Business Patronage Imperiled

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
The Flight into Egypt
Oil on Canvas - 97 x 133 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Largely acquired thanks to company patronage donations
Photo : D.R.

In an article published Monday, 11 June on (but not, or not yet, in its paper edition), Vincent Noce reveals that the French Ministry of the Budget is planning "to reduce by half the deduction offered to companies for their patronage donations (from 60 to 30% of the total)".

Such a measure would be disastrous for the domain in which we are involved although this patronage also contributes generously to medical research, charitable institutions and even sports. However, it would affect museums and heritage all the more since a donation to a sports discipline is often perceived as more prestigious than donating to a museum. Vincent Noce reminds us that cultural patronage is practically in free fall, as it is now about half that of 2008. Yet the policies of the past few years have consisted in reducing cultural budgets, favoring instead tax deductions for patronage, a measure we have always contested, considering that these should be in addition to needed funding. Current conditions are leagues away.

Noce does not mention deductions for the acquisition of national treasures which today offer a 90% deduction of the total amount. It would seem obvious of course that there is no prospect of maintaining this figure if benefits for normal acquisitions are cut in half. One might reason, correctly so, that this 90% means that the acquisition of a work of major patrimonial interest is entirely financed by taxpayers. However, thinking that the government budget will replace a decrease in patronage is totally utopian. We will soon be witnessing a collapse of patronage contributions which will be disastrous for the entire cultural world, theater, cinema, including live events.

The president of Versailles, Catherine Pégard, is about to announce that she has raised the funds, thanks to patrons, for the long-awaited and much needed restoration of the Latona basin, corresponding to several million euros. Who is credulous enough to believe that this public establishment could otherwise finance the emergency repairs constantly required ?
We wonder what Aurélie Filippetti’s reaction will be (she is the favorite in this week’s run-off election, with a good chance of winning and thus remaining as French Minister of Culture) when confronted with such an attack - after all, rather traditional - on current funding by the Ministry of the Budget. And there is indeed cause for concern : Vincent Noce recalls that the Minister of Culture was shocked, when visiting the Centre Pompidou Metz, on seeing the Wendel family name inscribed in the auditorium, as this company contributed 1.5 million euros over a period of five years. She had said at the time : "when I see the Wendel name placed over the amphitheater because this group - from the dynasty which reigned for centuries over the steel industry in Lorraine - acted as patrons, I feel hurt...". We have no doubt that this type of statement will do much to discourage major companies from supporting cultural projects. She added : "Museums are being sold off to business leaders and this is detrimental." This is true in some, rare, cases such as the ones we denounced on the French site for the Bréguet exhibition at the Louvre or in certain museums belonging to the city of Paris, but although it is important to ward off these practices, they remain largely marginal. Hence the need to make sure the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater...

We were able to get in touch with Jean-Jacques Aillagon. The former Minister of Culture, who worked hard to extend tax deductions particularly for national treasures, and who declared his support for François Hollande during the presidential campaign, did not seem surprised. In his words : "each time the offices at Bercy [French Ministry of Economy and Budget] prepare plans for developing state resources, they decide to reduce tax deductions." Given that patronage donations benefit many other sectors besides culture, he thinks that associations will protest. "I would find it hard to understand, though I understand the need to make cuts, that a measure which has proven to be so effective might be eliminated."
According to his sources, Vincent Noce explains that the note in question reflects only the thinking of administrative officials, for the moment, and in no way the government itself.

No matter : all signs seem to indicate that the government might be tempted to reduce tax deductions for patronage, considered by many to be a tax shelter, something which is not true. Also, we should not forget that each euro raised through patronage donations often triggers further funding. It would be a shame if the newly elected French President, whose proposals [1] provided for "totally preserving ["sanctuariser"] the Cultural budget" (while managing to never once pronounce the words heritage or museum), succeeded in decreasing the cultural budget, with such devious methods, in an unprecedented move for this country.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 12 juin 2012


[1] This text summarizing François Hollande’s position as seen by Aurélie Filippetti, can be found on the website of the Socialist Party Deputy of the Loire region, Jean-Louis Gagnaire.

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