On December 4th 2012, the feast day of Saint Barbe, patron saint of miners, as if in honour of the men and women who spent their working lives at pithead n°9, Louvre-Lens
was inaugurated by President François Hollande.
On December 12th 2012, it opened to the public. Proof of the Louvre's policy of cultural outreach and its ambition to promote access to its collections, and an emblem of the Nord-Pas de Calais region's determination to put culture at the heart of its development, Louvre- Lens was a highly anticipated project.
The museum's first year has been an unmitigated success.
Firstly in terms of attendance. The most optimistic observers forecast 700,000 visitors for this first year; the actual figure of close to 900,000 far exceeds expectations.
Secondly in economic terms, as Louvre- Lens is already stimulating and accelerating economic growth within the region. To date, an estimated 400 jobs have been created as a direct or indirect result of the museum's opening, particularly in tourism.
Thirdly in the media as, thanks to this "other" Louvre, Lens has positioned itself on the international map. Indeed, the town takes 26th position in The New York Times' coveted list of "46 Places to Go in 2013".
Over the next three years, the tourism sector is expected to generate a further 300 jobs as new hotels and businesses open, in addition to the First World War commemorative ceremonies taking place over 2014-2018.
On December 4th 2013, Louvre-Lens celebrated its first anniversary with a special gift: the awarding of the Équerre d'Argent, a major French architectural distinction, to the museum's architects, SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa), and project owner, the Nord-Pas de Calais region. It singles out the beauty of the architectural form, a translucent, almost insubstantial structure which sits, jewellike, in landscaped gardens.
Visitors, entrepreneurs, politicians, local organisations and students blew out this first candle, enthused by the project and convinced that a dynamic and lasting force was in motion.
Louvre-Lens, the Louvre, only different
Louvre-Lens is an important, twenty-first century museum whose priority is that all visitors can engage with the works on display, both physically and intellectually.
The Galerie du Temps, which shows masterpieces from the Louvre's collections in an innovative chronological display, takes visitors through the universal history of art from the invention of writing, circa 3500 BCE, to the nineteenth century. Critically acclaimed in France and internationally, this design is a fresh approach to the usual organising principle: how to propose a new apprehension of the history of art, and how to break away from the tradition of presenting works by "department", something visitors who are distanced, even alienated, from museum practice can find intimidating.
A prolongation of the Galerie du Temps, the Pavillon de Verre houses exhibitions which forge dialogues between the Louvre's collections and those of the region's museums. In this respect, Louvre-Lens stands out not only as an overarching element in the Nord-Pas de Calais' extraordinary museum dynamic, but also draws attention to these regional collections. After Seeing the Sacred (December 4th 2013-April 21st 2014), this glass pavilion will, from May 28th 2014, house a new exhibition of acquisitions by the region's museums over the past thirty years.
Louvre-Lens has chosen an innovative cultural policy: interpretation, school parties (one in two groups visiting the museum are from schools), visible storage, interpretation resources proposed free of charge to help novices and specialists alike comprehend the works, open access to the resource centre, and continued free admission to the Galerie du Temps. Louvre-Lens has delivered its promises by meeting, even anticipating, each person's needs.
900,000 visitors to Louvre-Lens, and counting
Of these 900,000 visitors, 150,000 saw the inaugural exhibition, Renaissance, and 128,000 Rubens' Europe. These are remarkable attendances for temporary exhibitions in the region. With 540,000 visitors from the Nord-Pas de Calais region, of which some 100,000 for the Lens-Liévin conurbation alone (Lens has 35,000 inhabitants; Liévin 32,000), Louvre-Lens has proved its remarkable attractiveness to local populations.
With interpretation resources targeting all types of visitor, Louvre-Lens has succeeded in adapting to both a knowledgeable audience and first-time visitors. Many of those at the inauguration, on December 4th 2012, confessed this was their first time inside a museum. The museum's decision to offer free admission to the Galerie du Temps, reiterated for another year, no doubt played and will continue to play a fundamental role in encouraging people from all walks of life to visit Louvre Lens.
As well as the region's foremost museum, Louvre-Lens has emerged as a reference among museums in Europe. Belgians rank first among foreign visitors with more than 100,000 visitors. The Dutch, British, Germans and Japanese make up this "top 5" of visitors from outside France.
With 70 different nationalities, international visitors represent a fifth of the total number of visitors to Louvre-Lens. Visitors from Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region were also eager to discover this "other" Louvre and its programme of exhibitions: more than 70,000 of them came to the museum during this first year.
Louvre-Lens, the Louvre's storage, the Museum Region
important future projects 2014 at Louvre-Lens
Through its programming, Louvre-Lens will continue to pursue its objectives to propose a high standard of exhibitions and communicate meaning to the widest possible audience.
With The Etruscans and the Mediterranean. The City of Cerveteri (December 5th 2013-10th March 2014), Louvre-Lens trains the spotlight on Etruscan civilisation in the Mediterranean through the history of one of its major cities: Cerveteri. Louvre-Lens joins an international network of museums as, after Lens, this exhibition will travel to the Palazzo delle esposizioni in Rome. As for the exhibition scheduled for summer, The Disasters of War. 1800-2014 (May 28th-October 6th 2014), it will propose a thoughtful and innovative reflection, in 450 works, on society's disenchantment with war, from Napoleon's campaigns to the present day.
Such a theme, which has both immediate and historical relevance, is certain to have broad appeal in what is an important commemorative year.
To encourage visitors to return to the museum, Louvre-Lens can also count on rotations of works in the Galerie du Temps and on temporary exhibitions. In Seeing the Sacred (December 4th 2013-April 21st 2014), for example, two works from three major historic and artistic periods covered by the Galerie du Temps (Antiquity, Middle Ages and the modern era) are offered for comparison, one from the collections of a museum in Nord-Pas de Calais, and one from the Louvre.
Events at La Scène are also central to programming at Louvre-Lens. Performing arts events, all of which tie in with the exhibitions, enable visitors to better come to grips with the themes covered in the galleries. With family or friends, La Scène is an important venue for living culture in this mining region.
Summer 2014 will also be a chance to stage events outdoors, in the museum's gardens, as another way to bring art and the local community closer together.
The arrival of the Louvre's storage
Following transfer of the Louvre's storage in 2017-2018, some 220,000 works will be conserved near the Louvre-Lens site. Storage facilities, which will not be open to the public, will allow for conservation and study of the collections for teams from the Louvre, scholars and specialists.
This anchoring of the Louvre's collections and staff in Lens will further strengthen ties between the two museums.