The story of the Festival de la Cité Foundation begins with a motion filed by socialist City Council Representative Marx Lévy in 1966, which proposed a yearly popular event in the city of Lausanne. The Association pour la Fête à Lausanne was created on 21st March 1968, with the first event taking place over two days on 28th and 29th June 1968.
Its primary purpose was to provide a wide range of free shows in town, and it was met with great enthusiasm by the public. Supported by scores of local volunteers, artists, associations and societies, the Fête de Lausanne grew beyond of its initial perimeter and took over La Cité, the historic old town of Lausanne as early as 1969, presenting an ever-wider array of events on Place de la Cathédrale and Place du Château.
Numerous incidents, often political in nature, spoilt the first 3 editions. Those were troubled times in Europe; social unrest prevailed and the turmoil led to the cancellation of the 1971 event. The initial drive behind those uprisings was, among other things, a perceived lack of access to culture, especially for the penniless, young people and workers. Several political parties backed the movement, and a petition was signed by 240 leading figures to protest about the lack of cultural policy in Lausanne.
The Festival de la Cité was born in this context in 1972, when Gil Pidoux, a local actor, writer and member of the Association des Amis de la Cité, received the support of the city council to kickstart a more substantial cultural event on the basis of the 2-day Fête de Lausanne. This new multidisciplinary festival settled down in La Cité.
The organisers of the Festival de la Cité split away from the Fête de Lausanne in 1983 and founded a separate financial entity. In 2002, it morphed into a private fund, changed its name to the current Fondation Festival de la Cité, and initiated a process of professionalisation.
Several figures have left their mark on the Festival, among whom Jean-Claude Rochat, Géraldine Savary, Silvia Zamora, Olivier Pavillon and Jacques Bert, the long-standing director of the Festival, who left office in 2002.
After the 2007 edition, the Festival de la Cité Foundation Committee decided to restructure its operations. Presided by Georges Caille, the Committee appointed an artistic and administration director, Michael Kinzer, who took up his position in September 2008. By 2010, the Festival de la Cité Lausanne offered six nights of free cultural merriment, with 15 stages to be found within the historic district. The 40th edition took place in 2011, and in 2013 a Downtown Prelude (Prélude en ville) was added in the week running up to the Festival with a series of offbeat and offstage shows throughout the city. In 2014, the Festival had to reinvent itself as the construction site for the new Canton de Vaud Parliament drove it out of its stronghold in the historic district, and successfully resettled in the City in the wider sense.
After two years, the challenge became an opportunity to reach out to people in different neighbourhoods and a chance to invite audiences to discover or rediscover the city of Lausanne via sociable artistic events occurring in unexpected locations.
Over 60 different events (on-location creations and installations, shows, setups and concerts) adding up to a total of 160 performances will take place in 2016, in more than 20 often-unprecedented locations, scattered throughout Lausanne and beyond.