In Louvre, France hones soft power strategy
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 rapidlychanging, 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