The Art Newspaper is reporting that the Louvre has launched a €1 million crowdfunding campaign to pay for the conservation of its “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” a 2nd-century BCE sculpture of Nike, the Greek god of
profit margins victory. It’s the fourth such campaign at the museum in recent years, following the €1.3 million raised in 2010 for the acquisition of Lucas Cranach’s “The Three Graces” (1531), a €500,000 restoration in 2011, and €800,000 raised to purchase two 13th-century statuettes.
But what happened to the mountains of cash — over $1 billion in cash and commitments — the Louvre has gained from its partnership with the Emirati government for an Abu Dhabi “branch” of the institution on the hereditary autocracy’s beleaguered Saadiyat Island project? Never mind. As public monies for museum projects contract, crowdfunding is probably better than the alternative of murky and oligarchic private patronage by individuals and corporations. Turning to the museum-going public, though hardly an alternative to a steady and independent budget, at least allows institutions to open up their finances to the public, becoming fully accountable in an era where many ostensibly not-for-profit institutions have, either voluntarily or involuntarily, been pulled into the dogged world of outsize compensation and expansionary corporate strategy, the cultural patrimony they are meant to safeguard inching toward the status of financial assets.
A recent editorial on the subject in the left-wing Libération quoted the founder of a leading French crowdfunding platform, Kiss Kiss Bank Bank (slogan: “Libérez la Créativité!”), describing his platform as “a machine that creates a shared optimism, a machine to develop self-confidence.” The reality is a bit more prosaic, though, given this brave new world of budget shortfalls at major Western institutions like the Louvre. The former president of the Ile-de-France cultural commission, Corinne Rufet, is cited in the same story as explaining that what is now needed is an enhanced partnership between public and private funding to sustain artists and the arts in the long term.
The name the Louvre has given its crowdfunding initiative is instructive here: “Tous mécènes!” The exclamation mark dignifies the necessity of cultural alms-gathering. We are all patrons!