The Cultural Exception

The Louvre Museum yesterday swallowed its pride as it welcomed potential American benefactors for an inaugural official tour of paintings featured in Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller, The Da Vinci Code.

It is a telling concession to popular culture that reflects the intense financial pressure facing l’exception culturelle, the idea that France and the French language can hold their own against Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Until now, the Louvre’s official position on The Da Vinci Code had been disdainful. “None of our curators will talk about the book. It’s a work of fiction and we don’t see it as our job to discuss it,” a press officer said last week.

Like many French museums, the Louvre, which only started seeking sponsorship last year, is running to catch up with its global rivals as it weans itself off state subsidies. Private sponsorship funds just 10-15 per cent of the Louvre’s €150m ($184m, £102m) annual budget.

As last year’s crisis in the system that funds France’s subsidised performing artists showed, the days of lavish state funding of the arts are over. The Louvre, on any given day, has to close up to 15 per cent of its display space for lack of staff…

Hosting yesterday’s Da Vinci Code tour for the American Friends of the Louvre, a new fund-raising body, Henri Loyrette, the museum’s director, said he wanted to dispel a reputation for “arrogance” and offer a warmer welcome to US tourists.

And get this:

“The big US museums have been able to build up huge endowments over the years, which allow them to fund virtually all their operating costs from the interest,” says Christophe Monin, head of fund-raising at the Louvre. “We are not so lucky [sic].”