French soft power: future perspective or fantasy?

The Louvre Abu Dhabi vestibule with visitors. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an example of french soft power.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi vestibule

At the Think Culture event hosted by News Tank Culture on 7 September 2021 at the Pompidou Centre, Stéphane-Arnaud Roisin, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of France Muséums, and Caroline Champarnaud, Sacem International Development Director, presented a discussion entitled “French soft power: future or fantasy?”

The Think Culture event attracted more than 700 participants and focused on the ability to innovate in cultural management. Its general theme was “The role of the state in culture: future perspectives.” 

French soft power

Soft power is an extremely broad concept that illustrates a proactive approach to influence. It is a notion that is widely used today in public debate, particularly in the field of cultural diplomacy. Theorized in the 1990s by the American political scientist Joseph Nye to analyze America’s “ability to seduce”, soft power arises from both public and private actors who create an environment and a foundation for the cultural diplomacy of a country.

Stéphane-Arnaud Roisin answers the question “French soft power: future perspective or fantasy?” by saying that, in the field of cultural diplomacy, French soft power is anything but a fantasy, although we must remain vigilant. While numerous initiatives are being carried out in the fields of cinema, music, the visual and performing arts, heritage, architecture, etc., the challenge is to coordinate these initiatives and to take competing practices into account. Promoting the international deployment of French artistic and cultural expertise is not only a cultural challenge but also an economic and strategic one.

In the specific field of visual arts and heritage, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a standard-bearer for the influence and projection of French cultural expertise abroad. As the first universal museum in the Arab world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a combination of cutting-edge programming, design, and operational support.  This complex project calls on France Muséums’ agility and expertise in museum consultancy and requires the mobilization of a large network of partners.

Increased international competition

Competition is increasing in the realm of cultural soft power, and more and more initiatives are being carried out not only by historic actors (the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy) but also by new public and private actors in South Korea, China, etc.

The participation of Ministers of Culture in the last G20 Summit in Rome in July 2021 is a sign that the role of culture is being taken into consideration. Where France is concerned, an example is the inauguration of the Villa Albertine in the United States, a project designed to immerse French artists in the realities of American life. France is once again demonstrating a proactive strategy, in particular through the deployment of a powerful French diplomatic network abroad.

Museums are no longer just repositories for artworks. They also play a social role in fostering an understanding and awareness of the challenges of sustainable development and promoting universal values. As a designer and producer of museum projects, France Muséums works to make visits accessible to as many people as possible, not only inside the museum but also outside its walls in order to raise awareness of climate issues. Key questions are currently being asked about reducing the number of artworks on display, applying principles of eco-friendly exhibition design and enhancing the visitor experience.

Last but not least, it is important to connect the museum world to contemporary issues raised by digital technology. France Muséums is committed to supporting cultural institutions as they investigate and test new ways of exhibiting and interconnecting works of art by exploring the concept of the augmented museum. In terms of mediation and the visitor experience, the use of digital technology can help attract and welcome a wider audience by presenting art in an alternative, multi-facetted way. Read more about the role of digital in the cultural sector

Thanks to the vibrancy of an entire sector and ties between public and private actors, France is one of the world’s most proactive countries in terms of cultural diplomacy. The way forward now no doubt involves adopting a more strategic approach and focusing on new technologies, sustainable development and public/private partnerships.

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