Fabien Jannelle

Supporting arts at risk —
The program approach of ONDA

January 12, 2012
Fabien Jannelle

Fabien Jannelle

Director of ONDA
France’s ONDA (Office national de diffusion artistique) was established in 1975 with the mission of contributing to the spread of high quality performing arts to all regions of the country and creating a network of performing arts professionals, and operates with funding from the Ministry of Culture. Today, ONDA is working under a new policy to concentrate its support on highly innovative contemporary performing arts, and in 2010 it distributed a total of 2.5 million euro in grants to some 580 companies and organizations involved in contemporary creative activities.

In this interview, ONDA’s director since 1995, Fabien Jannelle, speaks about the organization’s vital role in France’s contemporary performing arts scene, ranging from its approximately 50 meetings of performing arts professionals a year to unique programs like its “financial guarantee” plan to help bear some of the losses incurred by public theaters presenting experimental contemporary works.
(Interviewed at ONDA Headquarters, Paris, Sept. 8, 2011; Interviewer: Shintaro Fujii, Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda Univ.)
May I ask you to begin by telling us briefly about your education and career up until now?
At university I studied architecture, urban planning and sociology. Unlike today, there were no professional courses offered at university in the area of cultural policy or arts management, so I learned to be an arts professional from experience in the field. It was around the time of the “May 1968” when student movements were at their height, and after graduation I became involved in a labor union movement (the leader of the union was Alain Crombecque, who would later become director of the Festival d’Automne). Entering the 1970s, I worked bringing arts to less prosperous suburban areas of Paris, running a film society (ciné-club) and planning exhibitions, etc., and I was involved in the running of youth centers. From 1976, I was the director of the public relations at the Theatre National de Chaillot. Unfortunately that was just after Jack Lang was driven out of the theater by the Minister of Culture at the time, Michel Guy (Note: the founder of Festival d’Automne in 1972) and it was before Antoine Vitez became the new manager the following year (laughs).

Then, in 1979, at the age of 29, I participated as the director in the founding of Ferme du Buisson (*1) in the Paris suburb of Marne-la-Vallée. At the time there were no such equipments as you see today. There were just some beautiful old 19th century farm buildings on large plots of land overgrown with weeds. In order to turn Marne-la-Vallée into a large new urban development, a public corporation was established, and as one part of the plan the government policy was to build art complex centered around a theater. So I gathered a few other people and drew up a plan from scratch to refurbish existing buildings.

Until those buildings could be renovated, of necessity we had to pursue most of our activities in outdoor (“hors les murs”) venues. So, with Michel Crespin I created Lieux publics (meaning public venues) (*2) . In 1990 Lieux publics moved to Marseilles and now it is the organization that is at the center of the Street Art City (“Cité des arts de la rue”), we have today. Companies like Zingaro and Dromesko got their start in residencies there while living a caravan life and working on new creations. This was at a time even before we had electricity and heating in our facilities. After formally inaugurating Ferme du Buisson and working there for about four seasons, I felt with great satisfaction that I had done what I could and was then ready to move on and took up a position at ONDA (Office national de diffusion artistique) in 1995.
I know that France has a tradition of entrusting positions of great responsibility to young talents, but 29 is still quite young even for that, isn’t it? It would be unthinkable in Japan.
Today, France has become more like Japan in that sense, I assure you. But, at the time things were like that. At that time in the 1970s arts facilities were still in the stage of development and new facilities for the arts were being created one after another. There were no precedents to bind us and no seniors to dictate to us, and there weren’t even many of us to begin with. It was a wonderful era where we were free to do anything to create our utopia, so to speak. Today, enough cultural facilities have been built around the country and there are specialized courses in university to train arts and culture professionals, so things are completely different from those days. When Francois Mitterrand came to power in 1981 and Jack Lang became the Minister of Culture, the national budget for the arts and culture doubled and the full public support was given to the changes that had begun in the 1970s. In this way, France’s artistic environment completely changed between 1970 and 1990.
What was ONDA like as an organization back in 1995?
To be quite honest, the situation wasn’t very good. ONDA was created in 1975 by the Minister of Culture at the time, Michel Guy and the director of Maison de la Culture d’Amiens, Philippe Tiry. After it was established, Tiry served as director for 20 years. He was 70 years old when he finally left the post. He stayed there a little too long. Of course, Tiry built ONDA from nothing and had created its organization, its mission, spirit and its operating methodology, and for that he deserves a lot of gratitude. However, the organization was definitely in decline by 1995, and there was danger of it being discarded by the Ministry of Culture.
What was the mission of ONDA when it was first established?
In the 1970s, besides “Maisons de la Culture” created in 1960s there were a variety of new performing arts venues all over France, initiated by the local governments or the private sector. However, this was not done as a nationwide coordinated effort and the activities they conducted and the works they presented varied greatly, and there was also a problem with circulation of “quality” works to show. On the one hand we needed to build a system that allows the creation and circulation of works which will be demanding in all the senses. At the same time, one of our missions at first was to bring the performing arts professionals and organizations together and create a network among them. So, the important thing was to support tours to venues in region while creating a network among the professionals in the field and make them get to know each other in order that they can work together.
Since you became director, what changes have there been in the mission?
First of all there has been a big change in the principles of our activities. By 1995, the idea of providing the works of “quality” in region had lost most of its meaning. And since ONDA doesn’t have a large budget, with our limited resources, we came to focus on contemporary creation (“création contemporaine”) (*3) , and it means concentrating our support for the spread of works by artists who are taking an artistic risk by adopting new forms of expression and producers who also take a financial risk by promoting their works. And, the Ministry of Culture immediately gave its approval for this new focus.

One of the pillars of ONDA’s activities is the networking we encourage through the various types of meeting we organize. We organize about 50 of these meetings a year and about 2,000 performing arts professionals participate in them each year. Central to these are what we call RIDA (Rencontres interrégionales de diffusion artistique / Interregional meetings for the diffusion of the arts), which we continue to hold in regions around the country since ONDA’s founding. This involves theaters throughout France, and in recent years we are also seeing an increasing number of foreign participants, especially in the meetings held in the border regions. With the partner theater that provides the venue for a meeting, we plan a 2-day agenda. Since I have become director, we also have meetings we call Rencontres thématiques (meetings with a specific theme) in addition to our RIDA meetings. These themed meetings are genre specific, like dance, circus, street performance and music. Music, circus and street performance are genres that were not included in the past. About 100 to 150 creators and producers participate in our dance meetings, for example, and they include key persons like Anita Mathieu and important organizations like the Lyon Dance Biennale. These 2-day meetings give participants a thorough overview of the latest creations of independent artists. We will not be talking about well-known French artists like Angelin Preljocaj or José Montalvo at these meetings. Generally speaking, festivals today tend to be polarized between featuring internationals stars like Romeo Castellucci and Heiner Goebbels or inviting emerging artists from abroad like Toshiki Okada, but there is not enough of the middle ground. Attending our meetings and getting new information is a good way to fill this gap.

We are also focusing on international exchanges. Even before I became director of ONDA, they were supporting the promotion of some works created abroad on an unofficial basis, but I made this one of the official pillars of our programs. We offer advice, financial support and funding for creating the necessary subtitles for staging foreign-language works. We also send our people in charge of this program to overseas festivals and arts markets. With these activities we played an important role in making artists like Castellucci, Pippo Delbono, tg STAN and Rodrigo Garcia popular in France.

At the same time we began to encourage the Ministry of Culture to take more interest in international affairs, using international exchange as a way to “export” the works of French artists, knowing that many people find the term export distasteful. International exchange is primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Institut francais network (*4) , so it is important for the Ministry of Culture to take more interest in the activities of the Institut francais network. And, as I have long been saying, there are activities that the Ministry of Culture could be engaging in better than anyone else as the ministry with overall responsibility for French artists. We have begun a program called “Focus” that organizes showcases for artists in theater, dance and youth theater, etc., and at the Avignon Festival we have a showcase program called “Salon d’artistes” that is organized specifically for foreign program directors. The meetings that I mentioned earlier are also being organized in foreign countries more frequently now and we are getting more foreign participants in our domestic meetings as well.
Could you tell us now in some detail about the current organization of ONDA?
ONDA is run on a budget of about four million euro that we receive annually from the Ministry of Culture. This represents only a budget of a medium sized “Sce`ne nationale” theatre. Considering that we cover all the theaters in France and all the genres of the performing arts and even extend our activities to the realm of international exchanges, you must say that we are an extremely efficient organization. The core of our ONDA staff is eight performing arts professionals, and then we have people in administrative and accounting position and secretaries that brings our employee in total to 17 people. The group of eight professionals sees a total of about 1,200 performances a year and makes about 700 appointments annually. We receive absolutely no funding from other ministries or bureaus than the Ministry of Culture and no contributions from private sector. The kind of grassroots work we do unfortunately offers little visibility to interest corporations. On the positive side, however, the Ministry of Culture puts complete trust in us. We never receive any directives from the ministry concerning the contents of our programs. We are given a completely freehand to act as we believe best. This is because all of the Ministers of Culture over the years have understood that it is more beneficial to allow ONDA to act freely.

ONDA isn’t a membership organization like IETM for instance. You might call ours a sort of “organized informality” that is formed by loose and flexible bonds. Of course we have our network that has grown large over the years and gathers an annual total of about 1,900 organizations to our meetings. However, it is not an exclusive group, there are always new organizations joining us. What’s more, not all the theaters come to all the meetings. Not even all the theaters that we give support to attend all the meetings, unfortunately!

We are performing arts professionals, more than experts. An expert is not necessarily a professional. The eight professionals that work with me are all performing arts professionals who come from careers working at dramatic centers (centres dramatiques nationaux) or choreographic centers (centres chorégraphiques nationaux). So, we all know the problems that our partner organizations face. We and our partner organizations think of each other as colleagues in the same profession. The meeting ONDA held at the Avignon Festival gathers about 400 people. Of the many meetings held at the Avignon Festival, none gathers as many participants as ours. It is because everyone thinks of ONDA as their own organization.
Have the governmental budget cuts affected your organization?
I would not say that we have suffered no effects at all, but compared to organizations like the national theaters that have been seriously affected, our programs have been relatively spared, I believe. However, there is definitely a shortage of funding for programs in the arts and culture. And you can’t do anything without funding, so there is particularly a legitimate need to make up for the losses in effective funding caused by the inflation of recent years. On the other hand, given today’s circumstances, I believe it is irresponsible to expect an increase of funding without making reforms to justify that.

There was a time when the French cultural policy model functioned well. Traditionally, France has been well known for its public support of the arts and culture, and I am not simply talking about the size of the budget. France has long been praised as an exception and as a model for other countries in this area of policy. However, today that reputation has become somewhat outdated, and I get the impression that the policy is no longer answering contemporary needs as well as it should. I believe it is important that the policy be reworked to create a system that focuses more on finding and stimulating new creativity more than just dealing with the problem of getting more funding.

For example, public theater institution such as France’s national dramatic and choreographic centers has been cut off from the independent companies. While it is true that the national choreographic centers are required to accept independent companies for residency programs for given periods under the program “Accueil studio,” the amount of money the companies receive during the residency is minimal and there is no promise that the theater will engage in a co-production with the company. Because that mission is not specified for many of the national choreography centers, they don’t necessarily believe that it is their responsibility to support the company by doing a co-production with them. Furthermore, while it is clear that the independent sector is where the most energetic and creative work is going on, those companies have no studios to work in and no money to finance their productions, so they are in the unstable situation where they have to search out theaters that will provide them with studio space and funding. Thus, although they are independent in name, they are still dependent on the system. Since it is these young independent companies that are the ones that really need support, it is necessary for policy makers to take a new approach that will ensure ongoing support for them. There are places in Europe like Flanders that provide a good example of supporting young artists, so France should be able to adopt some of their ideas.
In the area of international exchange, what is ONDA’s role as opposed to Institut francais, and how do the two organizations cooperate with each other?
We and the Institut francais are completely different types of organizations, in terms of scale, mentality and atmosphere. Institut francais covers a much larger realm of activities and is many times larger than us in number of employees and budget (52 million euro budget in 2011 for Institut francais). ONDA spends about 25% of our budget (four million euro) on international exchange programs, while Institut francais is completely dedicated to international programs and spends about 30% of its budget on programs related to the performing arts. They are also an organization dedicated to diplomacy, while we have no concern whatsoever for diplomatic relations. Rather, we approach international exchange from a “market” standpoint. Of course, when I say market, I don’t mean simply as an economic market. In short, we are performing arts professionals and I believe, quite honestly, that we have broader and more precise knowledge of France’s performing arts world, see far more works and have a stronger relationship of trust with the theaters.

The two organizations are not in opposition with each other. We have a relationship where we complement each other and cooperate with each other. However, I cannot deny that at times there is a lack of understanding between us, and sometimes friction occurs between us. For that reason, we are now preparing a written agreement that clearly states the ways for cooperation and sharing of the tasks between us. However, the two ministries concerned, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, have different purposes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a long history that goes back to Louis XIV in the 17th century and it is an organization concerned with maintaining and increasing France’s influence abroad. The Ministry of Culture does contribute a small part of the budget of Institut francais but in reality it is completely under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I believe that the era of “cultural diplomacy” is now virtually outmoded. Programs like the Year of France or the Year of Japan are forms of cultural diplomacy, but they now have nothing to do with cultural exchange. Just like the Ministry of Industry is better suited to the job of exporting biscuits than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I believe the Ministry of Culture is better suited for running cultural exchange programs in France than our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of course, since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has its existing network of diplomatic institutions around the world, I am fully aware that the things I am thinking will not be easily achieved.
You call one of the forms of support given by ONDA “financial guarantee.” How is this different from a grant or normal funding support?
First of all, it is given not to artists but to public theaters that apply for it on single project basis, so it is not a grant in the strict sense but financial support that serves to supplement the subsidies that the theater normally receives. It is intended specifically for small to mid-sized theaters that plan to put on a production that runs the financial risk, either because of the artistic content or for operational reasons. Its purpose is purely to encourage the spread of a work and not to provide subsidies for the theater itself. Subsidies for running the theater should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture or the local governments and it is not our problem. Once the performances of the work we have decided to support are finished, the theater submits a financial report to us. Based on the real income and expenses shown in the report for that given work, we pay for part of the losses incurred by the theater should the production costs run over the initial estimate or the ticket sales fall short of estimate. This helps provide a form of “financial guarantee.”

The fact that the work has the guarantee of artistic quality from ONDA and will receive support if the performances are in deficit makes it easier for theaters to include works with a financial risk in their program. It means that the theater can limit the deficit if the production is not successful in financial terms and it also makes it easier for the theater to justify the choice in programming it to the local authorities or parliaments. ONDA pays for one of these guarantees is in 2010 about 2,000 euro in average for 1173 productions. The reason this figure looks so limited is that the average includes youth theater productions that don’t cost much to put on, but in any case the amounts are not large. However, this support framework provides a definite incentive and it is an initiative that has proved very effective as a result.
What kinds of artists does ONDA support? Are they primarily young artists?
Regardless of whether they are young or not, our policy is to provide support for artists that we feel need support. For example, we have supported the works of Jöel Pommerat for many years. We felt he was an important artist and one who needed support, but now he has become well established and no longer needs our support. On the other hand, that fact that a work presents a financial risk is not enough to ensure that we will support it. If a theatre decided to invite Philippe Decouflé or Zingaro or Théâtre du Soleil to perform at their theater, they are not running a risk from the artistic standpoint in our eyes. Conversely, I believe that Francois Tanguy is an artist of equal stature and we have continued to provide support for his works, and until recently we have supported Claude Régy, who is now hailed as our living national treasure.
We hear that you have plans to send missions to Japan.
First of all we will be cooperating with Institut francais to take people from the private sector who promote French artists in the performing arts to TPAM in Yokohama in February of 2012. This is because we want them to see how an international arts market is organized and to see what is happening in the Japanese performing arts. This is an initiative we undertook first with CINARS in Montreal and it proved to be a very beneficial experience for them, so we wanted to do it again. After that, in the autumn of 2013 we plan to bring about 10 to 15 program directors from French theaters and festivals to Festival/Tokyo, although this is not certain yet because our budget is not fixed at this point.
We look forward to being able to welcome you to Japan. Thank you very much for this interview today.

*1 Ferme du Buisson
A comprehensive arts complex established in 1990 in the Marne-la-Vallée district about 30 km from Paris with a concentration primarily on the performing arts. Housed in a former factory of a chocolate maker operating from late in the 19th century, the facility includes an 800-seat theater and concert space, two movie theaters, seven halls and an arts center. The building was designated an important historical building in 1986.

*2 Lieux publics
An organization established in 1983 for providing street performance in public urban spaces. At the time of its establishment offices were located at Ferme du Buisson. In 1990, they moved to Marseilles and programs based on tie-ups with the Ministry of Culture and Communications were begun. Since 2001, the director is composer Pierre Sauvageot, who leads Harmonic Fields project Décor Sonore.

*3 création contemporaine
ONDA’s support for contemporary creation totaled 2.5 million euro in 2010, covering 749 performances by 580 companies and organizations.

*4 Institut francais
The organization launched in 2011 after a merger of Culturesfrance (the former AFAA) and the worldwide network of Institut francais to which Instituts franco-japonais in Japan belongs.

ONDA (Office national de diffusion artistique)
ONDA is the acronym for Office national de diffusion artistique. It is a not-for-profit organization established in 1975. Its headquarters being located in the 9th District of Paris, the organization is financed by France’s Ministry of Culture and Communication and is involved in nurturing performing arts culture and promoting international exchange programs. The Office’s president is Sylvie Hubac and the director is Fabien Jannelle.