French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Tuesday he wanted to create a museum of French history, following in the footsteps of predecessors who have left their mark on the country’s cultural landscape.
He said the proposed “Maison de l’histoire de France”, would bring museums, monuments and research centers together and would help organize major popular exhibitions on historical subjects.
“The idea is not to create an official history or to keep up arguments over how things are remembered but to develop a scientific, comparative and pluralist approach,” he said in his New Year’s address on cultural policy.
Sarkozy gave few details about the proposed museum, which would be housed at a symbolic site and would match the German Historical Museum in Berlin, launched amid much controversy in 1987 and now a popular monument in the German capital.
The project would follow in a well-established tradition of French presidents who have left landmarks ranging from the futuristic art gallery named after Georges Pompidou, the Louvre pyramid commissioned by Francois Mitterrand or the Quai Branly museum supported by Jacques Chirac.
Some of Sarkozy’s previous initiatives on historical memory have not been successes. He set off a storm of protest in 2008 with a proposal, later scrapped, that schoolchildren should “adopt” a Jewish child victim of the Holocaust to raise their awareness.
On Tuesday, he announced measures to encourage cultural activities, including free museum entry for the under-25s and said art should be “at the heart of the school education system” in order to “enlarge the size of the public for culture”.
Sarkozy also proposed setting up a special council on artistic creation, which he would chair alongside Culture Minister Christine Albanel and film producer Marin Karmitz.
The body would decide priorities for public arts funding “in close cooperation with artists, professionals and the public”.
Sarkozy’s most recent cultural initiative has been to ban evening advertising on state-owned television, a move bitterly attacked by critics who say it will weaken the financial foundations of public broadcasting.
The government has pledged to make up for the hundreds of millions of euro in lost revenues and Sarkozy hailed the move as an important step toward improving the quality of French television.
“Giving the public service broadcast sector the means to support its specific character will certainly be one of the major reforms of my term in office,” he said.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)