The couple and a young child were on a charity trip to the Musee d’Orsay, organized by the NGO “ATD-Fourth World”, an organization which engages with individuals and institutions to find solutions to eradicate extreme poverty. One of the aims of ATD is to create public awareness of extreme poverty. It should be also noted that ATD means Act for Dignity…
The family was accompanied by an ATD-Fourth World volunteer, and they were in a room with paintings of Van Gogh, when a security guard approached them and asked them to leave because ”other visitors had complained about their smell”.
The volunteer of the Act for Dignity charity replied that the family were all decent and properly dressed and refused to leave. They moved to another, less crowded room where they were surrounded by four security guards and escorted to the exit. The volunteer did not make a scene, as he did not want to “add to the family’s humiliation” as ATD stated.
The museum explained that they had asked the family to leave in order to protect them from being insulted by other visitors, but the ATD volunteer said not a single person had complained about them and refuted the idea that they were kicked out because of their smell.
Claire Hédon, vice president of ATD has already sent a letter to the Museum’s officials, and to the French Ministry of Culture.
This incident happens to coincide with a new policy launched by the Ministry of Culture, according to which the French museums should open their doors to the under-privileged people. Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti has often argued that culture is a weapon in the fight against inequality. Furthermore, a month ago, on December 30, 2012, Mrs. Filippetti visited the Orsay museum (see picture) with people beneficiaries of the charity organization ‘Les Restos du Coeur’ (Restaurants of the Heart). In the framework of an action organized by the Ministry of Culture, some 400 beneficiaries of French charity organisations Emmaüs, the Restos du Coeur, the French Red Cross and the Secours Populaire, were invited to visit some of Paris’ biggest exhibitions during this one-day event, entitled ‘Musees populaires, musees solidaires’ (popular museums, committed museums).
The French Culture minister has described the recent incident of the family ejected from the Parisian museum as “regrettable”. It proves however that the fight against inequality is not a matter of projects launched by ministries, but an overall problem of our society. If culture is the hard disc of politics, as Mrs. Filippetti so eloquently put it in the past, we should ask ourselves what culture is and to what extent it is linked to cultivation, in the meaning of social refinement. How do museum visits, even regular ones, affect our “social refinement”? Could it be, that in our Western world culture, museums and art are regarded as a privilege of the privileged ones, a territory where under-privileged are not allowed to be? Could it be that thousands of years of cultural development haven’t promoted human and ethical values, but only our aesthetic values?