Magazine article Art Monthly

Cultural Asset Stripping

Magazine article Art Monthly

Cultural Asset Stripping

Article excerpt

In an interview in 1996 Daniel Abadie, then director of the Jeu de Paume in Paris, lamented the absence of a coherent state policy for the arts in France; in particular he pointed to the lack of a French equivalent of the British Council whose success in promoting British art abroad he envied (see Editorial, AM199). Yet at the time when Abadie made his remarks, the then Conservative government had just decided to slash the Council's funding by 50%, forcing it to cut back its programming, shut down some of its offices and lay off staff.

Ten years down the line and Abadie's wish has been granted: last year saw the launch of CulturesFrance. Set up by Dominique de Villepin, France's controversial former prime minister, it is openly modelled on the British Council. Indeed, Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, its first director, is on record as saying that he is 'a big admirer' of the British Council. In particular he admires its success, as he sees it, in managing to impose 'a brand, an image' on cultural production in Britain (see Editorial AM297). Responding to Poivre d'Arvor's tribute, his counterpart in Paris, Paul de Quincey, remarked, 'I hope that our own government sees it as a positive indication of how we are viewed in France.' He hoped in vain: despite, or perhaps because of this perceived success, the British Council finds itself once more faced with the prospect of closures; this time as a result of a whole new agenda set by the government under Gordon Brown.

For those with ears to hear, the hints of a change in direction were evident in a lecture Brown gave to the British Council in July 2004 when he was chancellor. In the course of a long discussion on shared values and what it means to be British in today's Britain, he referred to the Council as, along with 'the BBC, the World Service and our universities', one of Britain's strongest 'assets', though he seemed to see its main function as being to teach the world to speak English. The arts were mentioned only twice. As befits a chancellor, perhaps, the main focus of his lecture was on the economy, specifically on the effects of globalisation, which has 'fatally undermined' Europe as a separate, inward-looking economic entity. In its place he proclaimed 'a new globally oriented Europe' and a new era of economic liberalisation spearheaded by Britain. …

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