Temporary and permanent exhibitions : “We are a sector of excellence, let’s make it dynamic, let’s reinvent the museum for everyone! »

Une salle de l'UCCA dans le District 798 de Pékin

Published in Le Monde, 12 May 2020

In a forum at “Le Monde“, exhibition  creators *, who are in great economic difficulty due to the Covid-19 epidemic, call on the public authorities to create a National Center for Exhibition, modelled on the National Center for Cinema, to promote their know-how.

Collective. The closure of museums, exhibitions and monuments since 17 March has highlighted the extent to which these places are essential to our cities and to the construction of social ties. Places of creation, acquisition of knowledge and encounters, they are levers for reflection and transformation of our societies. They work in a less visible way than cinema, shows or books.

Who knows the credits of the exhibitions “De l’amour” at the Palais de la Découverte, or “Christian Dior, couturier du rêve” at the Musée des arts décoratifs, the renovation of the Musée des beaux-arts in Dijon or the creation of the Cité du vin in Bordeaux, all blockbusters? The quality of our specific artistic and technical know-how is recognised worldwide. But we have no star-system or festival.

Shadow jobs

Behind these temporary and permanent exhibitions, there is an ecosystem of creative companies that collaborate with major French and international cultural institutions, as well as with “small museums.

Upstream, as interpretive planners, scenographers, graphic designers, multimedia and lighting designers, we give “body” to an idea, we interpret the thinking of a public or private client. Our mission is of public utility: to deploy works in space to make visitors feel their essence, to move them, to transmit a historical, scientific or artistic message.

In the same way as in the cinema, a director works with a team to stage a scenario, we create, with the client, the artistic principles of “monstration”. Like a film, the exhibition is a collaborative work. Then, as production managers, we supervise a chain of trades that materialize it: interior design contractors, display showcases contractors, specialists in audiovisual and lighting equipment, as well as mount designers, fitters, printers, decorators, transporters, and so on.

Gathered since 2019 within the Federation of exhibition creators XPO, we are trades in the shadows. When President Macron met with cultural professionals on May 6, there were no participants representing the museum and exhibition sector. Today, however, we are in a state of immense fragility. Most of us are heads of very small enterprises (VSEs), with no intermittent system.

The General Assembly for Exhibition

We are dependent on public contracts with increasingly low margins, while the implementation of projects is becoming more complex (increase in digital mediation devices, taking into account eco-construction, taking into account the risks and safety of the works and the public, reducing deadlines, etc.). On 15 November 2019, during the professional day on “Exhibition professions” organised with the Ministry of Culture, we were already sounding the alarm on the evolution and growing instability of our professions.

The health crisis could be fatal to many structures. Like all our colleagues in the cultural industry, we no longer have visibility: delayed openings, cancelled or postponed seasons or programmes, postponed public contracts, deleted budgets… So what can we do? Wait for the collapse?

On the contrary, this shutdown forces us to project ourselves into the future. We have inherited exhibition venues, designed in the 19th and 20th centuries: it is time to make them participative, interactive, sustainable… Whereas elsewhere, we collaborate agile, in co-creation, we always work with the sponsors in a pyramidal, siloed way, via a bureaucracy that takes precedence over the projects themselves. We are a sector of excellence: let’s make it dynamic, let’s reinvent the museum for everyone and for tomorrow!

We call on the public players to organise a general meeting on the Exhibition in order to think up a “New Deal” together.

Two subjects seem to us to be pivotal to this renewal.

An accelerator of our mutation

The first is the relationship of our sector with the public authorities. The “Exhibitions” sector is at the confluence of four ministries: culture, foreign affairs (in charge of tourism), finance (which is responsible for the instructions for using public procurement) and territorial cohesion.

As a result, we have no interlocutor to discuss our issues as a whole. One example: our creativity is put to the test through public procurement contracts as if it were a matter of buying reams of paper. In this quest for the lowest rather than the highest bidder, our industry is becoming poorer in the face of better armed foreign competitors. Bercy’s lawyers do not understand the specificities of our creative professions. And the Ministry of Culture is not a specialist in the public procurement code. As a result, they pass the buck without making a decision.

We are therefore calling for the creation of a National Center for Exhibition on the model of the National Center for Cinema and Moving Images (CNC), the National Book Center (CNL) or the National Music Center (CNM). An autonomous public agency, at the crossroads of the ministries concerned.

Its mission? To support the entire exhibition chain (private and public) at all levels: monitoring (non-existent today on a national and international scale), inter-business, public/private dialogue, training (university and professional), guidelines on good practices, pooling of resources, management of the sector’s international relations, etc. The National Center for Exhibition could become the reference, the “French Expo”, a bridge between the players and, in fact, act as an accelerator of our change.

Increasingly large audiences

The second requirement in the face of the crisis is to question the role of museums and exhibitions in tomorrow’s world. This is a vast question that we are all already asking, and the health crisis has shed a pale light on it. In recent decades we have witnessed an exponential growth in the size and quantity of exhibitions. Ever more spectacular, more numerous… and ever shorter: XXL was the watchword (while design and production budgets were greatly reduced by this inflation). The aim of this race was to attract a vast public, both French and foreign, from which we would make a profit from tourism in the process. It seems that it is no longer relevant.

Nevertheless, culture must remain a pivot of France’s future. The exhibition is an intellectual and artistic medium, just like a stage performance. It conveys a message, depending on the case, political, humanist, citizen, scientific. It reaches an increasingly wide audience, of all generations: 39% of French people have been to a museum in the last twelve months and 54% have visited a historical monument (while “only” 33% have visited a public library).

Let’s take the French taste for culture and turn it into a performance lever. Tomorrow’s exhibition must be a place of acculturation open to all, in dialogue between generations, braving social, language and knowledge inequalities. It must remain a place of conviviality and sharing, providing emotions, questioning and entertainment.

We do not know when foreign tourists will return to France. Let us commit ourselves to our fellow citizens. Do the norms of social distancing make large exhibitions impractical and question small, poorly endowed museums? Let’s design exhibitions that are more adjusted and more sustainable, in particular through eco-design and itinerancy, by thinking about their digital counterpart or by including the public in the design of the exhibition. These are all “revolutions” that the Estates General can instigate and for which the National Center for Exhibition would be the conductor. Franck Riester, Minister of Culture, proposed to “re-found the French model with art and culture”. We are ready to contribute to this.

*XPO, Federation of Exhibition Creators, affiliated to the CINOV Federation (Federation of Trade Unions for the Intellectual Services of Consulting, Engineering and Digital), and comprising: the Association Les Muséographes, the Association Professionnelle des Muséographes, the Association Scenographers, the Union of Scenographers (UDS), the Association of Light and Lighting Designers (ACE), the Association of Producers of Digital Experiments (PXN).

Signatories : Ali Akbari, muséographe ; François Aulas, muséographe, Abaque ; Laurence Bagot, productrice, narrative ; Estelle Basalo, scénographe ; Alain Batifoulier, scénographe Tovar ; Luc Bonnin, directeur, Scarabée ; Carole Benaiteau, muséographe ; Thierry Bertomeu, designer sonore, Nova Pista ; Anne Bourdais, muséographe ; Gilles Boustani, auteur-réalisateur producteur, AnimaViva Productions ; Michel Brand’Honneur, muséographe ; Martial Brard, auteur-réalisateur, Cent Millions de Pixels ; Jean-Jacques Bravo, scénographe ; Loeïza Cabaret, conceptrice lumière, Ombrages ; Richard Caratti-Zarytkiewicz, concepteur lumière, éducateur ; Sylvie Carlier, productrice, AnimaViva Productions ; Sara Castagné, conceptrice lumière, Concepto ; Pierre Cattan, producteur, Small Bang ; Renaud Chabrier, auteur et réalisateur, Nova Pista ; Frédéric Chauvaux, scénographe, Point de Fuite ; Nawel Creach-Dehouche, conceptrice lumière, Cosil Peutz Lighting Design ; Cécile Cros, productrice, narrative ; Stéphanie Daniel, conceptrice lumière ; Guillaume Darcourt, producteur-réalisateur, Fleur de papier ; Romain Déflache, producteur-réalisateur, Fleur de papier ; Cécile Degos, scénographe ; Emilie Delanne, scénographe, Græphème ; Olivier Demangeat, muséographe ; Simon Deschamps, scénographe lumière ; Charlotte Didier, productrice, Cent Millions de Pixels ; Camille Dugas, scénographe ; Laurent Duret, producteur, Bachibouzouk ; Lydia Elhadad, muséographe ; Jean-Jacques Ezrati, éclairagiste conseil ; Clémence Farrell, scénographe, Agence Clémence Farrell ; Jérôme Fihey, auteur et producteur, Le Crabe Fantôme ; Astrid Fontaine, muséographe ; Franck Fortecoëf, scénographe ; Loretta Gaitis, scénographe ; Dany Gandon, scénographe, scenorama ; Laura Gaudenzi, muséographe ; Noëlle Giraud-Sauveur, productrice associée, Dikdak ; Laurence Giuliani, productrice, Akken ; Pascal Goblot, auteur-réalisateur & producteur, Escalenta ; Maud Gouy, muséographe ; François Gschwind, concepteur lumière ACE, atelier du crépuscule ; Jean-Paul Haure, artiste-auteur scénographe ; Caroline Impergre, muséographe, agence Azimuse ; Akari-Lisa Ishii, concepteur lumière, I.C.O.N. ; Henri Joaquim, scénographe, La Fabrique Créative ; Mélinée Kambilo, scénographe, Abaque ; Marianne Klapish, scénographe, Klapisch Claisse ; François Klein, producteur, Digital Rise ; Michel Kouklia, scénographe, Ubiscene ; Laurent Laidet, muséographe ; Olivier Lambert, auteur-réalisateur-producteur, Lumento ; Emmanuel Landas, muséographe, Cultures et Territoires ; Amélie Lebleu, designer, studio Lebleu ; Claire Lebouteiller, productrice, Drôle de Trame ; Gilbert Leguay, conseil en assurances et responsabilité, Passages ; Yvonnick Le Fustec, directeur des productions, Muséomaniac ; Virginie Lemaistre, muséographe ; Agnès Levillain, muséographe, Sens de visite ; Xavier Limagne, muséographe ; Régis Lindeperg, graphiste d’exposition, La fabrique créative ; Aurélie Linxe, muséographe ; Jean-Jacques Lonni, producteur associé, Dikdak ; Suzie Maccario, muséographe, Agence Ame en Science ; Philippe Maffre, scénographe ; Marc Mamane, producteur, Sim & Sam ; Nicolas Mangeot, muséographe, Exploradôme ; Cécile Massot, muséographe, Abaque ; Miene Mathon, scénographe, développeure Erasmus + ; Marie-Laure Mehl, scénographe, Mehl’usine Conseils ; Pauline Mercier, scénographe ; Virginie Nicolas, conceptrice lumière, Concepto ; Pascal Payeur, scénographe, expositif ; Floriane Perot, muséographe ; Elise Petitpez, muséographe ; Omer Pesquer, consultant ‘culture + numérique’; Virginie Pivard, muséographe, La boîte à outils ; Flora Ploquin, muséographe, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle ; Marion Ploquin, muséographe ; Jérôme Politi, muséographe ; Jean-Christophe Ponce, scénographe, scénorama ; Laurence Pustetto, scénographe, Atelier Pustetto ; Nathalie Puzenat, muséographe ; Luc Reder, producteur, Chuck Productions ; Adeline Rispal, scénographie, Studio Adeline Rispal ; Marine Rocher, muséographe, Multiples ; Antoine Roland, ingénierie culturelle, Correspondances Digitales ; Myriam Rose, scénographe ; Henri Rouvière, scénographe, Arscenes ; Emmanuel Rouillier, designer interactif, Mosquito ; Nadine Salabert, muséographe ; Raymond Sarti, scénographe ; Aurore Soares, muséographe, Narrations plurielles ; Marina Simon-Gallé, muséographe ; Thibault Sinay, scénographe ; Adrien Stalter, muséographe ; Anne Stephan, muséographe ; Audrey Tenaillon, scenographe, masKarade ; Isabelle Thomas, productrice, Escalenta ; Martine Thomas-Bourgneuf, muséographe ; Timothé Toury, concepteur lumière ; Pierre Verger, scénographe ; Victor Vieillard, concepteur lumière, Studio by Night ; Agnès Vincent, muséographe conceptrice multimédia.