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Art & History

Heritage With a Deeper Sense of Purpose

How cultural institutions in Paris are building closer ties with the patrons and donors who share a commitment to preserving the sites for future generations.

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When the Musée d’Orsay opened its doors in March to the blockbuster exhibition “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism,” it was the culmination of years of work by dedicated professionals -  and the support of thousands of everyday heroes.

As cultural institutions in Paris endeavor to maintain their buildings, collections, visitor experience and educational outreach, they are increasingly reliant on a small army of patrons and donors at all levels who share their commitment to preserving heritage for future generations.

 Nurturing that collective commitment is an important aspect of the management of these institutions, according to professionals in the field.

“Maintaining a museum, guaranteeing quality reception and conditions, perpetuating its role, offering superb exhibitions, acquiring works, etc. - all of this has a price,” says Marie Laure C. Fleming, executive director of the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie.

Corporate sponsorship is critical to keeping French cultural institutions at the top of their game.

Fleming said. She cited last year’s $43million acquisition of Gustave Caillebotte’s “The Boating Party” by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French luxury goods conglomerate.

LVMH, a generous patron of the arts in France, purchased the painting from a private collector and donated to the French state. It will be exhibited at several museums around the country this year, including at the Impressionist show at the Musée d’Orsay.

But while spectacular coups like acquiring “The Boating Party” make headlines, donations from individuals are just as important - not just for the funds they bring in, but for the emotional ties they create, people in the field say.

“Corporate sponsorship has its reasons, its strategies and its means,” Fleming said. “Private philanthropy remains a matter of the heart, of sensitivity, of personal choices.”

That personal connection is becoming ever more important in cultural heritage, people in the field say, and the institutions are becoming ever more adept at building bridges with visitors and potential donors through their “Friends” and “Patrons” programs.

“The most important thing is to help them create a real link with our two museums, the collections, the works and the projects that take place there,” Fleming said, referring to the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie. “To do this, nothing is more essential than dialogue and privileged in situ access,” she said.

 The Musée d’Orsay offers its patrons off-hours access to the collections so that those who are helping to sustain the museum can experience them under exceptional conditions, Fleming said

 “For example, with peaks of more than 10,000 visitors per day, the “Van Gogh exhibition in Auvers-sur-Oise” experienced record success last season,” she said. “However, due to its emotional charge and its rarity, such an exhibition can only be fully appreciated in peace.”

These visits “are also an opportunity to discover behind the scenes, to see the daily life of a museum and all those who work there,” she said.

“It is obvious that such visits are precious and must remain a rare privilege, in recognition of strong commitment and support,” Fleming said.

For a monument that is also a living place of worship, such as the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, contributions come regularly from congregants and visitors.

But while all donations are welcome to help maintain these huge structures, special projects call for other approaches.

Catherine Auzière, communications manager of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, notes that sometimes, on request, the basilica will welcome private visits from those who wish to make a donation to support one of many maintenance and restoration projects, or to improve the reception conditions at the site.

“For example, we finance part of the restoration costs of the basilica's great Cavaillé-Coll organ, an exceptional instrument,” she said.

But while supporting heritage institutions can bring satisfaction and purpose to donors themselves, it is the wider world community that ultimately receives the benefits, people in the field say.

“Visitors are often unaware that each small donation will contribute to the beauty and quality of the welcome that all visitors then benefit from,” Auzière said.

 “A large proportion of our visitors come from other continents, and they do not return regularly,” she said. “But if they come back, they will notice that the Sacré-Cœur is maintained to welcome more and more visitors for whom this visit is essential in Paris.”

“It’s very easy to take things ‘for granted,’” Fleming said. “Parisians don't always realize how lucky they are, living in a city steeped in history and beauty. It is a duty and an asset to protect them, respect them, manage them and love them.”

“Beyond revenue from tourism and their beauty, safeguarding and magnifying our heritage also helps us to better understand our history to better prepare our present and our future,” Fleming said.

Auzière notes that the Sacré-Cœur Basilica “is so emblematic of the city of Paris throughout the world that it is obviously an integral part of world heritage.”

That imprimatur may one day apply to the entire neighbourhood in which Sacré-Coeur sits. The residents of Montmartre are currently working to have the entire district listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its contributions to history, social movements, and art.

“Montmartre is a unique story from an artistic point of view, but also a living piece of French art de vivre, which must be preserved and supported,” Auzière said.

She and Fleming echoed the idea that participating in that work, at any level, adds a sense of purpose to any visit.

“I think there is real pride in helping cultural institutions preserve heritage, develop research programs, or prepare for the major challenges of tomorrow such as climate change,” Fleming said. “Feeling involved, participating, supporting, sharing values ​​are at the heart of the patron experience.”

Secret Journeys has created a new collection of experiences that tap into the growing desire of our guests to participate more fully in the life and longevity of these iconic treasures.

Our Legacy Journeys feature the unparalleled access and insight for which Secret Journeys is known, and open the doors to a deeper, more meaningful connection through the people and organizations devoted to preserving and protecting France’s cultural heritage.

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