Jack Lang is a French politician, and a former Minister for Culture and for Education. The background of the current president of the Arab World Institute (AWI) is punctuated by signi cant experiences, particularly in the eld of culture. Having held key positions localy as well as international prestigious functions, he has been working towards cultural exchanges between many countries.
Is it important to host foreign cultures in French museums to make ourselves better known beyond our territory?
Since always – having applied it myself in the practice of several responsibilities – the more France is welcoming towards artists, creators, scientists and intellectuals but also towards students, research workers and companies, the easier exchanges are with the countries of those citizens. For instance, I created the World Theatre Festival in Nancy; it welcomed the whole world, and at the same time the artistic, intellectual and even political image of France found recognition. In South and North America, Asia and Africa, France made itself known among the youths of those countries. For that matter, I often insisted upon bringing culture of all the countries in the world to our theatres museums such as the Théâtre National de Chaillot, championed this idea. Many gures from our neighbouring countries have also been given key positions, such as at the Théâtre de l’Europe or at the Opéra Garnier.
I have a passion for action, not for its own worth but
for transforming things.
So this is a matter of a real cultural mixing bowl here.
Indeed, with two levels of exchanges: the actions brilliantly carried out on site by the Alliance Française and the cultural institutions, and some private initiatives as well, complemented by the personalities coming from those neighbouring states. These persons also become great cultural ambassadors, even more in their countries of origin.
Does the AWI have a role to play in a complex, burning context related to the Arabic culture?
We have been hoping to work on the Arabic culture since the origin; not more with the current world climax linked to terrorist attacks. We look to highlight the whole revival of the Arab world and all the positive facets of this culture. It is not a matter of propaganda, it is a real work to highlight the occurring societal changes – even sometimes non-of cial ones. Let’s take the example of Egypt, which is experiencing a real transformation through its culture, artists, creators and lmmakers. We nd it important that the Arab world of yesterday and today appear in all its vitality and diversity, as we display it through exhibitions, lm screenings and concerts at the AWI.
Your first speech as French Minister for Culture before the National Assembly stated that “Economy and culture are ghting the same battle”; are these words still relevant today?
When I pronounced these few words, a number of people disapproved. Some artists were worried about being left in the hands of nance, while businessmen patronised culture. This remark caused a stir. Things have changed since then. You can’t go too far in the exploitation of culture, a balance needs to be struck.
I couldn’t live differently than in motion, discovering new talents and new ideas.
Where are we up to with the French idea of ‘cultural exception’? Safeguard or constraint on culture?
“Exception” alone would be more relevant,as it must be speci c to each town and country. History, heritage and contemporary creation must be protected. The most important thing is to conceive of an arts and culture policy that gives a chance to new generations. Cultural exception, and therefore protection from all mercantile attitude around it, must rst and foremost focus on every shape and form of culture.
How is the French cultural policy coming along today?
I don’t have a real diagnosis. However, despite some restrictions I regret, I must say that cultural advisors, institutional investors or even foreign interlocutors are giving culture an incredible presence.