Laurence Madeline (Curator, Musée d’Orsay; France)

10.12.2010 - Interview conducted by Naeem Meer

Q1. What does cultural diplomacy invoke to you?

Culture has an obvious role to play and the example of Picasso is quite striking. This willingness to move towards one another, to discover the other, whether near or very far. This is the basis for a better understanding and thus the first step of diplomacy.

Q2. This cultural dimension is an integral part of France’s image abroad, do you think this cultural bagage influences the way in which France leads its policy?

Yes I think that as a French person, I always feel that when I travel elsewhere, I am never alone, I travel with all my country’s past, its wealth and sometimes its conflicts, but I only focus on the positive things. It gives us some assurance probably because we know where we come from, we have centuries of creation, reflection and radiance behind us.

Q3. You work at the Musée d'Orsay, are there any initiatives that you are undertaking in order to enable those who do not have equal access to culture than others to discover these cultural aspects?

Right now the Musée d'Orsay is moving various works around the world, we sent very important works to the French pavilion in Shanghai in order for the Chinese to get an idea of what has been produced in France, and we sent a lot of works to Australia and Japan. It is a policy that allows many people to have access to these works. In a more modest function, my current role as head of the cultural service is to enable what we call the democratization of the access to art and one of my goals is to enable people to visit the museum. Making the museum alive, not as a strange and difficult place, but as familiar and accessible as possible and where you can find something positive, is something that will enable you to better understand the museum and the world. There was an experience that was extremely important to me, when I organized the exhibition "Picasso and Africa" in South Africa. That was a time when diplomacy has played an absolutely magnificent role.

Q4. As we know, budgets for culture in Europe are always under pressure from competing priorities. In your opinion what needs to change both in your daily work and at the national level in France for culture to take a more prominent place?

There are various initiatives that have already been made I think: for example the gratuity of French museums for all those aged from 18 to 25. Previously, only the younger ones had free access, now it is extended and it is an extremely important step that serves to maintain or create a link between young people and museums. Then I think the best thing would be to introduce the teaching of art history at school. It is starting but very slowly. As an anecdote, I am currently in the process of recruiting someone to work with me, candidates are in their early thirties and what I find amazing is that these people who want to work at the museum are those that went to the activities specially made for children in museums when they were young. This means that a child who goes to the museum is a hundred times more likely to continue to go to museums. That is how I discovered museums and I immediately knew I wanted to work in a museum later on. You do not have to then work in a museum, but someone who goes to a museum thanks to school trips will return to the museum, and it's not a wasted experience. Quite the opposite really. But whether it is museums, concerts, the opera or visiting monuments, it is at childhood that we are introduced to it.

Thank you for speaking with us here at the ICD.