Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum

The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum.

Anne Gombault & Didier Selles, The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum: a disruptive innovation with no future?, The Conversation, November 2017

In the new global cultural economy of creative regions, the United Arab Emirates have aimed high with the Louvre Abu Dhabi. This major and unprecedented project, risky political both for France and the UAE, required considerable creativity, significant investment, and a daring reconciliation between distant worlds that no one could have imagined just a few years earlier.

The innovation is a radical one: the UAE initiative was approved at the highest levels in both countries, making this partnership between the UAE and France unique in the world. The negotiation process was driven by a dynamism not usually seen in French government and by a small number of political, cultural and technocratic personalities who transcended their institutional restrictions, devised unexpected solutions and obtained an exceptional valuation for museum expertise in France, and all in the name of the most prestigious museum in the world, the Louvre.

To date, however, the venture’s momentum has not continued, neither for French cultural policy nor for the development and influence of museums and other major French cultural institutions. This conclusion is the result of a joint analysis by a researcher in management and the general administrator of the Louvre Museum at the time the project was launched.

Genesis of an exceptional project

The 2007 agreement between France and the UAE was exceptional from an international standpoint and even more in France. It was the first time that two countries had made this kind of commitment to a sustainable partnership to create a universal museum of worldwide scope. The then director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, defined the Louvre Abu Dhabi as :

“an extraordinary scientific project. It is a matter of assisting our Emirate partners to create a museum where the scientific, cultural, and pedagogical bias will be fixed firmly in new perspectives that we will have to invent, while helping them to build up their collections”. (Foreword, Louvre Annual Report 2007, p. 5-6.).

This was the first time that a museum of the Louvre’s stature had agreed to have its name, with a thousand years of history behind it, associated with a museum outside France – and moreover, one in a part of the world with which it had few dealings. In other words, the Louvre museum, and French heritage in general, opening up a new market.

In 2001 the Louvre filed an application to protect its brand name. It was able to set the brand’s value at a level never before seen – 400 million euros over 30 years for the institutional communication of the future museum plus a share commercial profits – that also put monetary value on French heritage expertise at the highest international standards, 165 million euros. While payments for exhibitions were already largely applied by major French museums, the sums achieved – 190 million euros for the loan of works of art and 195 million euros for exhibitions from 2017 to 2032 – would make opponents of the projects dizzy.

This was also the first time that major French museums found themselves working together, as shareholders, in the joint venture Agence France-Museums (AFM) which would bring the project to fruition, and export and promote French museum know-how.

In the wake of the agreement, the Louvre will benefit from the introduction of endowment funds in France, like those received by the major American museums. These are to be brought in as part of the French Law of Modernization of the Economy, passed in August 2009. The first such fund, created for the Louvre in 2009, will ensure that most of the monies received when the agreement was signed by the Museum (175 million euros) can be preserved so that funding for the museum can be guaranteed over time and will not be affected by any uncertainties in the state budget.

The negotiations by the Louvre received support at the highest level in France, with unfailing support from then President Jacques Chirac, and in turn from the Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, who ensured that many internal administrative obstacles were able to be overcome.

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