December 2, 2009 / 1:48 PM / 10 years ago

Paris museums shut down in protest over cost cuts

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Paris’s top museums shut on Wednesday and the Mona Lisa kept her fans waiting as staff went on strike, protesting against cost cuts that they see as a threat to priceless art.

Visitors to Paris' Pompidou Centre (Beaubourg) find the doors looked due to a strike by personnel, December 2, 2009. The signs read "On strike". REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Museums such as the Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa at the heart of an art collection spanning millennia, help make France the world’s top tourist destination. But staff say job cuts and lower subsidies are endangering this status.

“The fewer staff there are, the greater the risk that the museum opens in conditions that are unacceptable in terms of security, be it for the artworks, visitors or building,” said Didier Alaime, spokesman of the CGT union’s culture section.

The Louvre opened more than an hour late after workers met under its famous glass pyramid to discuss strike options. The Musee d’Orsay, home to Edouard Manet’s “Olympia,” some of Vincent Van Gogh’s most striking landscapes and room after room of sun-dappled Impressionist paintings, was closed for the day.

Its employees will meet Thursday morning to decide on further action after talks with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand Wednesday.

The Rodin museum with its sculptures of entwined lovers and the futurist Center Pompidou, which has spearheaded the protest movement and has been closed since last week, were also shut.

France’s government is restructuring its culture sector as part of broader budget cuts, arguing it is improving quality while controlling costs through audits and other initiatives.

Union workers are particularly angered by a government plan to fill only half the vacancies left by retired officials. They also complain that a growing emphasis on costs and ticket sales is overshadowing cultural worth as a measure of success.

“Today you have to ask yourself whether you should only do commercially successful exhibitions rather than shows that are maybe more narrow, more complicated,” Alaime said.

Tourism accounts for around 6 percent of gross domestic product in France, though the outlook for this year is gloomy as crisis-hit Europeans, Americans and Japanese stay at home.

France’s museums play a crucial part in pulling in the crowds. Last year, some 80 million people visited France; the Louvre alone sees about 6 million visitors a year.

Union activists have complained that even before the new measures, many museums had to seal rooms and display fewer artworks to cope with a lack of staff.

Additional reporting by Laurent Hamida, editing by Paul Casciato

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