French Government To Encourage Private, Corporate Arts Funding
PARIS (AP) _ In a country where culture has always been an affair of state, the French government is proposing measures modeled on the American system of grants to promote private and corporate funding of the arts.
″France is way behind other Western countries,″ said Francois Leotard, the minister of culture and communications. ″It’s time for the private sector to take the initiative.″
Corporate or private sponsorship of the arts in France amounted to only $60 million last year, Leotard said. By contrast, the government spent $5.3 billion promoting culture in 1986.
The measures he made public include bigger tax credits for companies supporting the arts and a system which would allow the government to co- finance cultural activities with private companies or individuals.
Current law allows companies a maximum tax deduction of 0.2 percent of their revenues for cultural gifts and sponsorships. Under the new program, that would be increased to 0.5 percent of revenues.
American tax law is still far more generous to the arts, allowing companies to deduct up to 10 percent of taxable income - not gross revenues.
The proposed French system of joint sponsorship, Leotard said, was the result of research he conducted in the United States, where 85 percent of all cultural projects are paid for by non-government funds.
He said his proposal, to be crafted after the National Endowment for the Arts’ program of matching and challenge grants, would not lead to a government cutback on cultural spending.
″Rather, the sponsor, by virtue of his willingness to underwrite a project, will be the one who makes sure the artists get additional government funds,″ he said.
But Leotard will have his hands full convincing France’s private sector that cultural sponsorship pays off. A recent study showed that only 400 companies - French and major multinationals with operations here - were involved in cultural sponsorship. And most of the companies sampled said sponsoring was risky, complicated and expensive.
In 1986, private businesses spent about $53 million on projects ranging from art exhibits and mime shows to music festivals and the restoration of national monuments.
″In France, the idea of corporate sponsorship is still associated with notions of charity and generosity,″ Alain-Dominique Perrin, president of Cartier, said in a report he drafted on sponsorship in France.
″The business community must be persuaded that sponsorship is, in fact, a normal part of management, that it can be done as a partnership and that it’s a very effective image builder.″
Yet no one expects corporate sponsorship of the arts to take hold overnight.
″It’s going to be quite difficult to change the French mentality,″ said Ann Cremin, the Paris-based art critic for the Irish Times.
″Historically, culture has always been in the hands of the ruling power, so people have come to expect their leaders to pay for arts and entertainment.″
Until the 1798 French Revolution, artists, musicians and poets survived thanks to handsome pensions distributed by royalty.
Louis XIV, one of France’s more enlightened sovereigns, was also among the most generous. The playwright Moliere, for example, lived comfortably at the palace in Versailles, free to write the biting comedies for which he became famous.
Former President Charles de Gaulle created the Ministry of Culture in the mid-1950s hoping to revive France’s reputation as mother of the arts. His culture minister, the novelist Andre Malraux, believed in taking culture to the masses, so he set up and subsidized ″Houses of Culture″ in provincial towns throughout the country.
Some say it’s simply not part of the French character to give away money. The government sponsors scientific and medical research centers, but private fund raising is seen as an American gimmick.
Versailles and Claude Monet’s country home at Giverney were restored largely with grants from American philanthropists.
″Cultural sponsoring has to be more profitable for corporations,″ said Christine Borgoltz, spokeswoman for the Cartier Foundation, which promotes contemporary art. ″But things are definitely moving ahead.″