The impossible integration of the public education movement in cultural action (1970 – 2000)

by Guy Saez, research supervisor, CNRS

The early 1970s is a period of intense politicization of culture, in the wake of the 1968 political and cultural revolution in France. The Communist party is slowly losing its command of cultural production in the country, in favor of extreme left parties and the French Socialist party (PS). A new discourse on culture is generated by the PS elite. The general trend is toward cultural action and/or cultural entertainment: the concept of a local block “party” is developed so that culture can reach the decentralized masses. Popular culture is concerned a new form of artistic sensibility. Further decentralization initiatives are set in motion, namely through the implementation of “integrated spaces” in Yerres (essonne) and Grenoble, supported by the Ministries of National education, Youth and Sports, Health, and Culture.

Saez then focuses on the concept of “cultural development”, a key notion expanded by the commission on cultural facilities in 1971. Minister of Culture Jacques Duhamel entrusts Augustin Girard with the task of defining “cultural development”, which he does with the help of scholars and cultural administrators. Saez notes the fundamental differences between the cultural action movement and the public education movement, which in part leads to the end of “cultural facilitators” (animateurs culturels) in performance institutions (such as the maisons de la culture), where the “creator” for hereon out reigns. Furthermore, tensions between public education as a concept (set of values and ideals) and the development of sociocultural entertainment (animation socioculturelle) flourish. The public education movement is one that defends educations as a civic service, while sociocultural entertainment is a means of distributing cultural, athletic, and social services. Finally, the public education movement is associated with the pedagogical ideals of the République, concerned with efficiency and results, while sociocultural initiatives are dedicated to fostering cohesion within communities through enhanced citizen participation.

In 1982, the Direction du développement culturel (DDC) is founded, led by Dominique Wallon. Saez has studied the founding documents of this institution and describes his surprise upon discovering that “cultural development” is not defined as a pillar concept from which policies would stem. As a matter of fact, “cultural development” is not clearly defined in any of the Direction’s reports. A further surprise is that all reports are internally authored. In other words, cultural development is not evaluated by external researchers, as was the case in the early 1970s. Finally, Saez notes that out of convenience, and without differentiation, all projects tackled by the DDC are deemed of value for cultural development and cultural action. Measures are also taken to strip any remains of the public education movement within the maisons de la culture, in hopes of centering the focus on the artist.

Saez offers three hypotheses for this failure:
1) intellectuals are no longer included in the conversation regarding cultural development
2) the DDC has a transversal mission, in addition to managing an administrative sector (cultural action facilities), which is not how cultural development should be managed, according to Saez
3) the DDC will begin reinvesting in cultural action and in partnerships with the maisons de la culture to structure cultural action as an administrative sector as well, in order to gain in organizational legitimacy

As such, while the original mission was to bolster cultural development, the focus has been placed on cultural action, an administrative initiative, a national policy that ultimately neglects diversity and cross-functional approaches.