We talked with Alice Gau, the head of the sponsorship and partnership department in the cultural service of the French Embassy in Chian, about art, patronages, and sponsorship within the embassy and in the world.
CHI: You mentioned to me that you love the relationship between Brands and Art and culture, can you explain to me why it excites you?
Well, it is a very common opinion to oppose the world of business and the art world. Especially in France where since the second world war, the government developed a strong support system for artists and art institutions allowing them to grow, be independent, and accessible to all without having to consider fitting into the economy. Those two worlds seem to be so far apart, one is profit-driven, the other is seeking transcendence. One is materialist and the other conceptual. It seems impossible to have them cooperate. But when you look in the past, or nowadays abroad you discover how much a company and an artist can do together. How complementary they are and how they can help one another. Building this bridge requires to convince, to interpret and translate, and to be extremely flexible, resilient, and creative. It is still uncharted territory in many ways and it turns out to be super fun exploring and rewarding when a partnership is successful.
How does the Embassy curates/works with the tandem of brands and culture?
The French Embassy in China probably has the biggest cultural department of all.
Cultural diplomacy is a priority in French Chinese cooperation. Our tools are different flagship festivals organized all year long in the whole country. Among them are the Croisements Festival, the biggest foreign festival in China, or the French Chinese Month of the Environment that we are now preparing for this autumn. The scale of those events (2,400,000 audience members for Croisements) makes them great communication platforms for companies eager to promote their French image and that are targeting upper-class groups interested in the Arts. Our prestigious events are also unique public relations platforms for our partners to invite their VIP, members, partners, or biggest clients. Finally, the connexions and support we offer may create many development opportunities for members of our patron’s circle.
Do you think cultural patronage by brands is important? why do you think it’s important?
It’s important because it’s a great way for companies to engage in our society. Corporations’ impact on our lives is much more than simply economic. This is the idea behind Corporate Social Responsibility and Patronage is part of this. But it’s extremely varied and possibilities are infinite. So if the project is right, the artist, the agent, the company, the employees, and society all win something out of it. I find this very powerful because it is a perfect way to tear down walls and embrace the idea that everything is linked and we all influence one another. Corporations and artists both have a reputation to be out of the system in some way, and patronage is the perfect tool to put them both back at the center of our society.
How do you think this relationship can evolve and develop? maybe to any new form?
Several trends are emerging such as crowdfunding (which is still very new but promising in China), skill-based patronage, or locally based patron’s circle with several companies funding projects together. But globally CSR is extremely innovative so new ideas pop up all the time. A Philanthropy Lab was just created recently in Paris. I’m looking forward to seeing what is going to come out of it. I can see that nowadays, cooperation goes much deeper than just a “money for visibility” classic kind of partnership. More and more projects are coproduced between artists and enterprises.
How is cultural patronage developing in France? how does it differ from China？
As I said France’s art world as been developing in opposition with business. The artworks are considered as invaluable and almost sacred. So when a patron wants to collaborate with an artist, it has to act as a philanthropist with a social mission to support the Arts. This is the only reason that is politically correct in France, any other kind of partnership is considered less pure and dangerous for the artist. This is a kind of hypocrisy that does not exist in China where corporations are explicitly expecting a return on investment. Hence, we are more talking about sponsorship than patronage here. The risk is to compromise the artist’s project to please the potential sponsor with enough benefits. It is not easy to find the perfect balance for a healthy relationship. But being honest and upfront about everyone’s requirements is the first step to success.
What are your goals for the future? How you would like to bring more brands and art together?
I just arrived at the French Embassy in January so for now, my goal is to implement new ways to use patronage as a tool to develop French Chinese cultural cooperation. For example, I would like to create artist residencies within companies in China where the artists would become part of the workforce, bringing his/her skillset to the company’s development.