Essays in Honor of Sandy Petrey
8. Ministering to the Culture
In France the idea that the state has a certain responsibility for aesthetic culture, like its national defense, economy, and highway system, is old. But the term “cultural policy,” dates only from the time (1959) when, on assuming power in the new Fifth Republic President Charles de Gaulle asked André Malraux to head a new Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Despite a small budget, in a flurry of ten years of initiatives extending from requiring the regular cleaning of the facades of Paris buildings to the creation of eight—and the planning for twenty more—Houses of Culture in the provinces, Malraux established the “Culture,” rather than the “Civilisation” as the proclaimed basis of French internal unity and international eminence. His work came apart in the heat of the days of May 1968, when the future cultural elite went into the streets to reject just that top-down culture that he had championed so forcefully. But after his resignation in 1969, a series of cultural ministers, culminating with President Mitterrand’s choice for the post in 1982, Jack Lang, built a praxis of cultural policy which confirmed the idea that saving, and directing, French culture was central, both internally and externally, to maintaining the integrity of the French state. Lang was the last great minister guiding national cultural policy. By the time he stepped down, the funding of culture had become primarily the task of regional councils and the cities. Much of the Ministry of culture’s budget...
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