October 1994

The end of the Grands Projets

France's culture budget will see a 2.5% drop in real terms next year

In 1977, Orsay train station was renovated into the Musée d'Orsay as part of François Mitterrand's Grands Projets

Next year, France’s Minister of Culture will have FFr13.44 billion at his disposal, down from this year’s FFr13.5 billion. Taking inflation into account, this represents a 2.5% drop. In the overall budget for France next year, culture came out badly in comparison with education, research and foreign affairs.

As a total percentage of government spending, culture now gets only 0.93% of the cake, a figure falling to 0.91% next year. It should be noted, however, that before the arrival in power of the Left in 1981, culture got only 0.48%.

Culture Minister Jacques Toubon justified the figures by noting that spending on the grands projets would fall, down from 20% to 17.4% of arts spending but that expenditure on cultural matters other than these had, in fact, gone up by 3.3%. The fact that no more great undertakings like the Louvre, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Cité de la Musique are being announced, signals an end to a particular era in French cultural politics. For lesser, but significant projects like the renovation of the Musée Guimet, an alarming note was struck in the document issued by the Ministry of Culture which declare that “projects of this type must take advantage of private patronage...”.

What is equally clear is that the Ministry of Finance wishes to claw back some of the money handed over in previous years for the Grands Projets, the vast architectural programmes begun under Georges Pompidou and continued unabated ever since. They are looking for FFr600 million from Toubon’s ministry in the course of next year, although sources close to the rue de Valois suggest that only half of this may have been retained.

In all, it looks like the end of a prosperous era for French culture. In addition, funding for local associations and cultural groups has been frozen (representing a drop if inflation is taken into account). While Toubon has criticised the over-emphasis on Paris in spending, the continuing drain represented by the Bibliothèque nationale de France will accentuate this. Its operating costs are going up by 58% to FFr549.2 million. The library, whose building must be completed in March 1995, has just hired another 329 staff to add to the 1,500 already employed.                            

Who gets what

Museums: Ordinary expenditure overall—down 0.1%. Small acquisitions budgets—State museums: no change (not taking inflation into account) and for museums covered by the fonds du patrimoine (grant-assisted), up by 6.3%.

Visual arts: ordinary expenditure—up by 4.5%, a large proportion is earmarked for renovating the Gobelins and the development of educational projects such as the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts.

Pompidou Centre: ordinary expenditure up 5.7%. Approval given for a phased 41% increase in the funding of future renovation.

Built heritage: budget increased by 1.6%

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 41 October 1994