Centre Pompidou-Metz: Audiences first!


“All our efforts will be aimed at provoking surprise, amazement and pleasure, and at stimulating and constantly renewing the public’s interest for contemporary art.”
Laurent Le Bon, director, Centre Pompidou-Metz

The Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, in Paris, also known as Beaubourg, is a multi-use cultural complex housing a public library, a music research centre (IRCAM) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the second largest world collection of modern and contemporary art after MOMA. Opened in 1977 and designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, it is also an architectural statement, exposing its inner workings in Technicolor. The Centre Pompidou is a national institution, but a modern one; and that’s maybe why it was the first in France to open a decentralised outpost in a regional city.

In 2002, the Centre Pompidou considered a number of cities to host this new sister-institution, including Caen, Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Lille – and Metz, a 120,000-resident city just south of the border with Luxembourg, birthplace of poet Paul Verlaine, with a history dating back to Roman times and a claim to be the cradle of Gregorian chant.

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Le centre Pompidou Metz

Le centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Amongst other factors that guided the choice of the hosting city, Metz could offer the access to a large new potential audience (northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg and western Germany), an ongoing revitalisation project via a new “cultural quarter”, part of a wider political strategy to invest in the creative economy and, pragmatically, “the necessary financial capacity to invest in such a project”.

Construction started in November 2006 and the new museum was inaugurated in May 2010. Conceived by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, known for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubes, the 20,000m2 building is topped by a wood-and-teflon roof inspired by a Chinese hat. The surrounding landscaped gardens are designed on sustainable principles.

Roof detail - (CC) airdecker via Flickr

Roof detail – (CC) airdecker

Footbridge through the gardens - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Footbridge through the gardens – (CC) Dalbera

3 years after its official opening, the Centre Pompidou-Metz is the most visited temporary exhibitions space in France outside Paris, with a record number of visit of 600,000 in its first year of operation (May-December 2010) and around 500,000 annually.

The 5-to-6 annual exhibitions are unique to the museum and not simply scaled down from previous Parisian incarnations. The “essence” of the programming choices is aligned with the original Centre Pompidou’s mandate to be “a leading centre of information, exhibitions, research and initiatives in numerous fields of contemporary creation” and is complemented by multidisciplinary events and performances that can take place in all indoor and outdoor spaces. Young audiences and families are also catered for, with workshops, special events and dedicated guided tours.

Right now, visitors can enjoy an in-situ installation by French artist Daniel Buren; a selection of works from Sol LeWitt’s personal collection; an exhibition on the history of aerial photography;  an visual and acoustic immersive experience to dive into the Beat Generation; and a retrospective of Hans Richter’s work.

Sol LeWitt - "Wall Drawings" - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Sol LeWitt, “Wall Drawings” – (CC) Dalbera

Daniel Buren, Echos d'échos, 2013 -  (CC) Mark Feldmann via Flickr

Daniel Buren, Echos d’échos, 2013 – (CC) Mark Feldmann

The wide appeal of the artistic programming goes hand in hand with a progressive pricing policy, with a sliding scale admission fee, from €7 to €12, depending on the number of galleries open on the day of purchase, just like in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. An annual membership pass granting unlimited admission costs €33 the first year, €27 afterwards, and admission is free for everyone under-26, but also for teachers, artists, journalists, seniors, Centre Pompidou employees, job seekers, disabled people and their assistant. Performances – dance, music, theatre… – are priced between €5 and €20. Artists’ talks are free, screenings and other educational opportunities cost €5. Guided visits are offered in French, English, German and French Sign Language.

Just as Louvre-Lens was opening its doors in December 2012, just 300 km north-west of Metz, L’Express was announcing that the tourism economic impact of Centre Pompidou-Metz was valued at €70 million for its first year only, a full return on investment on the building cost; however, as the total public infrastructure investment is estimated at €250 million, the municipal authorities remain cautious about drawing hasty conclusions on the net worth of the project. So does the French government, which is not planning to build any further physical buildings in the near future, preferring to let these two projects develop and mature to assess their impact.

A detailed activity report is available on Centre Pompidou-Metz’s website (in French), with varied insights on, amongst others, its communication strategy, audience development policy, and even its HR and financial management.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station – (CC) Dalbera

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset – (CC) Dalbera

This post is part of a series about new museums, inspired by a recent visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum.

All images are licensed under Creative Commons and linked to their original location on Flickr.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: a democratic folly


One more highlight of my summer away was visiting, at long last, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It’s only 2 hours’ drive from my family home, so it was an ideal day trip – and a fairly affordable one, too, with tickets priced at €13 (full price), €7.50 for seniors and under-26 and free for children under 12, all including an audio guide. When some galleries are closed for installation, the prices can drop as low as $8 and $5.

The first surprise was the city itself: as references to the ‘Bilbao effect’ usually imply that it was somehow saved from its post-industrial grime, I expected to see at least some signs of this not-so-distant derelict past – so it was a pleasant shock to walk along the wide riverside promenade, watching modern light rail glide by and studying with envy the stunning city centre apartment buildings. Basque towns are usually quite delightful – from posh Biarritz to picturesque Bayonne and maritime San Sebastian – but in Bilbao is on a whole different level: less quaint, more grand and prosperous, colourful and design-conscious.

Footbridge over the Nervión river

Footbridge over the Nervión river

Wheatpasting under 'La Salve' bridge

Wheatpasting under ‘La Salve’ bridge

There would be much to say about the building and the collections, so instead I’ve chosen the cultural tourism angle to look at the inner workings of this so-called ‘Bilbao Effect’.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, close up on titanium and glass "skin"

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, close up on titanium and glass “skin”

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with Daniel Buren's Arcos rojos / Arku Gorriak (2007) in the background

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with Daniel Buren’s Arcos rojos / Arku Gorriak (2007) in the background

The museum approach has a ritualistic feel to it: visitors slowly ascend towards this modern temple of culture, admiring its exterior signs of grandeur – two giant animals frame the building, Maman by Louise Bourgeois at one end, Puppy by Jeff Koons at the other, highly accessible and recognisable works by household names that look great in holiday snaps.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois  (first created 1999)

Maman, Louise Bourgeois (first created 1999)

Puppy, Jeff Koons (1992)

Puppy, Jeff Koons (1992)

Inside, once over the slight commotion of the ticketing area, groups – mainly families and couples in relaxed casual wear on that summer weekday – are spat out, one by one, audio guide set to their own language in hand, ready to give themselves to the experience(s) laid out for them.

Atrium, looking down

Atrium, looking down

Atrium, looking up

Atrium, looking up

One of the very first things that all visitors get to hear, when they listen to the first orientation track and stand in the majestic atrium as instructed, is that the museum was created through a partnership between the Guggenheim Foundation, the Basque Country autonomous community, the province of Biscay and the city of Bilbao – and that it was very much intended to offer access to the highest standards of art and architecture to everyone.

The terms of the 75-year agreement are defined as such in an article published in The Art Newspaper:

The Basques agreed to cover the $100 million construction cost, to create a $50 million acquisitions fund, to pay a one-time $20 million fee to the Guggenheim and to subsidize the museum’s $12 million annual budget. In exchange, the Guggenheim would manage the institution, rotate parts of its own permanent collection through here and organize temporary shows.

Far from art for art’s sake, this public investment is a concerted effort of regeneration through culture, and it seems to have paid off:

In its first three years, almost 4 million tourists visited the museum, helping to generate about €500 million in economic activity. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost.
(Wikipedia via Financial Times)

Museums are increasingly used as “urban economic reactivators”, as outlined in this 2009 article found on Scholars-on-Bilbao, a public online archive of “academic works that analyse the urban regeneration of the city of Bilbao (e.g. strategic plans, infrastructures, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and dilemmas, cultural tourism, gentrification, uneven development, creative industries, artists … etc)”.

Authors Beatriz Plaza and Silke N. Haarich conclude:

The case of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a symbol for the modern use of museums and their possible impact to change the fate of an entire city region. However, the reality is that the change was also due to a traditional strategy of urban revitalisation of a former industrial area in the heart of Bilbao. In addition, it was part of a wider strategy for structural change and economic reanimation of the province of Biscay and the Basque Country which included important investments in transport and environmental infrastructure, housing and entrepreneurial initiatives and industrial projects.

So if museums can play a key part in cultural regeneration planning, it is worth noting that they’re only the highly visible cherry-on-the-cake in the redevelopment and reputation of a city. In Bilbao, much of the work was started before the museum was erected – new subway system, new city airport, new bridges over the Nevion river – and much accomplished afterwards: Bilbao’s mayor, elected two years after the Guggenheim was built, just won the World Mayor of the Year 2012 Award for “transforming (a) declining city”.

View across the river Nervión

View across the river Nervión

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor (2009)

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor (2009)

Moreover, infrastructure needs to be connected and animated: this is when the intricate web of partnerships that supports an appealing cultural tourism offer comes into play. How to get there, where to stay, where to eat, what else to do: to every successful city break, there’s a myriad of negotiations, reciprocal agreements, media investments and decisions to be made.

“Cultural tourism is not a quick fix”, says Helen Palmer, director of Creative Tourist Consults: beyond partnerships, it takes leadership and a “brutally honest appraisal of (the) collective cultural offer”.

I couldn’t really speak for Bilbao as it was siesta time when I came out of the museum, but for a sampler of what’s on offer, this Guardian Travel feature is a good start.

Siesta Time

Siesta Time

I will continue this museum series in further posts, (virtually) looking at Centre Pompidou-Metz (2010), Louvre-Lens (2012) and Marseille’s MuCEM (2013).

All photos @artoffestivals – click on image for large version

London 2012: Legacy Report

The Long Read

Just published on the Arts Council England website: Reflections on the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, which combines a summary of the Cultural Olympiad‘s achievements and legacy by its director Ruth Mackenzie (Manchester International Festival‘s first General Director) with an executive summary of the evaluation report conducted by Dr Beatriz García of the Institute of Cultural Capital, a Liverpool-based research centre that builds on the Impacts 08 evaluation model.

It’s a great read, packed with evocative descriptions of artistic creations and plenty of facts and figures. The introduction by the Chair of the Cultural Olympiad Board, Tony Hall, sums up nicely the ambition of the project: not art for art’s sake, but art for the sake of more art for more people.

We all hope that the legacy will be more chances to enjoy the fruit of that infrequent marriage of ample budget and unbounded imagination.
– Tony Hall, CBE

Ruth Mackenzie’s “summary of learning points” surveys a wide range of categories, from artistic innovation to cultural tourism legacy.  I have summarised the summary below:

  • National scope: the Cultural Olympiad engaged communities across the UK for 4 years and it has now handed off the cultural torch to both Derry-Londonderry 2013 City of Culture (Northern Ireland) and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (Scotland).
  • Participation: mass participation projects, such as Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege, and large-scale learning programmes, such as Tate Movie, a collaboration with Aardman Animations engaging 25,000 offline and 9,000 online, helped raise the participant numbers to nearly 6 million.
  • Skills development: informal and formal learning opportunities were built into the programme, with for example a Creative Jobs Programme managed by the Royal Opera House offering 40 paid apprenticeships to unemployed young people in London.
  • Diversity
    • Cultural diversity: an inter-nation event such as the Olympic Games is a good pretext to present culturally diverse artistic creation, whether it is by bringing together UK-based artists of diverse origins, inviting projects such as Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries, or giving a new twist to the Africa Express collective of western and African acts by putting them all on train for a national tour.
    • Ability diversity: the London 2012 Festival created the world’s largest ever commissioning fund for disabled and Deaf artists, which culminated in the Unlimited festival-within-a-festival at the Southbank Centre, featuring 29 new works, some of which are now touring internationally. The excellent Liverpool-based DaDaFest – Disability and Deaf Arts Agency and Festival – have a few videos on their website about their Unlimited commissions.
  • Large scale innovation: with a strapline promising ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, innovation was highly encouraged. Amongst other feats, the festival managed to get Big Ben to divert from schedule and West Midlands Police to tweet about  Stockhausen’s World premiere opera, which involves 4 helicopters and a dancing camel.
  • Free: admission to National Museums is free in the UK, and many Cultural Olympiad events and experiences were also free of charge. As the report states, “Audiences are more generous with their time and more willing to experiment with unfamiliar art, if they are not paying to attend.” This was also a bonus for international visitors.
  • Unusual venues: whereas “The use of the public realm, parks, streets, squares, shopping centres, has long been a traditional audience development policy especially for local authorities”, London 2012 Festival also invested natural and heritage sites, such as Britain’s coasts for Peacecamp.
  • Cultural tourism partnerships: the overt goal was to not only encourage domestic and international tourism in 2012, but also in further years. Visit Britain – the national tourism board – and Arts Council England are stated to carry on working together on joint initiatives.
  • International partnerships: co-commissioning with international partners is both a way to diversify and enhance the national cultural offer by bringing together British and international artists – and to showcase featured British artists in partner countries.
  • Digital: finally, under the Digital heading are filed diverse initiative such as digital marketing (with successful use of social media), digital communications (i.e. broadcast) and digital arts (such as Yoko Ono’s Serpentine programming and North-West-based Abandon Normal Devices festival). A free, on-demand digital archive of all the works created in 2012 called The Space, a partnership between Arts Council England and the BBC, which paves the way for the Digital Public Space currently developed by the BBC.

The second part of ‘Reflections’ is the executive summary of the evaluation report, which full version is available on the Institute of Cultural Capital website, with additional insights in the appendixes and case studies on Arts and Disabilities, Youth Projects, Stories of the World, Creative Jobs, Tourism and Social Media Analysis.

Cultural Olympiad: A Primer


Elegantly chaotic”; “bloody brilliant”; “at once subversive and sublime”; “a people’s ceremony”: this is what the world thought of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony (source: BBC). For the Guardian’s art critic, Charlotte Higgins, it was the “cultural highlight of 2012”.

An estimated audience of one billion viewers worldwide tuned in to watch Danny Boyle’s spectacular celebration of everything British, from free healthcare to art, music and fashion.

It felt like a culmination; and it was indeed only the tip of the iceberg compared to what went on in the country over the previous 4 years.

In 2008, as London won the bid, the BBC retraced the history of the cultural wing of the world’s biggest sports event, recalling that the founder of the modern Olympics, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, had a vision of celebrating the union of the mind, body and spirit.

“The games between 1912-48 held arts competitions with the victors awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. Spoils were up for grabs in architecture, painting, literature and music, usually with sport as inspiration. (…) From 1952, a series of cultural events to complement the sporting action was launched. (…) It was in 1992 in Barcelona that the Cultural Olympiad became a four-year event, marking the city’s entire tenure as games host and promoted local gems including the Picasso Museum. In 2000, the Sydney Olympics cultural component paid close attention to Australia’s Aboriginal peoples through an arts festival which began three years before the sporting action. The organisers of the Beijing Olympics put on a huge show for the Cultural Olympiad, with five festivals – one for each year of their tenure as games hosts.” (Source: BBC).

The official website for the Olympic Movement states its commitment to creating sustainable legacies, and a factsheet available for download gives details of improvements observed in host cities since 1992, with the Summer Games in Barcelona and the Winter Games in Albertville.

And then came London, logically the biggest Cultural Olympiad of all times – as often with festivals, growth is the only viable option.

There’s a lot to say about the objectives and outcomes of cultural planning on such a grand scale, and its mid- and long-term effects will be fascinating to study, but for now here are a few facts and figures taken from the official London 2012 Cultural Olympiad website.

Between 2008 and 2012:

– More than 16 million people across the UK took part in or attended performances;

– More than 3.7 million people took part in nearly 3,700 Open Weekend events [a nationwide series of sports and culture events taking place on the last weekend of July in 2009, 2010 and 2011, to mark the countdown to 2012];

– Some 2,500 cultural projects have been awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark [an accreditation awarded to projects that have embraced the inspiration of London 2012 and the values of the Olympic movement, assessed by London 2012 and the International Olympic Committee].

The Cultural Olympiad was made of different strands and programmes:

– The official London 2012 Festival, a UK-wide 12 week-celebration from 21st June to 9th September, bringing together more than 25,000 artists in over 12,000 events all over the UK and drawing a total of 19.5 million attendances, including 16.5 million participating in free events;

Unlimited, a festival of 29 major commissions celebrating arts and culture by Deaf and disabled artists, of which an online archive is available on the Southbank Centre website;

– A £40 million national and regional legacy programme supported by Legacy Trust UK, a dedicated funding body managing national and regional projects “to ensure that the benefits of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games were felt by diverse communities across the entire UK.”

And beyond numbers, what about the art? Here’s a quick round-up by the Guardian, with the best, the worst, what will stay and what’s still available to watch online.

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I am interested in the research around London 2012 and cultural events of a similar scale and will be posting follow-up articles on evaluation methodologies, regional impact, programming for large and diverse audiences and digital outreach.