The search for a new chief of the Louvre, the world’s most-visited museum, may include non-French candidates for the first time in the institution’s more than 200-year history.
French President Francois Hollande, faced with a shrinking budget, is casting his net wide and including foreigners among people he will consider to run the museum that’s home to the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a French government official said.
With public spending being reduced this year by 10 billion euros ($13.4 billion), the French government is putting expertise in international fundraising high on the list of must- have skills for the person taking charge of the Louvre. Hollande, who had promised to spare cultural projects from cuts, trimmed the culture ministry’s budget by 2.3 percent this year.
“We are going through an economic crisis of unprecedented gravity,” Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti told Le Monde newspaper in an interview in September. “Everyone needs to do their part.” She said museum directors and other heads of France’s monuments will need to make do with diminishing support from the state.
The Louvre’s new director will have to find funds to expand the museum’s reception area under the glass pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei in the 1980s. The area had been built with a forecast of 4 to 5 million visitors a year, about half the record 10 million visitors the museum drew last year.
The position at the central Paris museum that opened its doors in 1793 needs to be filled after its chief, Henri Loyrette, 60, said on Dec. 17 that he won’t seek a fifth term following 12 years in the post. Hollande expects to have the new head in place when Loyrette’s mandate ends in April.
In addition to fundraising, the new director will need to have the skills of a curator, have managerial abilities, be familiar with the French administration system, be fluent in French and have worked in a world-class museum or a big cultural center, the official said, declining to be identified in line with internal policy.
The list of candidates may be short, making it critical for Hollande to look outside France. German historian Werner Spies is the only foreigner to have headed a French national museum. He was the director of Paris’s Modern Art Museum from 1997 to 2000.
Funding for culture has taken a hit as Hollande struggles to meet the target he set for a budget deficit this year of 3 percent of gross domestic product, down from 4.5 percent in 2012.
His task has been rendered more difficult by an economy that may grow no more than 0.4 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, and a jobless rate that has reached a 14-year high.
The Louvre and other cultural and education institutions will have to increasingly tap private resources to fund expansion and projects.
Funds are so scarce that Filippetti said late last year the government is postponing a 250-million-euro project to protect art pieces from flooding.
She suspended the plan -- initiated under former President Nicolas Sarkozy -- to build backups for the basement storerooms of Paris’s museums, including the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Pompidou Center and the Decorative Arts Museum, to protect them from being flooded by the Seine River.
The storage, research, restoration and conservation center would have been built in the suburbs of the French capital.
In 2008, France legalized the creation of endowments at its public institutions, including the Louvre. Most of the 8.6 million euros the Louvre spent in 2011 to buy new art was from private donors. Just 20 percent coming from tickets sales.
The Louvre has an endowment fund of about 125 million euros, which shrank by 0.8 percent in 2011, the most recent figures available, the museum’s press office said.
Every year, the Louvre raises as much as it gets from the state, or about 210 million euros in 2011. The government pays for running costs: salaries, safety and maintenance. The rest -- expansions, refurbishments, acquisitions -- is funded by the museum. The state cut funding to the Louvre by 5 percent in 2009 and another 5 percent in 2011. State funds dropped to less than 50 percent from 70 percent of the total budget in 2001.
In 2013, the state plans to cut funding for the Louvre by 4.3 percent, which will force its next head to find more money from private donors and cap spending.
Since Loyrette took over in 2001, the Louvre has been scouting for outside money. Like his U.S. counterparts, Loyrette spent half his time fund raising, and has traveled to the Gulf states more than a dozen times. His sponsorship staff expanded and some of the 16 million euros raised in 2011 was funneled into the endowment.
Under Loyrette, the Louvre launched a project to open a branch in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, in a plan that will bring 1 billion euros to the museum over 30 years.
Hollande has three months to find Loyrette’s replacement. There is no list of candidates so far, the government official said, adding that no obvious contender has emerged from among the heads of big French museums. The current head of the Versailles Palace, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, is past the 65-years age limit.
Filippetti is setting the bar high for Loyrette’s successor.
“In his four successive mandates Henri Loyrette worked to make the Louvre one of the world’s greatest museums, a popular institution, modern and open to the world,” she said. “His reforms gave the Louvre its international influence.”
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