In Lou­vre, France hones soft power strat­egy

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - KICKOFF - Photos and text from wire ser­vices

PARIS » As em­pires fall, brands rise. No longer buoyed by Napoleonic em­pire-mak­ing and the power the French lan­guage once com­manded, the French have honed new ways to ex­ert cul­tural in­flu­ence in a rapidly-chang­ing, glob­al­ized world: brand diplo­macy.

The open­ing of the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi over the week­end is the lat­est ex­am­ple of how tra­di­tional French cul­tural diplo­macy is be­ing sup­planted by brand pol­i­tics: Abu Dhabi bought the rights to use the Paris mu­seum’s fa­mous name at a price tag of over $500 mil­lion over three decades.

This ex­am­ple of “soft power” goes be­yond mu­seum names such as the fu­ture Shang­hai Pom­pi­dou Cen­ter — and can be seen in the ex­port­ing of Sor­bonne’s aca­demic rep­u­ta­tion, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Chris­tian Dior bou­tiques in Asia, the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar fizz of Moet & Chan­don cham­pagne, the cui­sine of master chef Alain Du­casse and Louis Vuit­ton’s sta­tus hand­bags.

“It used to be by the mil­i­tary, like for Napoleon. Today, there are other means of in­flu­ence abroad,” Lau­rent Ste­fanini, France’s am­bas­sador to UNESCO, the UN’s cul­tural body, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“The fact is that the big known in­sti­tu­tions are ex­port­ing them­selves — ex­port­ing their prod­ucts, ex­port­ing their col­lec­tions, ex­port­ing their savoir-faire,” he added, say­ing that the French For­eign Min­istry has ramped up ef­forts to pro­mote France via its lux­ury and gas­tron­omy in a con­certed strat­egy in re­cent years.

While there was some grum­bling about the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of French cul­tural her­itage when the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi project was launched, today it’s hard to find any­one crit­i­cal of France’s ef­fort to cap­i­tal­ize on the unique rep­u­ta­tion of its mu­se­ums and lux­ury tra­di­tions to draw peo­ple into French cul­ture.

“Pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions ... are play­ing a more im­por­tant role as of the last few years,” Jack Lang, an in­flu­en­tial for­mer French cul­ture min­is­ter who now heads the Arab World In­sti­tute in Paris, said in an in­ter­view.

Ker­ing and LVMH — the huge par­ent com­pa­nies for brands such as Saint Lau­rent, Dior and Vuit­ton as well as many Cham­pagnes and spir­its — have a near stran­gle­hold on the lux­ury mar­kets in ev­ery global re­gion and jointly had sales of $58 bil­lion in 2016.

“For­eign cit­i­zens might rec­og­nize France now by its brands and names... that’s a good thing. It’s an open­ing. This path will lead them to writ­ers; to the tech­nol­ogy that’s ad­vanc­ing in many do­mains,” added Lang.

Lang said that over the last decade the French state has cut fund­ing to the tra­di­tional means of pro­mot­ing French lan­guage and cul­ture abroad, such as the Lycee Fran­cais schools, amid the dom­i­nance of the English lan­guage.

The chefs, de­sign­ers and cu­ra­tors are very much aware that they are mod­ern day cul­tural am­bas­sadors.

“The Lou­vre Abu Dhabi is... recog­ni­tion of French ex­per­tise and the renown of the Lou­vre mu­seum. So, yes, we are both very proud that the Lou­vre name bears these val­ues (as) a new way for France to speak to the world,” Lou­vre Pres­i­dent Jean-Luc Martinez told The AP.


Jalal Bushra Al Fadal from Su­dan takes a selfie, dur­ing the pub­lic open­ing day of the Lou­vre Mu­seum, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates, Satur­day.

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