Cultural policy Comment France

What the victory of the Left means for French culture

The biggest question mark obviously hangs over the size of the budget for Filippetti’s department, the most concrete expression of cultural policy

The new French president François Hollande (front row, second from right) with his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and the female ministers who make up half his cabinet. The culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti (framed), is expected to back regional projects and access to the arts

France’s new socialist president, François Hollande, has appointed Aurélie Filippetti, his former cultural adviser, as his new minister of culture and communication. But despite the high profile of the position, the current economic and political crisis in Europe leaves little room for manoeuvre.

Will the triumph of the Left in France make a profound difference to France’s cultural politics? Probably not in practice: while everyone generally agrees about the importance of culture, a combination of budgetary constraints and the cost of maintaining grants to existing institutions, which are almost impossible to reduce substantially, do not leave many options for development in the coming two or three years. But Hollande and Filippetti were able to advance some concrete plans for culture during the election campaign.

Before the election, there was much speculation that Hollande would create a large ministry by merging the departments of education and culture (as has been mooted in England), which would chime with his enthusiasm for increasing school-age arts education. However, this powerful idea was overshadowed by the objections of the cultural lobby, unhappy at the prospect of losing an autonomous cultural ministry to an already oversized ministry of education.

With the appointment of Filippetti, this move now seems unlikely but Hollande is expected to form an inter-ministerial commission with the task of developing an overarching plan for arts education. The problem for Hollande and Filippetti is that if they really want to expose all schoolchildren to art history and practice (and not just those few who already benefit), then they will have to alter the school curriculum radically, which is politically contentious.

One of the other big challenges facing Filippetti, and which may well distract her from other ministerial activities, is the so-called Hadopi law (Haute autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur internet, or law promoting the distribution and protection of creative works on the internet), which was introduced to protect copyrighted works, mainly film and music, online.

The Hadopi law allows internet users found using unauthorised copyrighted material to be banned from accessing the web if they commit three offences. It is, unsurprisingly, deeply unpopular with the French public. It had strong backing from President Nicolas Sarkozy and the French entertainment industry and despite being initially rejected by the National Assembly it was resubmitted and passed in May 2009. Since then its provisions have been slightly loosened—cases must go to judicial review before a person’s internet access can be suspended—but it still provokes huge opposition.

The easiest solution would be to pass a bill quickly (though the legislative calendar is particularly packed) repealing Hadopi’s most repressive components and to set up a special commission to draw up a proposal for a global licensing scheme.

The biggest question mark obviously hangs over the size of the budget for Filippetti’s department, the most concrete expression of cultural policy for any government. Will there be an immediate freeze imposed on some of the ministry of culture’s expenditure, as Hollande promised in his manifesto (a report on the future of public finances is expected in the week of 24 June by the court of auditors). Now he is in power, probably not.

The first really detailed information on the culture finances will emerge as part of a special parliamentary session to examine the 2013 budget, which will take place in September. The budget is expected to be at least as much as last year’s (€2.7bn out of a departmental total of €7.5bn), as Hollande has previously pledged. This might also be the time to scrap plans for the €40m Maison de l’Histoire de France in Paris (national museum of French history; The Art Newspaper, February, p22, and this edition, p8), which would allow the culture ministry some financial breathing space, although Filippetti might continue with the project under a less nationalistic banner.

The budget is also expected to show greater generosity to France’s regions, with the impending announcement of the construction of the Cité de la Gastronomie in Lyons, whose mayor, Gérard Colomb, is a Hollande supporter. Perhaps the budget will also boost the Musée de la Mémoire et des Industries Tulliste, in Tulle.

All in all, though, change in French cultural policy will probably be symbolic, since in culture more than anywhere, symbols speak louder than facts.

The writer is the editor of Le Journal des Arts and Artclair.com

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