The Louvre Museum in Paris Goes Emirate

The Louvre has more visitors than any museum in the world and almost two times that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Why then has this prestigious institution allowed Abu Dhabi to use its name for the next 30 years?

In 2007, the Louvre in Paris licensed a 30-year lease of its name to Abu Dhabi. The museum, still in the process of being built, is called, appropriately, the “Louvre Abu Dhabi.” In exchange for naming rights, Abu Dhabi is giving the Louvre substantial funds toward a sustainable endowment. In essence, the Louvre needed money, a rich country provided it and, in turn, the museum gave away its name for three decades.

This sounds sticky. So many things could go wrong.

A computer-generated image of the Louvre Abu Dhabi from Wikipedia

Croisine Martin-Roland, a development associate from the Louvre Endowment Fund, shed some additional light on this apparent conundrum, recently. She spoke at the Deloitte Art and Finance conference held March 15, 2013 in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The meeting was in conjunction with TEFAF, the largest art fair in the world. I was among some 200-plus attendees at the gathering.

Martin-Roland said that in France, people don’t give to museums as readily as they do in the United States. This tradition has historically left their museums without endowments. This may be in part because there were no tax breaks for donors who do choose to give. It may also be because the government stepped up to the plate to provide state support in the past. Now, though, with French monetary resources flying out the door, museums have to fend for themselves.

In contrast, in the United States museum endowments are common. For example, the Frick Museum in New York City has one that pays for one-half of its operating expenses every year. This relieves it and other American museums in a similar situation from having to rely only on ticket sales to pay its bills, which can be problematical.

A lack of funds sent the Louvre shopping for donors and this is how the marriage between the Louvre and Abu Dhabi came about. Martin-Roland said that originally the Louvre received 120 million euros from Abu Dhabi with more to come. In a private conversation with her, I learned that she did not know the specifics of the contract between the Louvre and Abu Dhabi, but it must be air tight.

Anxiety-producing reality

A union between two different cultures will require strategy, finesse and forgiveness, something that even same-culture marriages cannot always achieve. One wonders what this ground-breaking contract will tell us 15, 20 or 30 years from now about museums and their potential for successful international associations.