After PM’s Apology Are France’s Summer 2015 Festivals Now Safe From Austerity Cuts?
After a striking display of naked anger threatened France’s world-famous Avignon summer festival season last year, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has now admitted cuts to the nation’s generous Arts budget were a big mistake and suggested he might ring fence future monies for culture activities.
The news will go some way to lifting the gloom that has been weighing heavily over France’s vitally important and extensive national Arts and Summer Festivals programmes.
Manuel Valls, who was in Cannes at the famous film festival on Sunday (May 17) admitted the cuts — introduced by the President Hollande’s Socialist government — had been ” a mistake (…) a negative move”.
France’s cultural programmes, particularly its summer festivals, are hugely popular attractions and a significant part of the mix that make France the world’s number one tourism spot.
Vall’s predecessor Jean-Marc Ayrault, had cut the Culture budgets in 2013 and 2014 by 4% and 2% respectively in turn squeezing local and regional authorities budgets and leading to wave of cancelled events or severely pruned support affecting more than a hundred festivals countrywide. Valls has now promised to stem the haemorrhage and says the arts budget will be boosted by 0.33% in funding over that provided last year.
Meanwhile, discontent in the entertainment world and more broadly across the field of culture has been unrelenting. Those affected notably in the frontline including organisers, musical directors, actors, performers, backstage staff — have been involved in ongoing protests and actions against the cuts since last summer. And according to an AFP report this has finally had an impact on government thinking.
After a 2014 summer of festival drama and discontent, that included strikes, naked protests and general uncertainty that disrupted famous festivals such as that at Avignon, Manuel Valls has promised’ to guarantee ” the Arts budget for three years.
The interactive map below shows an ongoing record of cultural events that have been impacted in one way or another or simply cancelled thanks to government austerity. Many of these changes came into effect after the Socialists were heavily defeated in the 2014 local elections and incoming local authorities faced cash squeezes and different sets of priorities.
According to Le Parisien one hundred festivals across France have been cancelled due to budget cuts primarily made by local or regional authorities. Its report is based on data collated by Emeline Jersol, an arts sector organisers at Le Boulon, a national centre of arts in Vieux-Condé near Valenciennes (North).
Since the start of the year she has collated a register of “festivals, organisations and associations that have had to cancel events” and published this online in an interactive map she calls “cartocrise” (the map of the crisis).
The state of the arts today she says results primarily from public subsidy cuts to municipalities particularly after the arrival of new teams following the March 2014 elections. She told the paper: “This is not really a question of Left or Right, rather it is the abandoning of projects implemented by previous municipalities after a change in the elected majority on the councils.”
Among examples Le Parisien gives of the impact on the 2015 season is the festival Les Voix de Gaou which has run for 17 years at Six-Flours-les-Plages in the Var (south). This has been cancelled due to a factors that include lower attendance, higher fees for artists and a squeeze on government grants. The paper cites Jean-Paul Roland, director of the massively well attended Belfort rock festival, Les Eurockéennes (more than 100,000 people are expected for the 2015 festival ), who fears that “even big festivals are threatened” due to the decline in government subsidies and a central government-imposed streamlining of the regions and their funding.
Earlier France 3 TV ran a special investigation into the state of the Arts as France prepared its 2015 summer season. While not all was negative there were major concerns about the survival of long term favourites in key tourist spots around the country.
Spéciale “Festivals en danger”, samedi 25 avril à 11h30
La Voix est Libre consacrée au festivals en danger par france3cotedazur
The video clip above reflects on one example in the Var where after 18 years of non-stop activity the “Voix du Gaou” at Six Fours les plages, has just announced its closure. Lionel Richie, Chick Coréa and Herbie Hancock at Juan les Pins , Jimmy Cliff, Joan Baez and Charlie Weston at Vence, Tony Benett and Lady Gaga at Monaco are the broadcaster noted, among some of the big hitters set to pull in crowds at summer festivals along the French Riviera — provided the organisers can squeeze more money out of private sector sponsors .
As we reported earlier government, under pressure from Brussels announced last year it would make savings of €160 million a year via proposals to reform the special social security system that applies to part time workers involved in summer festivals. The early stages of the summer festival programme — a jewel in France’s cultural and tourism crown – had already faced severe disruption following actions by the seasonal workers or intermittents as they are known, which resulted among others, in the cancellation of opera performances at a four -week Montpellier festival, the partial calling-off of a flamenco event in Paris and interruption of the opening of the Rio Loco Latin American festival in Toulouse.
This summer the organisers must be praying that Valls’ mea culpa will save them from a repeat of the upheavals that marked summer 2014.
Story: Ken Pottinger
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