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Two new trends, the emergence of "inter-municipal co-operation" and territorial devolution, will gradually and unavoidably impact on the cultural field.

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France/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

The French cultural policies model is characterised by the substantial action of public authorities. In addition to the legal and regulatory aspects administrated by the State concerning cultural actors, goods, and activities, national, local and regional governments allocate substantial funds to a range of cultural fields. Specialised public service departments administer this action at the different levels.

Equal access to culture for citizens is constitutional: it is incumbent on the State to ensure that all people are potentially able to participate in cultural life. France recognises that culture is an integral part of overall development, including social and economic development, and culture is considered a key factor in ensuring the quality of life and fulfilment of each and every individual.

Moreover, the State conducts language policy in France: advocacy of French (official language of the Republic) and of French-speaking communities (Francophonie), and protection of the languages of France (regional, non-territorial, and sign language).

One of the main objectives of cultural policies is to correct recognised inequalities in the access to culture and cultural institutions due to geographical, economic and social obstacles impeding cultural participation. These policies aim at extending and diversifying audiences, and fostering the development of the widest possible range of cultural and artistic activities in all cultural fields.

Three main lines structure cultural policies in France:

  • heritage
  • creation
  • knowledge transmission and cultural democratisation, in particular via cultural and artistic education.

A crosscutting sovereign assignment is specifically devoted to the State level: legislate, assess and control the public cultural policies. The State interventions in the sectors of communication, press (pluralism) and broadcasting (public channels) particularly illustrate this assignment.

The legitimacy of public intervention is based on the commonly acknowledged fact that, on the one hand, heritage is considered to be a common property to be shared, protected and promoted and, on the other hand, the support and diffusion of cultural and artistic creativity is considered to be a necessity for the community. In these areas, governmental action intends to prevent and correct the risks inherent in the functioning of the market: the concentration, standardisation and removal of cultural products that are not considered to be ordinary marketable commodities.

Moreover, the government has responsibility for artistic and cultural education and training as it has for general education. This takes place either within the school framework (visual arts, music, specialised training in theatre, in film, in the maintenance of cultural heritage), or by means of specialised schools at national or territorial level (academies, etc.), or by associations and popular education (see chapter 8.3).

The Ministry of Culture and Communication is responsible for the implementation of State-governmental cultural action throughout the French territory. Other ministries participate in specific areas of cultural policy (Foreign Affairs, Education, Research, Tourism for instance). Regional and local authorities are also responsible for the implementation of cultural policies in their particular districts (municipal, intermunicipal, county-départment, regional); cultural action carried out by the various public actors overlaps very often and is thus increasingly co-ordinated or carried out jointly, in a contractual or agreement-based framework.

The Ministry of Culture and Communication undertakes action in two ways: regulatory action (in the context of laws passed by Parliament) and direct action by means of public funds allotted to the Ministry in the context of the national budget.

Regulatory action

The Ministry of Culture and Communication is responsible for the implementation and supervision of laws and provisions relating to culture. Legal regulations involve, for example, heritage protection, the duties and the scientific and technical standards of archives and collections, literary and artistic property, artists' welfare, the institution of taxes and fees for certain cultural sectors (cinema, live entertainment, fixed book price), and obligatory production and diffusion quotas (broadcasting quotas).

These regulations do not necessarily imply the commitment of public funds on the part of the government. On the other hand, they could have substantial financial consequences for local and regional authorities and cultural stakeholders (private television networks, owners of cultural heritage goods, etc.).

Regulatory action by the Ministry of Culture and Communication also includes initiatives aimed at endorsing and "labelling" the quality, professionalism and incorporation of certain cultural and artistic activities, or at declaring them as State-approved (general interest).

Direct action

One of the most direct actions of the Ministry of Culture and Communication involves the direct management of public cultural institutions (museums, national theatres, schools of higher education,…), the maintenance and development of public cultural, artistic and historical heritage, artistic commissions and construction, the delegation or allocation of grants to institutions and cultural actors as well as to regional and local authorities for their cultural initiatives.

State intervention in the cultural field endeavours to be open to all artistic and cultural genres, forms and aesthetics. Decisions relating to artistic commissions, allowances, the allocation of government grants, heritage protection, and the recruitment of culture specialists, are usually made with advice from consultative bodies that gather independent specialists and experts recognised in the appropriate fields (see chapter 8.4.3).

The Ministry of Culture and Communication does not hold a monopoly on cultural action, which is also, to a large degree, initiated by the local and regional authorities. Moreover, a large part of State-supported cultural activity is organised by private actors (in the same way as numerous associative structures in the cultural sector).

The role of territorial authorities

France has three main levels of territorial authorities: communes (municipalities), départements (counties) and regions. Some other types of territorial authorities have dispensatory status that can have a certain impact on the cultural policies those authorities conduct (Corsica, overseas territories, metropolises).

France's larger town and city councils have been actively engaged in culture for a long time. Since the 19th century many of them have been administering and funding libraries, museums, theatres and municipal conservatories and subsidising cultural associations and learned societies. Since the 1960s, other much smaller municipalities have also been developing their own – and often ambitious – cultural policies.

The devolution acts of 1982-83 and 2004 have encouraged the cultural actions of the local and regional authorities with the help of the Ministry's regional directorates for cultural affairs (directions régionales des affaires culturelles, DRAC). These laws also transferred responsibilities: public libraries and archive services have been transferred to the départements, regions are responsible for the regional heritage inventory units since 2004 and some authorities could choose to take responsibility for historical monuments located in their territory. In 2014, according to data from the Ministry of Culture, the property of 65 monuments had been devolved to territorial authorities (over the 176 transferable sites): 43 to communes, 16 to départements and 6 to regions.

Spheres of competence

Between the deconcentration of State departments and devolution, cultural policy is based on prevailing co-operation. While the State government has continued to play a substantial role in the public funding of culture, the contribution of territorial authorities has significantly increased and now represents around 50% of overall funding. If we consider the geographical concentration of State funding in the Greater Paris Region (Île-de-France), which is due to the presence of numerous national heritage sites and many national institutions, we find a higher contribution of territorial authorities to cultural expenses away from the region Île-de-France (up to 80% of overall funding in some Regions).

Territorial authorities can take action in all cultural sectors – heritage conservation and presentation, production and diffusion of performing arts, promotion of books and reading, and arts education. In this regard, since the period 1960-1970, a growing number of territories have elected representatives assigned to cultural affairs and have developed increasingly important cultural departments and agencies. The degree to which the municipalities invest in culture is dependent solely on their political will, except in some domains: public archives, which they are obliged to conserve and make accessible to both researchers and the general public; or the general inventory of cultural heritage. The procedures for cultural intervention are subject to the State regulatory authority.

Agreement-based cooperation (see  chapter 3.3)

Cooperation between the various public and private cultural actors is organised in the framework of a whole range of multi-level agreement procedures between the State services (inter-ministerial agreements), between State services and territorial authorities, between the different territorial authorities, between governmental departments and cultural agencies and institutions: cultural development agreements, the "Ville et Pays d'Art et d'Histoire", "Villes-Cinéma" and "Villes-Arts plastiques" agreements, local arts education contracts, together with the cultural sections of the "City Contracts", the "Major Urban Projects" and the "State-Region Project Contracts", etc. With the increase in their number and their occasional overlapping, these agreements often prove difficult to handle. One example is the Devolution Act of 2004 aimed at clarifying and rationalising the different interventions in the field of artistic education, but its effective application was mitigated.

At the same time, the creation in 2002 of the legal statute of établissement public de coopération culturelle ("public cultural cooperative institution", EPCC) acknowledged this state of generalised contractualisation of cultural policy. This statute facilitates the joint action of several authorities, including the State, to manage and finance important cultural institutions.

Since the first agreements that set up "national dramatic centres" [centre dramatiques nationaux] at the end of the 1940s, a number of towns and cities are partners in national institutions or institutions with a national label, and thus endeavour to follow cultural policies initiated by the State government. However, as they are much closer to the realities of their localities and their inhabitants, local and regional authorities are also endeavouring to increase cultural support in their localities by developing readership and arts education programmes, by supporting cultural events (festivals, etc.) and by protecting and developing heritage. They often provide the only support for cultural associations and amateur and emerging cultural and artistic activities.


There are two emerging major trends that are likely to lead to substantial changes in public support for culture in the years to come: the first is the emergence of "inter-municipal co-operation" which will gradually and unavoidably affect the cultural field. Inter-municipal co-operative structures, known as "intercommunalities", are developing their own cultural policies, showing specific issues and modalities. The second emerging trend is a new step in territorial devolution, within the framework of a reform of territorial authorities that started in 2009. In 2015 the law creates a new form of intercommunal body (around 10 metropolises were created, with special status for Paris, Lyon and Marseille), and in 2016 the regional map modification reduces the number of regions from 27 to 18 (of which 12 mainland regions and Corsica, see chapter 3.1). In this context, the State mentioned the possibility to transfer some DRAC (Ministry's Regional Directorates of Cultural Affairs) responsibilities to Regions and at the end of 2014 the Ministry of Culture and Region Brittany signed an agreement to allow a broader capacity to the Region in the fields of book, cinema and broadcasting policies. Besides, Corsica, which holds a particular and derogatory regional status, has a specific capacity since 2002 in the fields of culture and communication (cultural policy, development of Corsican language and culture).

Chapter published: 08-05-2017

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