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Meeting with Frédéric Jousset, president of the Art Explora Foundation

« The pandemic has only reinforced Art Explora’s message of taking an interest in all audiences, especially those who are far from it. »

Frédéric Jousset

Along with a group of cultural figures, Frédéric Jousset recently submitted ten proposals to the Minister of Culture to enable museums to reopen. He is the head of the European foundation Art Explora, which he created in November 2019, and of ArtNova, his €100 million impact investment fund. He is also co-founder of the Webhelp group, owner of Beaux-Arts Magazine, president of the HEC group’s alumni association and a major patron of the Louvre. Frédéric Jousset is multiplying initiatives to democratise access to culture for all audiences, aware that culture has the power to bring people together. This entrepreneur and patron of the arts, together with his team – employees and volunteers who have joined the Foundation – has come up with innovative ways of bringing together works of art and their various audiences, and of supporting cultural players and creative work. Meet a man of combat with a universal message.

You recently co-signed an article in Le Monde calling for the reopening of museums, and you submitted 10 proposals to Roselyne Bachelot, Minister of Culture. Can you tell us more about the progress made ? Did some of the proposals meet with a favourable response and could they lead to a future agreement ?  

Frédéric Jousset : The meeting with the Minister took place on the morning of Monday 8 February. Roselyne Bachelot received about thirty art centre and museum directors via Zoom. Our message was heard, she listened to the complaints and especially noted the absurdity of leaving museums closed while libraries and art galleries are open. Roselyne Bachelot also took into account the health protocols that can be deployed and insisted that museums will be given priority for reopening once the curfew is lifted. The Minister is now waiting for the infection rate to stabilise and then start to fall before reopening museums, as not all cultural venues present the same health risks.

You have just announced the very first class of 13 international artists who will join the Art Explora – Cité internationale des arts residencies in Montmartre in spring 2021. What struck you about the applications received and what do you retain from this first selection ?

First of all, I was able to see the strong appeal of the Art Explora – Cité internationale des arts residency programme, which gives artists and researchers the opportunity to develop research and creative work in the heart of Paris, in connection with the French artistic and professional scene. In a record time of five weeks, we received 1,000 applications from 68 different countries, and this in the context of a pandemic that makes this kind of commitment uncertain. For many of the countries concerned, we are not sure that travel restrictions can be lifted. So the artists who have applied to us have taken a real leap of faith. Our residency programme is innovative and above all unique in its conception: we talk about promotion. The collective effect plays a role and is of great interest to the artists. 

We have also assembled a prestigious jury, made up of numerous art personalities such as Christine Macel, artistic director of the International Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. In addition to this exceptional jury, which underlines the quality and ambition of the project, the reception conditions and especially the quality of the accommodation we offer are another element of attractiveness. We have workshops ranging from 50 to 100 m² – some with a view of the Sacré-Cœur – located in a half-hectare park completely isolated from the world. You are in the city and in the country at the same time! In addition, there is a generous production and residence grant that allows you to live without material constraints during your stay. 

I think that the success of the programme also comes from an attractive combination between the city of Paris, which remains a capital of creation in many disciplines, and the very particular history of the Butte Montmartre, which is a real matrix in terms of artistic references. Many trends from the beginning of the 20th century were born here, such as cubism and surrealism. The DNA of the place is very strong !

So we are very happy. We will open our doors in the spring, starting with French artists and those who can come from Europe without too many restrictions, then we will gradually welcome other creators, depending on the opening of borders.

Do you intend to support the artists participating in this residency programme in their further training, in the production of their work and in their marketing on the art market ?  

Of course ! It is a 360° support. First of all, volunteers from the Art Explora Foundation are invested in this programme and will ensure that the artists are integrated and have regular contact with the locals. When our artists live in Paris, they will be able to have dinner with Parisians who will help them discover places, so that they are not completely “off the grid” during their stay, which will last between three and six months. The fear of being left to your own devices is always present when you arrive in a new city. 

We will also give these artists the benefit of our network of gallery owners and curators, to ensure their promotion. We will also provide them with unusual exhibition spaces to make culture accessible to as many people as possible. 

Most of the artists selected have already been working for ten years. They are established artists who have already had solo exhibitions in well-known foundations. The programme has been designed to be a real career accelerator and the art world is very interested in what we are putting in place.

Twenty years ago, you co-founded the company Webhelp, which has become one of the world leaders in customer relations. What made you decide today to invest fully in culture and to found Art Explora ? 

It’s a combination of factors. It’s a commitment that has its roots in philanthropy, which I started in 2007 with the Louvre Museum. After becoming involved in the theme of “impeded audiences”, I no longer wanted to confine myself to a single museum, because that could mean being a prisoner of one period, one technique, one territory. I wanted to broaden my mode of action, with access to culture for all audiences as a common thread. 

It was several realizations that made me take action. The Gilets Jaunes movement was an important moment. When I saw the Louvre tagged and the sculptures on the Arc de Triomphe vandalised, I said to myself that this cultural divide was really leading to a social divide. It is therefore a real problem for society. These public monuments, which belong to everyone, were nevertheless perceived as emanations of Parisian bourgeois culture. There is a disconnect between the world of heritage and art and a part of the population that does not consider this world as its own. 

 These revolts, combined with my personal journey, including 20 years at Webhelp and the birth of my daughter, were the triggers. Awareness and the desire to act came together at the same time: I said to myself that it was high time to embark on this new adventure. I consider this initiative as an entrepreneurial adventure, with the difference that the objective is not profit, but impact. I am creating a brand platform, I am creating a raison d’être, I am creating guides, technologies, products… For this, it takes time and money, but also a lot of energy. But I have the feeling that if I don’t do it now, I won’t have the energy to create a project with global ambition in fifteen years’ time.

Since you launched Art Explora a year ago, culture and cultural institutions have been disrupted by the pandemic. What advances and innovations do you find most interesting for the future of these institutions ?  

The pandemic has only reinforced the core message of Art Explora, which is to take an interest in all audiences, and in particular remote audiences – which are sometimes on the same territory. 

The pandemic stopped international tourism. Museums that have succeeded in developing a link with the local population with “local culture” – in the same way that we talk about short circuits in the food industry – are doing better than those that depended exclusively on the international public. We saw this with the first edition of the European Art Explora – Academy of Fine Arts Prize for museums, which we awarded in December to reward museum initiatives in favour of all audiences : we received 350 applications from all the major museums in Europe ! We came up with money at a time when they had none left. The message resonated uniquely, they understood that this was really a priority.

The Art Explora Foundation

Created in November 2019, Art Explora is a philanthropic foundation with an international ambition, nomadic, without collection and digital. The foundation’s ambition is to reduce the cultural divide by using innovative technologies and devices to create a link between works of art and the public, especially those who are far from the public. Sharing culture with as many people as possible is the major challenge that the foundation and its team of dedicated volunteers intend to take up, through their initiatives and their global ambitions.


Are some technologies and innovations (e.g. digitisation, audience approach) more promising than others ? 

There are many, but the problem is that technology alone does not work. You need a package that combines technology and mediation. For example, improving websites, putting all content online or opening up digital connections does not necessarily promote access to culture for all. For example, the people who surf the Louvre’s website are only people who go or have gone to the museum. It is true that this improves the link with the existing public, but few new audiences are won over in this way.  

The technologies that are recruiting are those that are closest to the world of entertainment and video games. I am thinking, for example, of the revolutionary Atelier des Lumières, which generates 1.5 million visitors per year. The visitors are families or first-time visitors who have never been to a museum, but who come to see works projected on walls. Projecting works in very high definition, in spectacular locations, was a revolution and created new audiences ! 

Improving audio guides, which are ageing in some museums, and more generally mediation within museums, is another area for progress. The possibility of enriching the visitor experience by using a smartphone or QR codes, for example, breaks down the barrier and better engages the visitor. 

Some initiatives supported by the Art Explora Foundation 

  • European Art Explora Prize – Academy of Fine Arts

Open to all European public or private cultural institutions, the European Art Explora – Academy of Fine Arts Prize aims to distinguish and amplify innovative and particularly remarkable practices in the field of public outreach, in order to give them a real boost: digital innovations, actions outside the walls, inclusion of people with disabilities, fight against cultural exclusion, new mediations, cultural awakening for the youngest, programmes for excluded or prevented audiences… On 3 December 2020, during the award ceremony of the first edition, the three distinguished laureates were the Mucem, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum and the National Gallery.

  • Art Explora – Cité internationale des arts in Montmartre

In association with the Cité internationale des arts, Art Explora has built a unique residency programme for artists and researchers from all over the world to enable them to develop their research and creative work in the heart of Paris. Encouraging creation in all its forms while facilitating its dissemination to as many people as possible, this scheme pays particular attention to questions of mediation for all audiences, including the most remote, as well as to encounters with artists. Opening in spring 2021, the first season will welcome 13 residents.  

  • MuMo Project – Centre Pompidou

Founded in 2011 by Ingrid Brochard, the MuMo (mobile museum) aims to make modern and contemporary art accessible to those who are far from it, such as schoolchildren and structures in the social and medico-social field (e.g. retirement homes, social centres, children’s homes). Through its programme, the MuMo aims to contribute to the development of emotional intelligence, imagination, critical thinking and the ability to cooperate of these remote audiences. The Art Explora Foundation has joined forces with this project and the Centre Pompidou to create a new museum truck that will travel the roads of France to reach out to all audiences from the beginning of 2022, enabling works of modern and contemporary art from the Centre Pompidou to travel to several regions and villages in France.

  • On-line digital platform

Another Art Explora project : a digital platform devoted to the history of art and accessible to all is to be put online before the summer of 2021. Entirely free of charge, available in French and English, and initially designed for use on smartphones and tablets, this digital platform dedicated to art history aims to combine innovative teaching methods with resources from various cultural institutions and public broadcasters. Eventually, 11 art history discovery courses, designed with Sorbonne University, will be offered to users who will be able to assess themselves and obtain a certificate. 

  • Catamaran ARTEXPLORER 

ARTEXPLORER will be the largest catamaran in the world. Based on the fact that approximately 60% of the world’s population lives less than 60 kilometres from a coastline, this sailing boat has been designed as a real digital and nomadic museum, sailing from port to port to provide immersive experiences and allow the public to discover the great artistic masterpieces using technological advances. Its launch is scheduled for 2023.

What is your idea of an ideal museum ? 

Now that I’m a father, my ideal museum would be a museum designed for both children and adults. When you want to take children to a museum, all too often you have to make a choice: either they have fun and you spend the time on your laptop, or you are interested in the visit and they are bored. I would like museums to make the same revolution that football stadiums have made : you can take your child to see PSG play, then have lunch in the club’s restaurant, visit the shop, play in a virtual simulation… It’s a multi-faceted experience that can interest audiences of different ages. 

In museums, the family and children’s section is still very underdeveloped. Yet one of the major challenges of access to culture for all is to attract children. It is at this age that the awakening takes place ! The Louis Vuitton Foundation is ahead of the game in this area, with workshops designed for children and an attraction reinforced by the proximity of the Jardin d’Acclimatation. This is a dimension that is very important to us and that we want to integrate as much as possible into our future projects for the public.

If you were an artist, what themes would you tackle in your work ?

I would like to use the colour palette to engage in a struggle. If I were an artist, I think I would want to raise awareness and encourage behaviour around the theme of ecological transition and the preservation of the planet. It’s a cause that would make me want to pick up my brushes and paint. 


Art Explora Foundation :

Click here to sign the Petition for the reopening of the museums