Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


When free access does not (always) rhyme with democratization

Study after study, free access is not sufficient to democratize culture. It must be accompanied by a detailed knowledge of audiences and their constraints. Last example, museums of the City of Paris. 


According to a report by the regional audit office that should be published in mid-October 2013, the museums of the city of Paris would be lacking of democratization, despite an intense policy of free access. In other words, this policy strengthens the appetites of fans who enjoy the windfall effect without significantly attract new audiences, including lessfavoured areas. But let there be no mistake, the policy of free access promoted by recent governments hides, behind the results of its vessels admirals as the Louvre, Orsay and Pompidou, diverse and sometimes comparable realities.

Free access to municipal facilities put in place during the first mandate of Bertrand Delanoë, in 2001, would have solely had the effect of a "stability of the visitor profile" and a "small proportion of young people and poor people," according to elements of this document revealed by Le Monde on 4 September.

However, the overall number of visitors is experiencing tremendous increase in Parisian museums, from 400,000 annual visitors in 2001 to 2.4 million in 2012.

What can we learn from this statistical approach? Unfortunately there is nothing paradoxical or contradictory, and the development policies for audiences in their diversity remains a major challenge, even more than the Philharmonic or the Louvre-Lens. Whatever the application, the free admission does not have the effect of opening the institutions to new audiences; it essentially allowed to those who were already visitors to be even more diligently.

In the political imbroglio caused by the revelation of the regional chamber, it is interesting to note the conclusion: the chamber admits, despite the picture they raises, the difficulty of bringing new audiences to the culture. Evasive sentence for exhaustive charge.

Indeed, most of the policies of cultural democratization - innovative, complex, highly local and carried out in the shade by militant workers for decades - hardly pass the border of media spotlight and national level. Therefore they are often out of reach of statistical tools. This is not necessarily bad politician will or disregard of public opinion. It is simply a jigsaw puzzle: making from the local model a national or at least regional model. The Nouveaux Commanditaires project is a model on this issue. Since the early 1990s, the Fondation de France’s New Patrons project has invited citizens with local development or societal concerns to involve artists in their project by commissioning artwork. The project’s innovation lies in its ability to build ties between artists, commissioners and cultural agencies. This model has spread and is reproduced today to Italy.

The only credible model remains the example and the spin-off effect of good practices. The natural tendency of any system to want to establish a strong, unequivocal and national strategy, does not operate in this area. As Delphine Levy, director of Paris Museums quoted by Le Monde, said: "The free access to museums is not enough to democratize, we also need to invest in tools of cultural mediation, it is a long process that we begin to conduct." No politics at the national level, without a multiplicity of programs directed at recreation centers, schools, poor people, people who are excluded or imprisonment, etc.. 6,000 disadvantaged Parisians had access to collections in 2012. But thanks to how many of these programs? We have to accept to consider these micro-experiences as a mission and a national plan for themselves.

There are no model to build, only examples.



Guillaume Pfister