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
Cultural programs and cultural diplomacy used to be the exclusive realm of the nation state for much of recent history. With the deepening of the unification of Europe and the accompanying formation of pan-European cultural programs, along with the increasing importance of regional arts and culture programs, it seems that the importance of programs at the national level is diminishing proportionately. What do you think of this trend?
Although France still has a strong tradition of centralized governance, since World War II, we have been consistent in our pursuit of decentralization of power to the regional and local level, both in terms of government and cultural programs. Of course, this is partly a reflection of the fact that previously there was such a disproportionately high concentration of arts and culture in Paris. In recent years, however, you will find that in terms of budget for arts and culture, the combined budgets of the regional and local governments now exceeds that of the Ministry of Culture. We have now reached a stage where almost nothing can be achieved without a 4-way partnership between European, national, regional and local [municipal] parties. And in the area of international cultural exchange as well, we are now in an era where the national organizations can do cultural diplomacy with the assistance of the regional governments.

On the other hand, it seems that the common state of affairs for regional culture facilities in France today is to have them funded jointly with national, regional, provincial and municipal funds. In other words, aren’t there very few cases of cultural facilities or programs initiated and funded solely by regional or municipal governments without national level support?
In northern France there is the interesting case of the Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais initiative in the city of Tourcoing that established a school called Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains. It is an institution involved primarily in teaching photographic and video art in connection with today’s multi-media art and involves students in practical use of the media and creation of works and it is the product of an initiative by the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional government, not the national government. Of course, once the school is operating and proves to be a success the national government will provide some funding, and in fact the funding is now fairly evenly distributed between national and regional funds. But, if the national government were to announce that it will no longer fund the school, I believe that Nord-Pas-de-Calais would continue to fund it. However, if Nord-Pas-de-Calais said it was withdrawing from the project, I believe that the national government would withdraw its funds too.

In Japan there is a lot of attention focused in recent years on “creative city” [Sozo Toshi] type cultural programs for cities. I would like to ask you to tell us something more about your ideas concerning contemporary municipal culture and arts programs and policies in France today.
In France, it was mainly from the 1970s that we saw the formation of regional and local government culture policies and programs independent of the national policies and programs for the first time. Before that, arts and culture were usually handled by agencies that combined the arts with tourism and sports. With the 1970s as the turning point, however, it became common for cities (in France there is no division between city, town and village governments) to have independent culture departments headed by an arts and culture specialist. When the left-leaning government of Mitterrand came to power in 1981, we saw a big change in the environment surrounding culture and the arts, especially at the municipal level. Perhaps with some sense of competing with Paris, it was the cities that were most aggressive in searching for new ideas.
In the case of cities, I believe that it is important to think of culture as culture, but at the same time you have to think about arts and cultural programs in connection with the city planning, the environment, leisure and the improvement of quality of life of the citizens. Culture for the cities does not mean simply high-level arts. It is important to establish a sustainable overall environment for culture.
There are many cities like Nantes and many others that have succeeded in transforming abandoned factories and stations and historical building that are part of their heritage from the past into contemporary cultural facilities. Arts and culture can provide weapons of change in a variety of ways. With regards to these types of cultural programs, I believe that the efforts to take advantage many possible tie-ups and cooperative projects are still lacking and there is much more that can still be done. In the universities as well, there are about 500,000 students in the Greater Paris area, but I don’t see enough being done in the field of mediation to bring students and culture and arts together. If I were the mayor of Paris, I would start a program to renovate potential alternative arts spaces that exist in the universities.
I believe that the aim of cultural policy and programs in the cities should be to cause change, to achieve new forms of expression, open up new fields and win new audience, and to show the people of the city aspects of its appeal that they were unaware of before. And I also believe that this should be done not by one method, but using a variety of different method, including perhaps some that seem to contradict each other. There are many different sizes of local and regional government entities and they differ greatly in terms of history, traditions and social make-up. To begin with, there is no single kind of urban lifestyle. So, I believe that there is no single type of culture and arts policy or program that suits all cities. And, when you really think about it, there is also no single answer for the question of whether arts facilities should be run by artists or administrators.

Finally, I would like to ask you if you have any proposals for the year 2008, when Japan and France will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the start of political relations and many official programs are being planned in connection with this celebration.
Former President Chirac was a great lover of Japan and I believe that a special relationship has developed between the two countries, but I believe that this relationship needs to be developed even more. One thing that I feel is necessary is to develop more relationships not just at the national level but also directly between cities in the two countries, with “creative city” programs as a key element. And when this is done, it should not just be in the superficial form of “sister city” relationships. Since France has a slightly longer history in the process of decentralization of divesting power to the regional cities, I would like to see French cities actively sharing their experiences with changes in culture policies and new programs and a spirit of dynamism that doesn’t fear mistakes.
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