The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Looking at French policy in culture and the arts through the activities of the front-line administrator, Jean Digne

*8   the name was changed from AFAA to Culturesfrance
Referring to the fact that in the case of AFAA, the “F” refers to France in a less conspicuous way.
Hors les Murs is unique among the arts organizations of the world in that it is dedicated to promoting the arts of the circus and acrobatics.
It is an organization that operates on funding from the Ministry of Culture and its own revenue and its mission is to promote the arts of the circus and acrobatics both in France and abroad. I have been deeply involved with the circus and acrobatics for a long time, so personally I am very happy to be able to work in this field.

You have always been involved in work at or for government agencies, and France is a country with a large bureaucracy. There must be a lot of confinement and resistance at times. How have you been able to initiate so many ideas and projects one after another?
I think that in the end it is a matter of curiosity. It is the desire to see new things, and when you see something new you will find yourself getting new ideas one after another. And I find that the more I am limited by the confines of bureaucratic systems, the more my imagination is stimulated. And, in my case, I had no other choice.

In 2006, AFAA underwent organizational reforms and the name was changed to Culturesfrance. Looking at the organization from the outside, however, it is hard to see what has changed, other than the name.
It is true, since there has not been any change in the organization’s basic mission. But in France there has been a feeling, perhaps a complex that we have to do something like the British Council. But AFAA is an organization that was created in 1920, and although it is old in many ways, it has also had the appeal of being at once government-supervised but also a nonprofit organization created in line with France’s 1901 law on association. It continued to maintain a certain degree of distance from the government and did not necessarily serve as a full proponent of the government’s foreign policies at any given time in its history. However, I think it was considered a problem that its lack of continuity in policies (which I think this is a necessary evil in the case of the arts where change and action are always necessary) and insufficient coordination between the organizations did not make it an ideal body for selling the French brand image abroad.
It seems to me that the name “France” plays too heavily in the new name Culturesfrance. (*8) I also wonder about the fact that the “Cultures” is plural as well. It may emphasize a consciousness of the fact that culture is everywhere and it is something that everyone is involved with, but I also feel that things can get out of hand if everything is called culture and everyone has a say in it. There may also be a danger in it becoming a centralized monolithic organization that loses the unique tradition the AFAA has built up as an organization where government officials and intellectuals, artists and business people have worked side by side. Of course I think about the interests of France, but artists are able to move people in unique ways, and in my work I have always believed the important thing is not to have the artists serve as ambassadors but to have the them be artists. But, since it is an organization that I used to be in charge of, I would like to refrain from making any more comments about it.

In May, France elected a new President in Nicolas Sarkozy and a new Prime Minister and new Ministers were appointed. What are your thoughts on these developments? There were rumors about big cuts in budgets for arts and culture and a merging of the Ministries of Culture and Education but for now the Ministry of Culture and Communications has remained in tact with its two-pillar organization of culture and the media. How do you think cultural policies will change under the new Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel?
It has not been long since the new government was formed and it is probably too early yet to say what will happen. But I don’t think you can say that the appointment of a new Minister of Culture will necessarily lead to new culture policies. One thing that you can say about French culture policy is that the president has traditionally had a large say in culture policy as seen by the fact that such big cultural institutions as the Pompidou Centre, the Musee Orsay, the Opera Bastille and the Musée du Quai Branly were all created through initiatives of former French presidents. And the one who appointed me as director of AFAA was not the Minister of Culture but the President. What’s more, President Sarkozy is the kind who is certain to make his voice heard in all aspects of the French government’s internal affairs more than any president in the past. I believe that it is safe to say that the influence of the Minister of Culture will decrease in proportion to the growth in influence of the regional governments’ culture policies and the mass media.
Also, concerning the talk about a merging of the Ministries of Education and Culture, just as the former Minister of Culture Jack Lang later served as the Minister of Education, there have always been politicians who are experienced in both culture and education and I don’t think that it will necessarily be all bad if a strong politician becomes the Minister [of both]. However, the barriers are high between the bureaucracies and it would probably be very difficult for you to expect the bureaucrats from Ministries of Culture and Education to suddenly begin working together on projects.
More than that, however, I am worried about the fact that France is becoming so obsessed with security and social stability, as seen in the limits on foreign visas, that we are in danger of becoming a closed society. France has always absorbed much in the way of riches from other people. In the development of French arts, the contributions of foreign artists have always been an important element. The Musée du Montparnasse where I serve as director is known for its collection of Ecole de Paris art from the first half of the 20th century, and 90% of the painters of the Ecole de Paris were foreigners like Modigliani, Chagall and Fujita.
Images of foreign countries often tend to be simplified and caricatured. In that sense, the experiences of my period in Morocco were very important in removing my stereotypes. I believe that people working in international cultural exchange have to be very careful to avoid easy understanding stereotypical forms of culture. Because the meeting of different cultures, even the collision of cultures can lead to very rich fruition.
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