French museums seek help

Updated: 2013-01-06 11:58

By Doreen Carvajal(

The New York Times


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 French museums seek help

Philippe Belaval, below, of the French landmarks agency is using crowdfunding to help restore the Pantheon. Photographs by Stephane Remael for The International Herlad Tribune

French museums seek help

PARIS - The crass term for it is begging, but the French prefer a loftier description: "participatory financing."

For as little as a single euro, even the most ordinary art connoisseur can join the fund-raising fraternite that is working to restore the dome of the Pantheon here. Contribute a few hundred more and you get an invitation from the Center for National Monuments, the French landmarks agency, to a party there, at the emblematic temple of the republic.

Maybe you'd like to help the Louvre buy a pair of 13th-century ivory statuettes, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon get the Ingres oil it so very much desires?

The austerity measures that have hurt the arts across the Continent have been particularly unsettling in France, where cultural spending is so sacrosanct that it has long been one investment on which governments both left and right could agree. But now the directors of grand cultural institutions here are resorting to public appeals and the technique called crowdfunding to pay for the things they want.

An assortment of enticements, like free tickets and party invitations, have been trotted out. Donate to the Pantheon cause, for example, and your picture will be posted on a temporary kiosk outside.

So far the appeals are working. With the help of 2,500 contributors, the Louvre has raised $654,000 toward acquiring the statuettes, priced at $3.4 million.

The Lyon museum has collected $91,000 toward that painting by Ingres, which is valued at close to $1 million.

During the first campaign for the Pantheon, officials deliberately set a modest initial fund-raising goal of $6,500 to avoid intimidating donors. It was quickly surpassed and, in four weeks, the campaign has reaped almost $34,000. More than 450 contributors were lured.

"My passion is history and so I gave 300 euros," Cyril Guerineau, 36, a police officer from outside of Paris, said of his donation of about $395. "It's a monument that is the most prominent symbol in our nation with a lot of luminaries buried there who represent the history of France." He added that he was also interested in the party invitation.

Even today the French government spends more than twice as much on culture as Germany, a larger and more prosperous neighbor. But a cut to the culture budget of more than 4 percent, to $3.1 billion, is the first in more than 30 years. Money for new art acquisitions has shrunk to $11.1 million, from $26 million in 2009.

The cuts have set off a scramble among institutions for revenue. "We're all confronted with the same reality and exploring the same track," said Philippe Belaval, president of the landmarks agency, which is working with a crowdfunding French start-up, My Major Company, in a pilot project to raise money for four state landmarks, including restoration projects at the Pantheon and Mont St.-Michel.

"With crowdfunding," he said, "we have an advantage in the competition. Our monuments are deeply part of our country and the collective conscious of people."

My Major Company, founded in 2007 in France to finance musical projects, started backing cultural landmarks after approaching the culture ministry with the idea. Michael Goldman, 33, a founder of the company, said, "It's a real solution for a lot of areas in crisis."

Other countries, like Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, are also experimenting with this kind of online civic financing.

In the past three years the Louvre has proved the most adept at tapping the support of thousands of donors online. Its first campaign, in 2010, reaped more than $1.6 million from over 7,000 donors to acquire a 16th-century oil painting of three nude women by Lucas Cranach.

Mr. Belaval said he was not particularly worried about the pace of giving. "To scale a mountain you have to start with a little mountain," he said.

Help the Louvre buy a pair of statuettes from the 13th century.

The New York Times

(China Daily 01/06/2013 page12)