The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Jean Digne
Jean Digne
*1   region
After World War II there was a change in the French government system from a three-level system of nation, province and city (commune) to a five-level system of Europe, nation, region, province and city, and in the process there was a major shift from centralized government decision-making to a decentralization and divestment of power to the regional and local governments. The regional government system was newly created after the War and a law officially defining the division of power was passed in 1982.

*2   Hors les Murs
Hors les Murs is an organization established by the Ministry of Culture as an information center for the promotion of circus and acrobatic performance arts. In addition to gathering information about circus and acrobatic performance groups, educational institutions and support programs and supplying it to related parties, the organization edits and publishes a magazine and conducts surveys about the social and economic status of circus and acrobatic performance arts.

*3   centering on circus performances
In the 1970s, the audience for circuses was declining rapidly and several circus companies with long traditions were going bankrupt. Then in the 80s there were major efforts to support circus and acrobatic performance arts beginning with the establishment of the National Center for Circus Arts by the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, thus forming the foundation for what now is called the Nouveau Cirque. At the same time, the new circus succeeded in winning an audience that didn’t follow the elite arts of theater, opera and ballet. The fact that a festival like this was established in 1973 is proof of a clear vision of the future.

*4   regional culture office
In the process of institutional reforms, it has now been changed from a non-profit organization to a public facility. While working closely in line with regional culture policy, the office aim to support the growth of arts and culture by creating opportunities for a wider portion of the population to have exposure to arts and culture and to grow audiences while also providing grants, professional advice and technical support for the creation of art.

*5   DRAC
Created in the various regions since 1970, there are now 26 DRAC organizations around France and the budgeting and decision-making rights have gradually shifted from the main ministry in Paris to the regional DRAC. However, although the DRAC are under the supervision of the regional governments, they remain strongly related to the Ministry of Culture (national) in their budgets and decision-making functions and are thus often said to represent a division of power rather than a transfer of power to the regions.

*6   Villa Kujoyama
Operated by the French government, it is a residence facility for artists with several artists from different genre who have received government scholarships in residence there for stays several months at a time.

*7   Biarritz Photo Festival
A large-scale photography exhibition titled “Festival Photo et vidéo de Biarritz” that sought to connect photography and travel.
Presenter Interview
Looking at French policy in culture and the arts through the activities of the front-line administrator, Jean Digne 
Since the 1970s, Jean Digne (born 1951) has held important posts at the local, regional and national levels, in the city government of Aix en Provence, the Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azure region (*1), the French Ministry of Culture, the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Education and the Association Française d’Action Artistique (AFAA). In this interview we look at the achievements of Jean Digne as top-level administrator generating ideas that have shaped French culture and arts policy and his expertise as an authority in the “creative city” field that is the focus of much attention in Japan today as well. We spoke to him on his recent visit to Japan to survey the arts and culture programs and policies of regional governments around Japan.
(Interviewed and edited by Shintaro Fujii, associate professor of Waseda University; interviewed May 21, 2007)

You are presently teaching at a university while serving as director of the Musée du Montparnasse and president of Hors les Murs (*2) and up until now you have served in the AFAA and a variety of other positions in the field of arts and culture. Can you tell us some more detail about your career up until now?
I grew up in Marseilles in southern France. Even now as I live in Paris, I still think of it only as a transit point. That is how deep my affinity for my native city is. I received my university education in Aix en Provence in southern France. I studied economics and architecture and literature there, but it was largely studying on my own.
After finishing my military service I did civil service at the French Embassy in the Moroccan capital of al Rabat. Learning about the Moroccan cultural traditions and the warm-heartedness and sensitivity of the Moroccan people at that time really opened my eyes to the world.
The image that most French have of other countries turns out to be surprisingly different from the realities they see when they actually visit those countries. I got a strong feeling at that time that I wanted to use cultural and arts exchange to break down the preconceptions people have concerning foreign cultures. I want to stress the value of traveling and acquiring new points of view by moving around and the richness that comes from seeing things through other people’s eyes. When I think about it, Marseilles and other cities of the Mediterranean coast could not have prospered as they did without trade and culture exchange.
Later I received a scholarship from the French Ministry of Culture to participate in a culture policy seminar that traveled around France for one year. After that I was asked to take a position as the artistic director of a theater in Aix en Provence and I worked there from 1970 to ’76. During that time I initiated a festival called “Aix en Provence, a Saltinbanco City” that centered on circus performances. (*3) In the 1970s when there was still a lot of instability in the political, social, philosophical and artistic arenas after France’s May 1968 month of social upheaval, there was also a lot of dynamism as a result. Looking back, it was a time when almost anything was possible if your desire to do it. I had become the artistic director of theater, but we wanted to do theater in places outside the conventional theater. We wanted to do plays in places where they had not been performed before: in squares, on the streets, in schools.
After that I applied for a UNESCO position as specialist to help establish a center for training professionals in the arts and culture field in Africa. Under that program I was sent to Togo in Sub-Saharan Africa for two years, from 1976 to ’78, to work with African specialists.
After returning to France, I was asked by the Chairman of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azure regional assembly to participate in a project to create a unique regional cultural policy and I became the head of regional culture office in charge of policy from 1978 to ’82. (*4) At a time when Paris still monopolized the arts and culture scene in France, this project was also the start of the decentralization of cultural activities with an increasing role for the regional governments. We participated in the planning of cultural policy for the future of about 800 local government offices. It was an era when there were no precedents for such policy-making.

That is quite a lot of history. Seeing the way you were able to work in a number of different government agencies at such a young age and undertake such large-scale projects is somewhat hard for us to perceive living in a country like Japan where young people are seldom chosen for important pots and changing jobs is still quite rare.
That may be true. But my story goes on from there (laughs).
My next change of jobs came in 1981, when Mitterrand’s socialist party government came to power and I began working for the national government under the new Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, in the area of transferring jurisdiction in cultural affairs to the regional and local governments. I worked as a liaison between the central government and the people sent by the Ministry of Culture to head the local culture and arts agencies. My role there was to help with the formulation and adjustment of arts and culture programs and policies of the local agencies. At that time a system of regional arts and culture bureaus (DRAC) (*5) was already in place but their main concern was management policies regarding cultural assets and they had no programs or policies concerning contemporary arts. That is the area where working systems had to be created.
After that I went to work for the Foreign Ministry. My job with the Foreign Ministry from 1983 to ’89 was as director of the French Academy in Naples, where we were involved in exchanges between French and southern Italian artists. It was at that time that a world forum was held for the directors of French culture and arts facilities around the world. The theme of the forum was establishing viable overseas artist residence facilities and it was at that forum that discussion was held about plans for the improvement of the Villa Kujoyama (*6) facility in Kyoto. As a result I guess that I played an indirect part in that project.
After that I was asked by the Assistant Foreign Minister to take the position of director of AFAA, which I did from 1990 to ’99. The Cultural attach? at the French Embassy in Japan, Brigitte Proucelle worked with me at AFAA at that time. During my tenure at AFAA we were involved in helping to strengthen the relationship between the Japanese and European music industries and with regard to that effort I was invited by the Japan Foundation to Japan and spent about a month there. During my time at AFAA I also worked to strengthen cultural exchange with Africa and I got AFAA to actively support the circus and acrobatic performance fields that were undergoing a big revival in France at the time.
After leaving the AFAA directorship in 1999, I took off some time to recharge myself and got involved in starting a photography festival in Biarritz (*7) near the Spanish border and I also began teaching at the Universite de Paris 8 (Saint-Denis). That is when I first met you, isn’t it?

Exactly. I was studying arts management at the Universite de Paris 8 and I took your course in arts environment.
When the new multiparty government was formed under President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin and Jacques Chirac was appointed the Minister of Education, I was given a post on the Minister’s staff. My role was to head a survey/research mission (a new area of the arts) concerning the “alternative arts spaces” that are being seen increasingly in France and other parts of Europe in recent years that the arts policy concerning them. These art spaces are historical buildings or old industrial buildings like factories and warehouses no longer in use that have been renovated for use as creative spaces for the arts.
Since 2004, I have been involved in a number of these projects simultaneously. My working time is divided between four fields. The first is the traditional field of international cultural exchange, the next is my job as director of Musée du Montparnasse with its collection Ecole de Paris paintings, the third is my work as president of Hors les Murs, which promotes the arts of the circus and acrobatics. The fourth is my university teaching. Offering specialized instruction for young people interested in working the field of culture and the arts and helping them find employment is something I have been very interested in for a long time.
I love the freedom of not being confined to one job. I have been asked to work for the Foreign Ministry full-time but I refused the offer. As with this current request I received from the French Embassy in Japan to do a survey of Japan’s urban culture programs, I do work for the Foreign Ministry as a specialist on a project-by-project basis. I have recently gone to St. Petersburg and Marrakech on the same type of mission. Working for a number of organizations and working on a number of different projects at the same time gives me the opportunity to see things from a number of different perspectives.
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