Left-wing or right-wing local cultural policy?
The debate rears its head in Nantes
Following three decades of territorial décentralisation in France - first between 1982-1983, then 2002-2004 - French cities are at the forefront of cultural policy. In Nantes, Socialist Party (PS) heartland since 1989, culture is evermore present, largely because of the successful but expensive events held in the city (Royal de Luxe street theatre company, La Folle journée classical music festival, Le Voyage à Nantes artistic spectacle). The definition of a left-wing or a right-wing local cultural policy is brought back into question.
Major political issue
However, the 40-tonne artwork was constructed on the Place de la Bourse - a historical part of Nantes, and the choice of famous personalities depicted was controversial. Socialist Mayor Jean-Marc Ayrault - in power since 1989, and now French Prime Minister - and his political majority was criticised by the right-wing opposition party UMP “Culture can’t be seen as an excuse for political statement”.
The Royal de Luxe wall hasn't been destroyed - last September it was moved to a skate park 400 meters away, following a study published by a state architect. As a matter of fact, culture has become a major political issue in the chef-lieu of Loire Atlantique. The projected cultural budget for the Ville de Nantes in 2012 stands at 62,5 million-euro- not including public and semi-public companies. Second only to the education budget, this is a record for Nantes, totaling 15% of the city's expenditure, though it is still not as high as in Strasbourg (18%) or Lyon (20%).
Conservative municipal councillor Laurence Garnier, one of M. Ayrault and new mayor Patrick Rimberts' opponents agrees:“It isn't excessive at all compared to similar-sized cities in France, and as a matter of fact it's an important prerogative of local governments”.“The problem is that we stick to great but temporal events such as the Royal de Luxe shows or Le Voyages à Nantes festival. I strongly regret this because we don't yet have the European touristic and cultural attractiveness to do so. We should rather choose more perennial policies. The aim is not to bring tourists back, but to make them come” she adds.
Culture and tourism
So -gathering culture and tourism -a new idea symbolized by Le Voyage à Nantes. Not only is it a two-month long gargantuan festival in Summer 2012 but above all a publicly-owned corporation. An avant-garde, left-wing, local, and national agenda according to Stéphanie Olivier, Head of PR at Le Voyages à Nantes “I am certain of this. It was important for us to have long-time support of local politicians such as Jean-Marc Ayrault and also to be part of a larger political process by putting forward culture linked with tourism, economics and nature”. The downside of this strategy: the centralized power given to a non-elected but charismatic figure such as Jean Blaise, head of Le Voyages à Nantes.
All of this does not seem to bother Jean-Louis Jossic, Deputy Mayor in charge of culture at the Ville de Nantes. The singer of the famous breton music band Tri Yann has a more philosophical definition of a progressive local cultural policy : “There is no right-wing or left-wing music. But you do have significantly different political approaches. A conservative cultural policy is based on the idea that those who are 'interested' and have 'abilities' can create. It's culture for an elite. A culture by all and for all is progressive. It's equality as long as you have quality. You have high-quality and poor opera just like there is high-quality and poor hip-hop. But the emotions that it brings must be for everyone”.
But UMP Laurence Garnier argues that “Right-wing politicians are not anti-culture. There are better at the protection and enhancement of the local artistic and historical heritage”. Heritage versus creation? Not necessarily, as the Transbordeur bridge in Nantes illustrates. Built over the Loire in 1902 and destroyed in 1958, this 140-metre long and 75-metre high steel bridge was the incarnation of Naoneds' - Nantes in Breton - industrial soul. Several projects are now in progress to rebuild it in a classic or modern style.
A new political battle which has yet to come to a city that now has the reputation “of taking risks and testing cultural limits”, according to M. Jossic. “Nantes: perhaps the only city in France other than Paris where I have the feeling that something worthwhile could happen to me’ as wrote surrealist Nantais artist André Breton (1896-1966).