France is expanding its cultural influence in the world and its ties to the US with its fourth global artist's residency programme.
First it was a work of art, now it’s the artists themselves.
France followed up its loan of the mini Statue of Liberty that arrived in New York this week with an announcement that it would be inaugurating a €1.2 million residency in the United States for French artists, in the vein of its prestigious Villa Medici in Rome.
The Villa Medici had been founded as the French Academy in 1666 as part of King Louis XIV’s great works policy, which also included the transformation of the Louvre and the Tuileries and the chateau at Versailles. But unlike that storied establishment, the new endeavour, dubbed the Villa Albertine in a nod to treasured French writer Marcel Proust, will not have a single location but will have sites in 10 major cities across the country: New York, Washington, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The cities were chosen for their diversity and for their French cultural networks.
The residencies are intended to be immersive and "to explore American realities", French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, said when unveiling the project on June 2 at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris.
The first season of residents will include graphic novel artist Quentin Zuttion, who will explore that quintessentially American reality, the “Prom Queen”, by taking a train from New York to Los Angeles, creating a portrait of today’s youth along the way. “It's a huge gift, a godsend," he said of the grant.
Writer Constance Debré will live in an apartment in New York and will delve into American counterculture. Photographer Nicolas Floc'h, who focuses on the representation of water, will study the Mississippi River and its changing colours on board a boat.
Other participants include visual artist Josefa Njtam, double bass player Sélène Saint-Aimé and French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis.
The choice of the United States was not haphazard. The US today has become the artistic equivalent of Italy when the French Academy was founded. “If there is one country that occupies the place that Italy did in the 17th century, it is the United States," said Villa Albertine director Gaëtan Bruel.
And lest anyone wonder about the timing, yes, it’s political, coming after what Le Drian called the “misunderstandings” of the Trump era.
Such endeavours are not strictly about the art. “Cultural influence has become a lever of power,” Le Drian said. The programme is as much about learning about the US as it is about influencing “the way our culture is perceived in the United States”.
France also has artistic residencies in Madrid and Kyoto.
Eventually Villa Albertine will accommodate 60 residents per year with a stay of one to three months and an average cost of €200,000. The programme will be partially financed by the private sector, including the Bettencourt Scheuller Foundation. Villa Albertine will also offer roughly two dozen support programmes for museum curators, screenwriters, video game writing or the promotion of French digital creation in the United States.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)