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Saluting All Things French – in Colorado!

An article by Marc Shulgold French in Denver

Par-lay Voo?? If you can’t speak French, it’s probably because you haven’t been taking lessons at the Alliance Française de Denver.

More than 700 students, ranging from school kids to octogenarians, have been learning or brushing up on the language at this century-old center of French culture on Galapago St. (or up at the Boulder branch on Edinboro Dr.).

Summer Soirée 2014

Summer Soirée 2014

But there’s a lot more going on at the Alliance than conjugating verbs and memorizing vocabulary.

“We offer more than 80 social events a year,” reports Philippe Marsé, executive director of the local Alliance. “There are film festivals, art lectures and exhibits, concerts, plays. Each month we present Le Café, where he have a lecture or a program and a discussion afterward.”

Marsé speaks with a deliciously thick French accent (he hails from Nice) and an equally infectious enthusiasm both for the Alliance and its place in the Front Range community. He also loves the concept of the café. “It’s a place in Paris, you know, where you can sit and talk with friends. We’ll do a number of versions of that here. We’ll have a Café des Arts, which is about French art and architecture. On Aug. 22, we’ll do a Café musique, sort of like an open-mic event. We also do a Café scientifique, where maybe we’ll talk about gamma radiation or such.”

Alliance Française Summer Soirée 2014

Alliance Française Summer Soirée 2014

Working here since October of 2011, Marsé is scheduled to serve out his term until August of next year. “I’ll miss all these people,” he said, looking ahead to that departure.

By profession he is an education adviser, he explained, employed as a civil servant with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which assigns directors to the 800 chapters of the Alliance, located in 137 countries. Presently, the organization is represented in 146 American cities.

He’s been around the world with the Alliance (his previous assignment was in Australia), but Marsé has developed a special bond with the people and the beauty of this state. “It’s an amazing place. I love the skiing. Colorado has a good profile in France, too. Over there, we see it as a progressive place.”

Marsé is equally impressed by the fact that the Denver facility was built in 1897. Consider that the Alliance had been founded only 14 years earlier. The local branch thus stands as one of the oldest non-profits in Denver Metro.

French wines!

French wines!

Since its inception over 130 years ago, the Alliance has kept one goal in mind: to promote French culture around the world. And it’s certainly had an impact along the Front Range. There are 1,100 members, 80 percent of them American. The remaining members are French-born or -raised, all finding a place of comfort and reminders of the home country, far from the Galapago facility.

For Coloradans, the local branch offers numerous classes in French, some designed for those intent on traveling abroad. “We have conversation classes and we teach French for travelers,” Marsé noted.

The arts are covered in great numbers and equally great detail, he said. “We work with the Denver Film Society, showing movies at the Denver Film Center on Colfax. We’ll show a movie each month. Also, there’s a European reading club.”  Marsé emphasized that English is spoken at most Alliance events. “There are lots of programs in English, and if you wish, you can ask questions in French.”

Summer Soirée 2014

Summer Soirée 2014

One of the most popular offerings at the Galapago facility is the second-floor art gallery, curated by Robert McCarroll. “Every two months, we open a new exhibition,” Marsé explained. “For local artists, it’s a very nice place to show their work. We’re booked there through 2016.”

The majority of events are admission-free, thanks in part to an annual contribution of $40,000 from the SCFD. Many are presented in cooperation with the business-oriented French-American Chamber of Commerce, located in the same building. Marsé stressed that the Alliance is strictly non-political, steering cleer of the on-again-off-again relations between the two countries. “We share things together here,” he said. “We should all remember that the more you share, the more you understand each other.”

For more information on the Alliance Française de Denver and its programs and activities, visit or call (303) 831-0304.

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