Hommage to René Rizzardo
On Wednesday, 7 April 2010, René Rizzardo, one of the leading French and world experts on cultural policy, passed away. A large part of the French media carried the news of his death, recognizing un utopiste modèle, un militant infatigable pour la culture, son engagement au service d'une pensée exigeante. René Rizzardo devoted his entire career to questions concerning the decentralization of culture and the establishment of a cultural policy which promotes the principles of democracy. He was one of the first thinkers of cultural decentralization. For him decentralization was the primary challenge of development.
In the nineteen eighties, in cooperation with Augustin Girard, another renowned cultural development and cultural policy specialist, Rizzardo founded the Observatory of Cultural Policies in Grenoble and became its first director. From this position, he held the view of an ambitious cultural policy, "open towards the future, which can be build only through a constant dialogue between the state, regions, territorial communities and cultural actors in all their diversity". Rizzardo defined decentralization as a multiplication of decision-making points, and the decomposition of the high principles and criteria on which cultural policies had been functioning until that time. This did not mean, as Rizzardo insisted, that these criteria were discarded on the local level, but rather that ways of their adaptation to the local conditions were sought. Decentralization is marked by the approximation of public cultural service to the users, but this service has found itself in a new situation, between tradition, contractual and legal regulations, and the responsibilities of professionals, which Rizzardo discussed in an early issue of the review Observatoire (Le service public de la culture entre tradition, règles contractuelles et juridiques, et responsabilités des professionnels, 1999).
Rizzardo advocated the evaluation of regional cultural policies (the definition of precise goals and establishment of an evaluation network), but at the same time he relativized the evaluation because it is typically employed only in times of crisis, lack of public discussion or development of cultural strategy in the field, which deprives it of transparency: "Transparency is necessary, or rather assigning the possibility of transformation to the evaluation process".
As advisor to the Council of Europe, Rizzardo brought the question of cultural decentralization to the European level. In the nineteen eighties and nineties, the Council of Europe established a number of programmes related to the place of culture in the policies of cities and regions. Rizzardo was the author of the final report of the Culture and Regions project (Culture et régions) in 1991, in which he underlined three fundamental cultural challenges for a Europe of regions: cultural networks and cultural exchange, a dialogue between the regional and the European identity, and culture as an element of regional development and cooperation. In spite of all changes, in some segments even quite rapid, which took place in Europe, including the understanding of decentralization and its dynamics, these three issues maintained their significance. The place of culture in the policies and strategies of cities and regions remained relevant today, as evident from the European meeting of local administrations held in Barcelona at the end of February 2010. As emphasized on this occasion, the transformation of local institutions in terms of achieving a more transparent, democratic administration is also expressed through the practice of "learning cities and regions", and it was precisely Rizzardo who, in his work, insisted on learning, education and the ability to open new developmental prospects on the local level.
The European dimension of Rizzardo's work should be emphasized, as well as his view of the fundamental role of networks in cultural development and international communication. The networking of experts and artists, has always been a significant theme in his thoughts on cultural policy.
Rizzardo was interested in questions of the position of artists in the framework of cultural policies: that is, the system of recognition of artists by the state, i.e. arts policy, and by territorial communities, who need to get involved more strongly. He discussed the modalities of support for the artists in a number of articles, for example, Artists and Cultural Policies, Some Questions (Artistes et politiques culturelles, quelques questions, 2000).
At the end of last year a comprehensive work on cultural decentralization was published, which Rizzardo edited together with Philippe Poirrier: A Shared Ambition? 50 Years of Cultural Decentralization (Une ambition partagée? 50 ans de décentralisation culturelle, 2009). The book encompasses the cooperation of the French Ministry of Culture and the territorial communities in the period between 1959 and 2009, analyzing this truly "long path of decentralization of culture and cultural policies", as Jean-Pierre Saez, Rizzardo's colleague and friend, and the present director of the Observatory of Cultural Policies put it. The continuous path of partnership between the state and territorial communities is a good indicator of the growth of cultural issues and the understanding of the developmental role of culture. The book is a testament of Rizzardo's perseverance, tolerance, openness, ability to conduct a dialogue, and vision of innovation, which remain an inspiration to all of us concerned with cultural policy.
The affirmation of cultural policies in France and Europe in the nineteen eighties and the new approach to the issue of decentralization are largely the merit of René Rizzardo. Symbolically, in a month a new Centre Pompidou will be opened in Metz, which is expected to become one of the most beautiful museums in the world. Numerous artworks from the Parisian Centre Pompidou will be transferred to this new museum. This project by the French government represents a new effort of decentralization, aiming to attract the public to places outside the capital. This museum may also be regarded as a true hommage to René Rizzardo.