Economics France

Paris cuts funding for new art centre

City council to slash its subsidy for Centquatre in the 19th arrondissement, prompting the resignation of its co-directors

Paris’s latest attempt to boost its profile as a contemporary art centre has faltered with confirmation from Paris city council that it will cut its funding for Centquatre, a 39,000 sq. m arts centre which opened in the north-eastern 19th arrondissement in October 2008. The council’s decision prompted the resignation of the centre’s co-directors, Robert Cantarella, previously director of the national performance centre in Dijon, and actor Frédéric Fisbach who left their posts last month.

Cantarella told French newspaper Libération that the funding reduction meant that “we could not continue to lead the project that we had developed at the expense of the artists…we had to manage the artists residence scheme, fill the space from a commercial point of view and encourage public access. We were guinea pigs.” A new directorial team should be in place by the summer.

“Since their appointment in 2005, Cantarella and Fisbach have devised and shaped Centquatre. At a board meeting in November, they decided against a second term as co-directors as the financial problems faced by the venue made it difficult for them to realise their artistic project at Centquatre,” said a spokeswoman for the centre, the selling point of which is that 20 studios are available for free to artists as long as they agree to open up their ateliers to the public.

Centquatre, which is housed in a former 19th-century local authority funeral parlour, received initial funding of €100m from Paris city council. It also provided €560,000 for the production of new works by five international artists including Anri Sala of Albania and Paul Cox of the UK. The city council also pledged to finance new work made by other artists during residencies of between one and ten months from an annual grant of €8m. This funding is now set to be slashed though a spokeswoman for the council declined to reveal by how much. In light of the economic downturn, the city’s cultural commissioner, Christophe Girard, has said that his council “never intended to increase [Centquatre’s] annual funding”.

The developments have sparked debate about the viability of contemporary art venues in Paris. Major French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin commented: “Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Centquatre. My opinion with institutions is that we should stop opening new ones and instead improve existing spaces.” Meanwhile, French art critic Didier Rykner told The Art Newspaper: “[An €8m grant] is shocking compared to the very poor funding other council museums receive…Parisian museums can no longer acquire important works through lack of funding.”

The Centquatre spokeswoman added that “our operating budget is around €12m so we must find €4m, or at least 30% of our income, ourselves,” pointing out that over 6,000 sq. m of space for events and seminars are available for hire. The Slick contemporary art fair opened at the venue in 2008 while the late British designer Alexander McQueen held his Spring/Summer catwalk show there the same year. Meanwhile, a group of seven companies, including the French mortgage company Crédit Foncier and the private healthcare group Générale de Santé, has donated €700,000 to the space.

Other income sources include the use of four studios at €2 an hour for emerging artists from the 18th and 19th arrondissements and designer shops. A 350 sq. m restaurant will open on the site later this year. Centquatre was nonetheless reportedly running a deficit of €800,000 at the end of last year.

Argentine artist Gabriela Golder, who is working on three video projects at the centre over a six-month residency, explained: “Centquatre pays me monthly and I get an apartment and atelier (these were the conditions when I applied in 2007). I open my atelier more or less once a month. It’s great to be here.”

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