Cultural policy France

Positive reactions to new French minister for culture

Frédéric Mitterrand's plans for France revealed

Paris. The appointment this summer of Frédéric Mitterrand—TV showman, film producer, writer, gay activist and nephew of the last socialist president, François Mitterrand—as the new minister for culture has been greeted with enthusiasm by French cultural groups. The move by President Nicolas Sarkozy—who intially offered the post to Jack Lang, the emblematic culture minister of François Mitterrand—suggests he is keen to have high profile members in his cabinet and improve his image. Although Frédéric Mitterrand, 62, actively supported his uncle, he never joined the socialist party and, despite having leftwing tendencies, ended up voting for centre-right Jacques Chirac in 1995.

“The choice of Frédéric Mitterrand, who has an artistic background [he was the former director of the Villa Médicis French cultural academy in Rome] shows that President Sarkozy wants somebody with legitimacy,” art dealer Kamel Mennour said. “He’s a man with a vision, and people are waiting to see his first interventions.”

“It’s the first time that we’ve had a minister of culture on the front page of the newspapers since Jack Lang,” agreed art dealer Georges-Philippe Vallois. “It’s very good news as it means that culture is back in business. The bad news is that I don’t think [visual] art will be a priority. France’s culture ministry tends to be more sensitive to the performing arts. But the fact that Frédéric Mitterrand has a brother, Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, who is a gallerist [of JGM Galerie], might sensitise him.” Almine Ruiz-Picasso of Galerie Almine Rech added: “He’s a French cultural personality that has already achieved a lot. When I was at school, I went to the cinema that he created, the Entrepôt, as I studied applied arts and cinema.”

One of Mitterrand’s main responsibilities is to push through a law restricting music and film downloading by cutting off repeat offenders’ internet access. (One of Sarkozy’s pet projects, it was rejected by the senate earlier this year and is to be voted on again this month.) Since taking over, Mitterrand has also extended free entry to museums and national monuments to all young people resident in the European Union regardless of their nationality (introduced in April, it originally only applied to EU nationals.)

Valley of the Arts

Meanwhile, his role now is to steer through Sarkozy’s Grand Paris project: the Valley of the Arts, an idea spearheaded by the cinema entrepreneur Marin Karmitz. It is intended to connect all museums in the west of Paris, such as the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne, with auction houses and theatres. “There’s something here to make Paris the capital of art again,” says Karmitz. “This is how we can bring something complementary to the ministry of culture. It is an example of what we could do elsewhere, as there are lots of isolated institutions that are not part of a network.”

MuCEM

Mitterrand has also said that the construction of MuCEM, a museum for the civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean, would be one of his priorities. Situated in Fort Saint-Jean near Marseille, MuCEM is being designed by local architect Rudy Ricciotti. Set to be the first national museum outside the capital, it is to be operational by 2013, when Marseille becomes European Capital of Culture. Its €175m price-tag is to be financed 60% by the state and 40% by local groups.

FRAC

Other endeavours that Mitterrand is expected to support include the development of eight more regional contemporary art funds, called FRAC. (Initiated by Lang in 1982 as part of his decentralisation plan, the FRAC began by enabling regions to acquire, create and diffuse works of art; the “second generation” of FRAC also have exhibition spaces.) The construction of the new FRAC is financed equally by the culture ministry and the regions.

Palais de Tokyo

The new basement art space at the Palais de Tokyo, due to open in 2012, also forms part of Mitterrand’s brief. The brainchild of Olivier Kaeppelin, the head of the culture ministry’s Delegation of Applied Arts, the 9,000 sq. m space will include spaces for shows on established artists living in France, solo exhibitions and private projects or art fairs. It will be an autonomous public-private body working with galleries and collectors. “It’s very clear in my proposal that we need to work hand in hand with the private sector,” says Kaeppelin. “It’s a new kind of model. I think we should follow this as a very good example of having a 45% participation of private shares for interventions, exhibitions and events.”

Many across France’s public and private sectors are calling for new tax policies with regard to the arts. “I would like to strongly go in the direction of taxation without abandoning subsidies,” says Kaeppelin. “If we could have more people taking initiatives like the Maison Rouge [the private foundation] of Antoine de Galbert, it would be magnificent.” Dealer Anne de Villepoix agrees: “It would be good to create more foundations in France. I have friends who would like to open a foundation in Paris but are finding it too difficult.”

The challenge of liberalising France’s art market, and thereby making France more competitive, would involve both the ministries of culture and finance. “I’d like to see the culture minister cooperate with the ministry of finance to see how they can stimulate the art market in France and provide for some legislation that could help acquisitions be partly deductible from taxes to encourage collecting,” says Jennifer Flay, a co-director of FIAC contemporary art fair.

Another concern is how to make Paris a more attractive city for artists, both French and foreign. “Paris is an expensive city so artists often move to Berlin,” says Guillaume Piens, the artistic director of Paris Photo, the photography fair.

What will determine Mitterrand’s capacity as culture minister will largely depend on the nature of his relationship with Sarkozy. However, as dealer Michel Rein points out, the current economic climate is not an easy time to begin his new job. “Managing a spending [ministry] during a crisis is never easy,” he says. All eyes will be watching the projects he supports and initiates, and how they benefit the French art scene.

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