Monday, July 21, 2003

Talking of the French...

Whom I mentioned in passing... I should also mention the ructions going on at the moment about their funding system. In place is a particularly enlightened unemployment system which takes into account the itinerant nature of artist's work, and it is this which is under threat under Chirac's government. I am told that the new measures would ensure that most of the funding would end up being funnelled to tv and film, diverting it from theatre. The new measures are supposedly to counter some abuse, which has certainly occurred (mostly, I'm told, from tv stations); but those who object to the changes say that the reforms would punish those who have not abused the system at all, and who depend on it to do their work - marginal companies working in the community, small theatres with minimal funding, and so on. The changes would also effectively shut down all the middle-range theatres - middle range theatres being, of course, where most new work is produced, and which the "high end" of the culture depends on for renewal. The issue is so inflammatory that the Avignon Festival was cancelled this year because of strikes by artists - a solidarity which is unimaginable here.

I can't find the statement which festival director Bernard Faivre d'Arcier made to Le Monde, in which he supported the actors' stance. It is his last year as festival director, and the cancellation would have been a personal blow; making such a statement also might make any further jobs with the government unlikely. He is also quoted as saying that the unions have exaggerated the impact that the reforms might have. Well, I don't know; my friends there fear that in a few years the current healthy state of French theatre won't exist any more. And they were predicting this move by the government two years ago. Cultural shutdown happens very quickly: but in Australia it happens in silence, and no one protests.

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