The French art scene is, needless to say, very different from Britain's and it has undergone a similar considerable transformation. Before going down the French route, it is worth taking the time to get to grips with the 'système français' in order to be better equipped for dealing with it.

In France, the importance attached to culture has often taken the form of direct state intervention. There are, for example, no independent or quasi-independent agencies comparable to the Arts Councils. And even after over a decade of decentralization, central government still intervenes energetically in the arts.

More specifically, as regards contemporary art, the infrastructures of the 1980s still exist, notably the Centres d'arts and the FRAC, both listed in Exhibition Venues. But they are increasingly encountering difficulties regarding funding, often because local authorities are not willing to pick up the bill when central government wants to pull out. And their "raison d'être", perfectly clear 20 years ago when they were created under the auspices of then minister of culture Jack Lang, are increasingly being questioned.

Contrary to the description of the ailing French art scene a few years ago in Art Monthly (1998, issue 154), where a little "alternative" medicine was advocated, there are now many small independent and alternative arts organisations and "associations" (see Exhibition Venues). And all over France there has been a boom in artist-led organisationa established. Undoubtedly, these are in part a reaction to the official and often inaccessible official arts infrastructures.

The Paris art scene has been rejuvenated by the arrival of the new venue, Palais de Tokyo. This was originally intended to have a lifespan of no more than three years, but now it looks like it's here to stay. This new type of contemporary art centre (new for France at least) which is open around the clock, is intended to compensate for the fact that the Pompidou Centre is no longer a natural home for contemporary art and that there is no other 'happening' venue to be found.

See the new Paris-Ile-de-France tourist site for updated events and arts information.

There is a current trend in France towards mixing contemporary art with live music ("musiques actuelles"), DJ events, contemporary dance, performance, video and live art. The Palais de Tokyo is a venue which has live art events several times a week. The Artroute guide does not cover all these aspects, since in France the Ministry of Culture has a very specific structure which prevents these disciplines mixing officially for the moment. Performance and live art is covered by the Theatre officers (Conseiller au théâtre) within each DRAC; the complexity of this structure means that performance and live art are not included in Artroute.

The notion of 'creative industries' is one which has yet to find an expression in France. The idea of entrepreneurial initiative in the art scene is still alien, and there is very little merging of public and private initiatives. The failure of the Pinault contemporary art foundation is a major example of the difficulties which France still faces in its attempts to go beyond the "sentiers battus" (or "beaten path").

Business sponsorship has never been a great French tradition but it is slowly growing. New tax laws passed in 2003 encourage private support for the arts. Businesses participate in cultural events by giving financial support to exhibitions, films, restoration projects and so forth. However, it is proving difficult to change the financial focus of the French art scene from State sponsorship to private patronage.

Stephanie Délcroix has written two articles on various aspects of working and exhibiting in France for the a-n website. Read The Hole of Art: Part 1 (on the Centres d'Art structure of galleries) and The Hole of Art: Part 2 (on the processes of public commissioning in France).


This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material.
The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.