Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the far-right Front National party in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region in France’s upcoming regional elections (and the party’s presidential candidate in 2012), recently extended an olive branch of sorts to the area’s artists.
“I wanted to speak directly to you to tell you how much, as artists, you count in my eyes for the region, its bustling cultural life, and the creative effervescence that it fuels,” she wrote in a statement last week. “I know how much artistic creation contributes to national pride and even international pride in a great region like ours in the center of Europe …. No form of art must be neglected, in my view. Each artist must be respected …. Our regional plan is intended to help artists create with total independence while privileging freedom and talent over commercial interests.”
In an open letter published Monday, hundreds of French artists rejected her overtures and her party’s politics as inherently poisonous to freedom, artistic and otherwise. “That you are taking the time to write to artists just a few days after the terrorist attacks that struck at our values and ways of life gives us no illusions about your intentions toward us,” the letter begins. “Everything is incompatible between us and only traitors and the gullible will believe for a moment that creative freedom has any meaning for your party.”
The open letter has accrued over 800 signatures, with more artists adding their names every day. As of this writing they include Abel Abdessemed, Kader Attia, Julien Bismuth, Daniel Buren, Raymond Depardon, Orlan, and Philippe Petit.
In her statement to artists in her region, Le Pen put forth a plan to replace the Nord-Pas de Calais branch of the Fonds Régionaux d’Art Contemporain (FRAC) — a nationwide network of 23 nonprofit contemporary art spaces — with live-work artist residency programs. “We wish to break from the logic of the FRACs, which, we believe, too often favors the commercial channels while forgetting about proper artistic creation,” she wrote. “Our key measure will be the creation of artists’ incubators throughout the region. These sites, which we will conceive together, will be organized as pleasant live-work spaces where exchanges can take place.”
The president of the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais, not coincidentally, is socialist politician and former French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, an outspoken critic of Le Pen and her party. The Front National is expected to make major gains in France’s upcoming regional elections, the first round of which will take place on Sunday, in part due to a sharp rise in Islamophobic and patriotic sentiment following last month’s terror attacks in Paris.
The artists’ letter rebuking Le Pen’s statement (translated by the author) reads in full:
That you are taking the time to write to artists just a few days after the terrorist attacks that struck at our values and ways of life gives us no illusions about your intentions toward us. Everything is incompatible between us and only traitors and the gullible will believe for a moment that creative freedom has any meaning for your party.
Don’t imagine for a second that we are not aware that our society suffers from miserable morale and that the victims of November 13 demand justice. The difference is that you envision “cleaning up” our country and restoring its capacity for courage and audacity by closing doors and windows, while we believe the opposite, that we must open them to air out our spirits, which are so troubled as to see in you a remedy.
We work and create in France, but here, as elsewhere, freedom to create begins with openness to the other, he or she who is not me but equal to me, no matter his or her skin color, nationality, or religion.