France/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Autor: Thomas Perrin, Jean-Cédric Delvainquière, Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe

The Ministry in charge of cultural policies in France is currently called the Ministry of Culture and Communication, also referred here to as the "Ministry of Culture". A specific Committee was set up in 1993 to work on the history of the Ministry: Comité d'histoire du ministère de la Culture. It is composed of researchers, experts and officers of cultural policies, and organises different events to promote and disseminate historical knowledge on cultural policies. The Committee also produces numerous publications (see chapter 9.1).

Paris, Tour EiffelThe history of cultural policies in France is marked by the central role of the State, long before the installation of the Republic:

  • the adoption of French as the national language (1539);
  • the promotion and organisation:
  • of knowledge and research: Collège de France 1530, Royal Library initated in 1368 and concretely set up from the XVe century, then the National Library (creation of registration of copyright in 1537 and first opening to the public in 1692), Académie française 1634;
  • of the visual and performing arts (Comédie-Française 1680, the Louvre Museum 1793), patronage (subsidies and commissions to artists);
  • and the gradual creation of administrative structures and funds (creation of the Fine Arts Secretariat in the 19th century and the establishment of a Ministry specifically dedicated to cultural affairs in July 1959).

André Malraux, a renowned intellectual and humanist and a fried of général de Gaulle, was the first Minister of Culture in France. He wrote the decree that outlined the role of the first ministry: "the ministry in charge of cultural affairs has the role of making available capital works from humanity, and initially from France, to the greatest possible number of French people, of ensuring the largest audience for our cultural heritage, and of supporting the creation of the spirit and works of art which enrich it" (Decree n° 59-889, known as the "founding decree", of 24 July 1959). This decree opened the path for its successors in the areas of heritage protection, contemporary creation, distribution and education, devolution of the administration and regulation of the cultural industries.

This Ministry of Cultural Affairs was constituted from the existing directorates of the Ministry of Education (service des Beaux-Arts) and the Ministry of Industry (the National Film Centre). The new administration's primary aims were to promote contemporary creation in all artistic disciplines and a broader participation in cultural activities, especially in the areas of theatre, music and heritage. André Malraux wanted to set up an Art Centre (Maison de la Culture) in every French département (France is geographically divided into 96 counties called département), in order to stimulate contemporary artistic creation and disseminate culture on a broad scale. 9 Maisons de la Culture were eventually set up. In order to foster the déconcentration of the State administration, three regional directorates of cultural affairs were set up in 1969 (directions régionales des affaires culturelles).

Jacques Duhamel (1971-1973) carried out an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental crosscutting policy that aimed at integrating culture into society and responded to the emergence in those times of the issue of cultural development. He set up procedures to establish partnership contracts between the government and cultural institutions (television, cinema industry, theatre companies). The Fonds d'intervention culturelle (FIC) was created in order to finance innovative partnerships with other ministries. In the field of visual arts, the 1% system (where 1% of the construction costs of a new public building must be used to commission an art work for that same building) was extended to include all existing public buildings.

While continuing to follow the policy lines initiated by André Malraux and Jacques Duhamel, the following six ministers introduced their own changes. In 1974, Michel Guy created a breakthrough for young artists and contemporary art by signing the first in a series of cultural development agreements with municipalities and regions. In 1977, the Georges Pompidou National Centre for Arts and Culture opened and the Museums Finance Act was adopted in 1978; 1980 was declared the Year of National Heritage. In 1981, the election of the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, launched a new period for cultural policies, carried out by the Minister Jack Lang.

The Ministry's budget was doubled in 1982 and gradually increased to nearly represent 1% of the State budget: increasing from 2.6 billion francs in 1981 to 13.8 billion in 1993. From the 1980s, the Ministry also showed concern for economic issues and the broadcasting industries.

In the context of the first laws of territorial decentralisation in 1982-83, moves towards déconcentration were stepped up with the completion of a network of regional directorates of cultural affairs (DRAC), which collaborated with the local authorities, some of them being newly created (regional councils, départements councils). Several major training institutions were either restored or established: École nationale supérieure de la création industrielle (ENSCI), Institut national du patrimoine (heritage), the two Conservatoires nationaux supérieurs de musique (Paris and Lyon Music Academies) and the École du Louvre, creation of the Institut du monde arabe, (IMA), of the National Centre for Circus Arts and of different resource centres in several fields (music, theatre, street arts…). Arts education in schools was modernised, new disciplines were taught (theatre, cinema, art history…), and a range of schemes were organised to raise the awareness of children about culture, such as arts projects, school visits to the cinema, heritage projects etc. Over a period of 12 years, more than 8 000 jobs were created in the cultural field. Broadly speaking, this period shows a quantitative shift in cultural policy making, with an unprecedented increase in cultural funding and structures and the widening of the ministry's scope of activities. Cultural policy gained popularity and recognition, which the Fête de la Musique (first edition in 1981, official creation in 1983) may symbolise.

François Mitterrand also encouraged a series of major construction policy known as thecultural "Grands Travaux": Arche de la Fraternité-La Défense, the Bastille Opera House, the Grand Louvre, the National Library….

As a result of economic changes and the growth of "home-based" cultural activity, the Ministry began to place more emphasis on the cultural industries (books, records, films, broadcasting) with a view to regulating the market (aid mechanisms for the film industry, price regulations on books, radio broadcasting quotas for French-language music, computer hacking…).

In order to preserve the French linguistic heritage, the law on the use of the French language was adopted in 1994. During the 1990s, the debate on "cultural exception" starts and leads to the international recognition of the necessity to promote and preserve cultural diversity (Unesco Convention in 2005).

The Minister carried out its action in favour of democratisation of culture, based on the promotion of heritage, the development of the performing arts and new technologies. Specific policies were conducted in the disadvantaged districts in city peripheries. The Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy commissioned a report on a "refoundation of cultural policy" (Rigaud Commission). The National Centre of Dance was created.

At the start of the XXI century, the policy follows four main lines:

  • cultural diversity;
  • equal access through cultural and artistic education;
  • State reform and decentralisation of cultural policies; and
  • intellectual and artistic property, authors’ rights in the context of digital globalisation.

In the sector of audio-visual communication, the aim is to reinforce the government's regulatory function and increase high quality production in France without curbing the dynamism of the private sector. From 2000 to 2002 a sub-secretary of State in charge of Heritage and Decentralisation, M. Michel Duffour, is appointed in the Ministry. Conventions of cultural decentralisation (Protocoles de décentralisation culturelle) are set up and the cultural sector is anticipating the new step in the decentralisation process in France, which takes place in 2003-2004.

In May 2002, in the first government of President Jacque Chirac's second term of office, Jean-Jacques Aillagon was appointed Minister of Culture and Communication. In one of his first interviews, he stated that "The right wing, heedful of modernity, is capable of [implementing] a far-reaching cultural policy". A law renewing the conditions of cultural patronage, associations and foundations was passed in 2003.

In March 2004, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres became Minister. His term was mainly spent tackling the crisis of "intermittents du spectacle" that started in 2003 in particular during the Avigon Theatre Festival. He also worked on the regulation of access to culture with new technologies. In 2005, 9 National Centres of Street Arts were created to support these emerging artistic practices.

In May 2007, after the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Christine Albanel was appointed Minister of Culture. She conducted the modernisation of cultural policies in the context of the national programme of revision of public policies (Révision générale des politiques publiques). The organisational chart of the Ministry was reorganised in four general directorates: a general secretariat and three thematic directorates (direction générale des patrimoines [heritage], direction générale de la création artistique [artistic creation], direction générale des médias et des industries culturelles [media and creative industries]). The other main areas of responsibility are: the law to protect authors' rights on the internet (loi Création et Internet), the reform of public broadcasting and the Entretiens de Valois, a convention between professionals and main stakeholders of the performing arts sector in order to discuss the evolution of this sector. In 2008, during the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), French authorities launched the European Cultural Season, by inviting the 26 EU partners to showcase the best of their heritage and creative talent during the second half of 2008. In 2009, Ms Albanel supervised the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Ministry of Culture (see  chapter 9.1).

Frédéric Mitterrand, a renowned writer, scriptwriter and director for television and cinema, became Minister of Culture in 2009. The following year, the programme "Culture pour chacun" ("Culture for each") was launched in order to foster the cultural participation of every citizen. The previous ministerial priorities were maintained concerning dialogue with the performing arts sector, the protection of authors' rights on the internet or the challenges of digitalisation of cultural practices and participation: installation of a specific public agency to encourage and control compliance with copyright laws on the internet (called Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet, i.e. the High Authority for Transmission of Creative Works and Copyright Protection on the Internet); a law on fixed pricing for digital books; commissioning of the prospective and forecast report "Culture and Media 2030"; and support to the judicial action of the French Publishers Association [Syndicat national des éditeurs] against Google regarding the rights and conditions of book digitalisation.

In 2012, Aurélié Filippetti was the first Minister of Culture appointed following the election of President François Hollande. In a difficult budgetary context, she decided to give up some large-scale expensive projects that had been programmed during the previous legislature. Her main projects are to foster cultural and artistic education, territorial cultural development and to reconsider the issues of cultural exception in the framework of the digital economy. In 2014, the launch of a negotiation to revise the regime of intermittence led to strikes at different festivals, especially summer festivals like Avignon.

In August 2014, Fleur Pellerin, formerly Minister for SME, Innovation and Digital Economy, became the new Minister of Culture in the newly appointed cabinet conducted by Manuel Valls. In 2016 Audrey Azoulay, Councillor for Culture and Communication of the President of the Republic since 2014, replaces her. Since 2012, the Ministry is involved in the preparation of the Law on freedom of creation, architecture and heritage that is promulgated in July 2016 (Loi no 2016-925 du 7 juillet 2016). This is an ambitious legislative act that concerns the different fields of cultural policies. The objective is to protect and guarantee the freedom of creation and to modernise cultural heritage policies. The law occurred in a specific context: the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of January 2015 against the press magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the multiplication of initiatives from local representatives or associations to try and ban the diffusion of some artistic works. Following other terrorist attacks in November 2015 in a Paris concert hall, an emergency fund is set up to support the performing arts enterprises that faced important decrease of attendance levels. In 2016, social partners come to a new agreement on the specific social security regime for temporary and occasional workers in performing arts and audio-visual industries: the intermittents du spectacle. In September the same year the Government set up a national fund to support durable employment in performing arts, the Fonpeps.

During the last fifty years, local and regional authorities form a complementary pole of the increasing public support to culture. The municipalities, owners of certain cultural facilities such as museums, municipal theatres, libraries and music schools, are now the main providers of government funds for culture. Encouraged by the Ministry of Culture and Communication to draw up their own cultural policies, the municipalities, followed by the départements (county councils) and regions (regional councils), have engaged in local public cultural action to a degree far exceeding the obligations laid down in the devolution laws of 1982, 1983 and 1992.

Since the first agreements on theatrical decentralisation at the end of the 1940s, and on through the cultural development charters and agreements in the 1970s and 1980s, a major part of the territorial cultural policy is based on multi-level agreements and partnerships: between the State departments (inter-ministerial agreements), between State departments and territorial authorities, between the different levels of territorial authorities, between State departments and public cultural agencies and institutions. Thus, French cultural policies are conducted in the framework of territorialised cooperative governance, based on agreements and partnerships (see chapter 2.1 and chapter 3.3). In 2015, in a context of budget austerity, the Ministry proposed to territorial authorities to agree on “cultural pacts”, in which the State commits to maintain its level of cultural financing to a territorial authority as long as this authority commits to do the same regarding its own cultural budget. Around forty “cultural pacts” has been signed.


Capítulo publicado: 08-05-2017


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