It's a battle being waged on the pages of Le Figaro and Le Monde: Henri Loyrette vs. the Ministry of Culture. Appointed to the post of president and director of the Louvre a year ago, Loyrette is struggling to wrest key management decisions from the government. Since the museum's founding in 1793, the state has been responsible for hiring and firing the Louvre's staff, and it currently takes 45% of its $20 million in annual ticket sales to redistribute to less popular museums. "We need more autonomy to manage the museum well," says Loyrette, 50, who has penned several passionate editorials on the subject.
Loyrette is the first person ever to mount a serious challenge to the top-down approach that has marked cultural decision-making in France. And he's making headway. By early next year, Loyrette expects to be managing the majority of the museum's 1,800 employees directly. And the ministry will likely let him keep more of the Louvre's revenues for his own programs, although the amount is still under discussion.
Both reforms are important to solve problems cited last January in a controversial report by a national audit agency that was leaked to Le Figaro. The report disclosed that nearly one-third of the museum's galleries are closed at any one time, partly because employees disappear on four-hour coffee breaks. Inadequate security has led to the theft of art. In fact, the Louvre doesn't even have a precise inventory of its estimated 400,000 pieces.
A Paris native who grew up across the Seine from the Louvre, Loyrette spent seven years as director of the Musée d'Orsay before his appointment to head the world-famous institution. He says he "felt like an outsider" at first; his predecessor had worked there almost 40 years. But Loyrette says he's growing comfortable in his new post and confident he can make improvements at the Louvre. Move over, Old Masters, there's a new master in the house.