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U.S. foundation gives $1.3 million to help the Louvre attract and educate kids

March 10, 2009 |  5:41 pm

Louvre Lafayette, we are here -- again.

The French, who have spent much of the post-World War II era bemoaning the infiltration of American pop culture into their own, are about to import some of the contemporary hallmarks of American museum culture: "hands-on" displays aimed at making museums more attractive to kids, and educational outreach programs that will augment public schools' art instruction with museum resources and know-how.

And it's France's greatest bastion of art, the Louvre, that is leading the way -- accepting a grant of a million euros (about $1.3 million) from the Philadelphia-based Annenberg Foundation to add kid-friendly multimedia displays and other gizmos to some of its  exhibits and to create DVDs, online features and lessons-in-a-box or lessons-on-a-cart that can circulate in the schools.

The Annenberg grant is being channeled through American Friends of the Louvre, a nonprofit that fosters ties between the venerable museum and the U.S. public. "The Louvre," says a press announcement of the grant, "is the first museum in France to implement educational programs of this kind."

The Annenberg money will help fund a broader effort by the Louvre to step up its engagement with youngsters. The announcement of the Louvre's new youth-directed plans uses -- sacre bleu! -- jargon and catchphrases straight out of the standard American nonprofit arts-organization playbook: "partnerships with schools," "initiative to reach a broader spectrum of audiences, with a focus on underserved youth," "a more hands-on educational experience" and "foster the role of the arts in education, especially for young people who do not have ready access to art museums."

Another familiar American term, "national education reform," appears in the  announcement, but the French apparently are giving this one an arts-friendly spin unlike the back-to-basics, teach-to-the-test approach we've become accustomed to in the U.S.A.: This fall, we're told, France "introduced the teaching of art history within the primary and secondary school curricula" -- giving the Louvre additional motivation to pitch in.


Culture Monster was able to reach Sue Devine, New York-based executive director of American Friends of the Louvre, and ask her a question that she says she gets all the time: We know the Louvre houses the "Mona Lisa" and all that, but why should Americans donate to a museum in Paris -- money for American museums being especially tight nowadays?

Devine had her stats at the ready: Of 8.2 million visitors to the Louvre in 2007, 1 million were Americans. And the Louvre regularly is a primary partner in U.S. museum exhibitions, she says, loaning art works to the Metropolitan in New York, the Getty in L.A., the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, while sending exhibitions to places like Indianapolis and Oklahoma City.

The Louvre established the American Friends group in 2002 -- around the time that its funding from the French government, which used to cover all costs, was beginning to wane. Now it has to generate half its budget, Devine says, and its director, Henri Loyrette, seeks money internationally -- as well as ideas for improving the Louvre's effectiveness.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: The Louvre. Credit: Claude Paris / Associated Press