for the arts to find a home in these vibrant centres of urban life.

The SNCF Foundation and SNCF Gares & Connexions regularly partner with museums and festivals, showing original works and reproductions in flattering station settings—all with the aim of making our passengers eager to visit the museums and festivals.

In 2017, for example, four works from the Viaticum contemporary art show were exhibited in the Nancy and Metz stations. And in Perpignan, a monumental statue of Salvador Dali was positioned in a giant chair facing the station.

In 2018, Nathalie Camoin-Chanet’s imposing sculpture Carmen found a temporary home in Saint-Lazare station in Paris, under a partnership with Sculptures en l’île, an annual exhibition in Andrésy, a north-western suburb of Paris. 

On-board events

We also increase the impact of festivals and other cultural events by organizing on-board events and activities that give passengers a preview of regional shows and exhibits—and spark the urge to visit them.

During the Picasso exhibition at Montpellier’s Musée Fabre in 2018, ten Intercités trains running between Bordeaux, Montpellier and Marseille featured images and interpretive panels from the show, and once a week, a guide from the museum was on board to give passengers an introduction to the exhibition.

And to encourage Greater Paris residents to explore the cultural heritage of their region, we’ve covered an RER C commuter train with images of the Palace of Versailles—an immersive experience that allows travellers to lose themselves in the Hall of Mirrors and the Belvedere Pavilion even before they arrive.

Nurturing careers in art

The SNCF Foundation has launched a variety of initiatives designed to introduce children to art and help students pursue it as a career. These include: 

  • the Art en Immersion programme offers educational and creative workshops for six- to ten-year-olds at Atelier des Lumières in Paris’s 11th arrondissement
  • Via Ferrata, a free public preparatory class, helps talented students from disadvantaged areas in the Paris region develop the skills they need to compete successfully for admission to France’s top art schools

Unfailing support

For 20 years the SNCF Foundation has supported non-profits that make the arts accessible, encourage the practice of artistic disciplines, and support new works.

1er Acte programme

Founded by director Stanislas Nordey and Paris’s Théâtre national de La Colline, the 1er Acte (“First Act”) programme fights discrimination in French theatre by offering workshops for journeyman actors from diverse backgrounds. Since 2014, the programme has trained 82 young adults ages 18 to 25.

La Fabrique Opéra

La Fabrique Opéra (“the Opera Factory”) is a network of non-profits dedicated to expanding the audience for this powerful art form by creating “cooperative” operas. Under its leadership, technical school students join opera amateurs and professionals over a six-month period, creating and performing an entire new work.

Avignon Festival

As a partner of the Avignon Festival, the SNCF Foundation backs a theatrical epic performed in instalments throughout the festival in the city’s Ceccano garden. Each production celebrates the art of theatre and creates a community experience around it, bringing professional and amateur actors together to perform works inspired by poetry and literature, chosen to reflect a different theme each year. In 2018, the series invited audiences and artists to explore the meaning of gender.

Le Plus Petit Cirque Du Monde

Founded in 1992, Le Plus Petit Cirque Du Monde (“the world’s smallest circus”) is a circus school dedicated to forging connections between the arts and everyday reality for people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Open to professionals and amateurs alike, it’s a melting pot for a wide variety of talents and has now expanded beyond its roots in the Paris region to some 30 cities in France and abroad.

David Bobée - Festival d’Avignon 2018

Contemporary dance at Manège de Chaillot

SNCF Réseau celebrates the values of community, performance and precision by contributing to the Manège de Chaillot endowment fund alongside eight other major corporate patrons. Created in 2013, the fund supports the creation and production of choreography and other works at Chaillot National Theatre of Dance, providing the theatre with its own sponsorship resource—a first in France.

In 2016, the French Ministry of Culture named Manège de Chaillot a Grand Mécène de la Culture (“grand patron of the arts”) for its outstanding efforts to sustain France’s vibrant cultural life.