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France/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Heritage is the first sector of cultural participation in France after broadcasting. The interest in heritage was qualified as a "major French passion", which is illustrated by the audience success, every year, of the Heritage Days that were created in 1984 by the French Ministry of Culture and became in 1991 the European Heritage Days. Since the 1980s, thousands of heritage associations are concerned with the protection, preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage at local level. They are partners of territorial authorities. The frequentation of heritage sites, in particular the major Parisian museums, underlines the importance of heritage to cultural tourism, as shown by the 2014 figures: more than 9 million visitors, of which 70% are foreign visitors, to the Louvre (including the Louvre-Lens branch), which consolidates its world first place; 7,7 million entrances at Versailles (80% of foreigners); around 3,5 million to Beaubourg, including about 40% foreign visitors; and 3.5 million visitors to the Musée d'Orsay. Moreover, it has been underlined that arts and heritage can play a powerful role in times of crisis, with also fewer holiday departures abroad for French audiences that may refocus on heritage and more affordable activities at a national level.

However, foreign tourist visits decreased because of the terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris and July 2016 in Nice. This evil context has very direct consequences on the frequentation of cultural sites, in particular the museums in Paris. The Louvre is expected to have lost 20% of attendance rate in the first semester of 2016 compared to 2015. A special revival plan and a emergency economic committee on tourism were launched under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign affairs. The Ministry of Culture also set up a specific support scheme for the summer festivals in 2016.

Like creation, heritage is a constantly evolving sector. The objective of heritage policies is not a general “state of heritage” (patrimonialisation) to have time suspended, but rather to offer an access opportunity to historic knowledge to better know the origin and construction of the identities. The ministry pays particular attention to the heritage of the 20th century, to emphasise the social dimension of the country and its diversity of origins. In 1999, the Ministry launched the label "Heritage of the 20th century".

The Centre of Architecture and Heritage (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine) was opened to the public in April 2007 in the Palais de Chaillot, in Paris-Trocadéro. In 2010 the Ministry of Culture launched the plan "Museums in the regions", endowed with about 70 million EUR over three years to support 79 museographic or architectural projects on the whole territory. A new building complex for the National Archives was opened in January 2013, in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine in the Paris region, to complement the existing archives centre in Paris and Fontainebleau. It is equipped with contemporary technologies and will include 220 stores of archives distributed on eleven levels, representing 320 kilometres of shelves.

Another striking evolution is the recent opening of decentralised major museums or branches of major national museums: Centre Pompidou / Beaubourg-Metz in Lorraine in 2010, Louvre-Lens Museum in region Nord-Pas-de-Calais in 2012, the Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) opened in Marseille in June 2013, during the event of European Capital of Culture. This evolution took an international dimension with the planned opening in 2014 of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (see chapter 3.4.4).

La loi relative à la liberté de création, à l’architecture et au patrimoine de 2016 (Loi n° 2016-925 du 7 juillet 2016) concerne plusieurs aspects des politiques patrimoniales et réaffirme le rôle de l’État dans ces domaines. En particulier, la loi renforce les moyens de lutte contre le trafic des biens culturels, fait entrer le patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco dans le droit français et introduit le label unique de « site patrimonial remarquable » en lieu et place de différents labels existants (cf….).

The 2016 law on freedom of creation, architecture and heritage (loi n° 2016-925 du 7 juillet 2016) concerns several aspects of heritage policies and reaffirms the role of the State in these domains. In particular, the law consolidates the struggle against illicit traffic of cultural goods, incorporates Unesco World Heritage system into French law and introduces a single label “site patrimonial remarquable” to replace several previously existing labels (see chapter 5.2).

The question of intangible heritage renewed the approaches to heritage policies. It is a particular issue for local and regional actors, notably in territories that have a strong geo-historic identity capital (Alsace, Brittany, Corsica for example). Among the French cultural expressions registered on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity are: Compagnonnage, a network for on-the-job transmission of knowledge and identities (2010); Gastronomic meal of the French (2010); le Cantu in paghjella, a secular and liturgical oral tradition of Corsica; the falconry, a living human heritage (2010, shared with the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Czech Republic, South Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Syria); and the fest noz (2012), a traditional feast in Brittany. The site, dedicated to the intangible Cultural heritage of France, was set up in 2010 by the regional branches of the television channel France 3 in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and under the patronage of the French National Commission for UNESCO. In 2011 the Ministry of Culture created the French Centre of Intangible Cultural Heritage, situated in Vitré in Brittany within the Documentation Centre on World Performances, which is linked to the World Cultures Institute (Maison des Cultures du Monde) (see chapter 3.4.2). These policies proceed from the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage ("chapter III Safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage at the national level").

Heritage policies face the challenges of digitalisation, which multiplies the potential of distribution, transmission and promotion of the material and intangible heritage: ancient manuscripts, maps, plans, paintings, drawings, movies, stories and songs, etc. About 5 million documents were digitised and more than 2 000 hours of sound documents. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF, national library) set up in 1997 the digital library Gallica, which in 2010 reached over a million digitised documents. The BNF was one of the founding partners of Europeana, the European numerical library launched in November, 2008 by the European Commission. The French National Audiovisual Institute (Institut national de l'audiovisuel, INA) also plays an important role to preserve and diffuse broadcasting and audiovisual digital archives, in particular via its website. Since 2000, the Ministry of Culture and Communication also supports projects of digitalisation initiated by territorial authorities or civil bodies, associations.

A great deal of research work was carried out to improve digitalisation processes, document indexing and digitised content. The adoption of rules governing the description of documents is aimed at guaranteeing the compatibility of different information systems. As the internet is a world-wide network (half of the connections to the paintings database Mona Lisa are from outside France), there is a need for a firm policy on the multilingualism of the sites that diffuse digitised cultural heritage documents.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile France

Chapter published: 18-05-2017

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