New outpost of the Louvre museum built on the site of a disused coal mine

The new museum is a symbol of the regeneration of a depressed post-industrial town in north-east France. The last couple of decades have seen a spate of the world’s major art galleries opening satellite branches. These include the opening of a Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a Pompidou Centre in Metz and a Tate Gallery in Liverpool.

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The Louvre in Paris, one of the world’s largest and most visited art galleries, had previously opened a satellite in Abu Dhabi but its new venture in the former coal-mining town of Lens, which opened in December 2012, is quite a different sort of project with ambitious social, educational and economic goals.

While most of the satellite branches of famous art galleries have been sited in large cities, the Lens-Louvre museum was built in a town with a population of just 35 000 people. But, while the town itself might be relatively small, its proximity to the regional capital of Lille, as well as good rail and road connections to Paris, the UK and Belgium, should, it is hoped, ensure a steady stream of visitors. However, the museum’s stated focus is to serve the people who live in the region and an extensive education programme has been set up to help stimulate local interest in schools and local communities.

The resolutely contemporary glass and polished aluminium structure of the new museum, designed by the Japanese architecture firm Sanaa, provides dramatic views of enormous slag heaps – the largest in Europe – at nearby Loos-en-Gohelle. The museum’s grounds are an integral part of the project and include a formal garden as well as walks through and around parkland and a forest grove.

Modernising the region’s image

Another unusual feature of the museum is to be found in the layout of the artworks. Eschewing the encyclopaedic or chronological approach of most art galleries – where exhibits are typically arranged by theme, style and era – the art on show at the Louvre-Lens will be showcased together in one long gallery with masterpieces of Renaissance oil painting being juxtaposed with Ancient Egyptian carvings and Roman mosaics. The museum’s aim is not to have a permanent collection but to have its contents renewed every five years. Elsewhere, the temporary exhibition space of the Louvre-Lens is larger than that of the original Louvre in Paris.

The museum has already created 120 permanent jobs and it aims at attracting around 700 000 visitors a year. As well as providing a boost to tourism, it is hoped that the new museum helps develop the region’s cultural life, modernise the region’s image and helps attract further infrastructure investment. The region currently has double the national unemployment rate and it is hoped that further investment could lead to the creation of more jobs.

Total and EU funding

The design and building of the Louvre-Lens museum had a total budget of EUR 172 200 000 , of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributed EUR 35 000 000 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period. The project is funded through the priority “Territorial aspect” of the Operational Programme ”Nord-Pas-de-Calais'”.

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