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Geopolitics

Cultural Credit Crunch: Taming The Spiralling Cost Of French Museums

A recent report by France’s national audit office has concluded that the country's top art museums are costing too much, as others are busy trying to cut public spending.

Lining up at the Louvre (maveric2003)
Lining up at the Louvre (maveric2003)
Jean-Francis Pecresse

PARIS - France is home to some of the world's top museums but with a hefty price tag of some 530 million euros ($750 million) a year. Over the past decade, the budget allocated to the country's more than 40 state art galleries has swelled by 60 percent. As guardians of the national coffers, the national audit office is right to be worried about the skyrocketing cost of maintaining and showcasing our cultural treasures. But the findings of its recent report on the performance of our national museums over the last 10 years are contradictory. On the one hand, the report states that these institutions have not become financially autonomous enough. On the other, it criticizes initiatives that could help the museums increase their resources.

The 2002 law granting museums the freedom to manage their collections, finances and staff autonomously, was not of course accompanied by a decrease in public support, but rather an increase. Institutional disengagement was not followed by cultural disengagement. This was a bad thing, perhaps, when it led to the creation of new museums, such as the Quai Branly (a recently-opened museum devoted to indigenous art), which flew in the face of all financial reason. But it was also a good thing, without a doubt, when public funding helped museums to cope with the slowdown in private sponsorship over the past two years, brought on by the global financial crisis. The United States and the United Kingdom, where there are many private collections, took a harder hit.

But now, in light of the current state of our public finances, it is time to rein in the costs of France's passion for museums. If the nation is to maintain its mania for museums, which has its economic as well as cultural benefits, it will need to garner more private support for its state museums. Increases in productivity, as suggested by the national audit, are clearly necessary, but will not provide the funds needed to deal with the continuing explosion in attendance.

Instead, museums should be permitted to increase their admission fees, which remain among the lowest in Europe: it will not slow the ‘democratization of culture." The disappointing results of an initiative offering free entry to young people, introduced two years ago, proves that the key dissuader is not the ticket price.

Finally, the auditors' report suggests that sponsorship should be kept in check. But such funding sources allow the museums, in exchange for a few venial concessions, to restore France's heritage, make acquisitions, and, ultimately, serve the public interest. The state's vision for our museums is still far too conservative.

Read the original article in French

photo - (maveric2003)

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Economy

In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry

Experts fear the higher food prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine could jeopardize the health of many Ugandans. Take a look at this ritzy-named simple dish.

Zziwa Fred, a street vendor who runs two fast-food businesses in central Uganda, rolls a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex.

Nakisanze Segawa

WAKISO — Godfrey Kizito takes a break from his busy shoe repair shop every day so he can enjoy his favorite snack, a vegetable and egg omelet rolled in a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex. But for the past few weeks, this daily ritual has given him neither the satisfaction nor the sustenance he is used to consuming. Kizito says this much-needed staple has shrunk in size.

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Most streets and markets in Uganda have at least one vendor firing up a hot plate ready to cook the Rolex, short for rolled eggs — which usually comes with tomatoes, cabbage and onion and is priced anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (28 to 57 cents). Street vendor Farouk Kiyaga says many of his customers share Kizito’s disappointment over the dwindling size of Uganda’s most popular street food, but Kiyaga is struggling with the rising cost of wheat and cooking oil.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted exports out of the two countries, which account for about 26% of wheat exports globally and about 80% of the world’s exports of sunflower oil, pushing prices to an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency. Not only oil and wheat are affected. Prices of the most consumed foods worldwide, such as meat, grains and dairy products, hit their highest levels ever in March, making a nutritious meal even harder to buy for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families. The U.N. organization warns the conflict could lead to as many as 13.1 million more people going hungry between 2022 and 2026.

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