Claire Barbillon is an art historian specialising in French art. An expert in sculpture of the second half of the nineteenth century and historiography, she has been director of the École du Louvre since December 2017 and is the first woman to occupy this post.

The public health crisis that has affected the entire university community in France, in Europe and indeed across the world has, paradoxically, had some positive impact for the École du Louvre. We faced a somewhat stark confrontation with the issue of distance learning, the digital tools needed for this and, more far-reachingly, the advantages and risks associated with a digital campus in terms of the unique educational model offered by the School.

This model is based on seeing, on looking, on being in direct contact with artworks and objects. And this is reflected in the fact that all the tutorial classes take place in museums, in historic monuments and at the heart of collections; and this is and must remain the backbone of the teaching we offer in this School, which is truly one of a kind. In addition to this, the regular personal contact with museum and heritage professionals, who teach alongside their professional practice, also gives the École du Louvre its unique character.

However, the digital campus, constructed as a matter of urgency to mitigate the successive lockdowns, has opened up doors worth exploring in order to modernise an education anchored in a 140-year-old teaching tradition. It allows us not only to reach new audiences, on the periphery of those who frequent the lecture halls of the Louvre, but also to enrich attended courses with a range of visual and textual tools and documents. It allows us to develop new approaches to teaching, such as the ‘flipped’, student-centred classroom, and to diversify learning and assessment methods, for example by introducing exercises to revamp academic practices such as dissertations. The teams at the École du Louvre are working on a new project designed to modernise teaching, but this must also remain faithful to the fundamental and founding principles which underpin the irreducibility of the School’s teaching model, consubstantial with our museums and our heritage, and reconcile these principles with an openness to twenty-first century teaching methods.

At the École du Louvre, the year 2021 was marked by two ground-breaking developments. The first, at the start of the 2021 academic year, was the opening of a student residence — the Maison des élèves — designed to provide younger students, students from further afield and the financially disadvantaged with an outstanding living space in the heart of Paris, just fifteen minutes’ walk from the Louvre. This was followed, at the end of the year, by the work carried out inside the School, made possible by very generous sponsorship: this included the refurbishment of the cafeteria into a larger and more convivial space; the complete reconfiguration of the library, adding fifty per cent more reader posts and open access to all publications; and the creation of a research centre to develop and enhance the research conducted within the School. The year 2022 will see the introduction of a policy promoting young research and an international focus.

The School is in the process of creating two new degree models at post-master level to build on its training provision. The first will validate a first year of in-depth research, laying the foundation for a PhD project. Training will take place over the course of one academic year and will be aimed at students with year 2 Master’s level in history of art, archaeology or museology who wish to pursue a thesis at doctoral level at the École du Louvre or a PhD jointly with one of the School’s twenty-three partner universities. It will have three objectives. First, to improve student flexibility in the research environment, in particular in the world of museums and heritage, their mastering of sources and resources (archives, libraries, the documentation centres of museums and heritage institutions, etc). Next, to identify a relevant research subject and evaluate its appropriateness and feasibility in the three-year period of a doctorate and establish the main lines of approach (key issues, context, critical analysis). And finally to consolidate working methods, both individual and collective, via a range of seminars, workshops and regular meetings evaluated by ECTS credits.

The second is designed as a post-master’s degree in international museology. The development of museum studies in many countries and the frequent contributions of cultural sociologists are testing museum professionals whose working methods are evolving as quickly as the political and societal challenges facing the establishments in which they work. The École du Louvre, which has been teaching museology for nearly a century, plans to offer advanced students and young professionals from France and abroad an opportunity to benefit from a comparative approach and from the issues raised by very recent and very diverse experiences such as that of the Louvre Abu-Dhabi and the museum-memorial to the victims of terrorism in the west of Paris. Teaching will be entirely in English, in a mixed format of face-to-face and distance learning, profiting from the advances made in the School’s digital campus.

The École du Louvre is also pursuing a policy of cultural diffusion by offering ‘discovery’ courses and in-depth classes in the history of art in a variety of fields to an ever-larger audience. The major project for the start of the 2022 academic year will be an introductory course on the history of world architecture, developed in partnership with the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine museum. Face-to-face teaching will take place at our partner’s premises, at the Trocadéro and will also be made available digitally. The course is designed to raise awareness of the issues associated with architecture from its earliest days right up to the most recent times and throughout the world.

The School’s development of education beyond its walls and internationally necessitates a parallel growth in its own resources, making the support it receives from its patrons all the more vital. The Endowment Fund, created in the summer of 2020, is a key vector of this support and 2022 should see a significant growth in this valuable tool.



Why these major works at the École du Louvre?

Although the School enjoys exceptional premises — created in 1998 under the direction of Antoine Stinco as part of the Grand Louvre project and extended in 2017 with the redevelopment of the large Rohan amphitheatre (by Etienne Dufaÿ) — we were experiencing some new and pressing needs. Needs associated with the growth of the School itself, new developments in teaching, changes taking place in student practices, the roll-out of research and the ongoing development of digital technologies in the fields of teaching and library science.

It was this that prompted the ÉCOLE DU LOUVRE 2021-2022 project, with the redevelopment of the library and its associated services, the creation of a research centre and the refurbishment of the cafeteria.

A new library?

The École du Louvre library, housed on the lower level, was designed as a traditional study and research library at the end of the last century and needed to be reconfigured as a modern study and research hub at the heart of the School and its teaching. When they begin studying at the École du Louvre, everyone knows that they will be spending a lot of time in lecture halls and in the rooms of the museum. This toing and froing is in our very DNA. But the library is a place that plays a third vital role in the life of students at the School; it is more than a simple necessity, it is a place of intellectual independence, able to enrich a sensory approach to artworks via reading and research and enabling students to gain a deeper understanding of what they see, complementing their courses, their tutorials and their seminars.

Nowadays, a library is not only a place where you can read. It does continue to be that, but now it is so much more. In the international university world, libraries today must provide multi-media reference facilities, open access to books, dedicated digital research tools, facilities for group working or working alone … all of this in spaces that are ergonomic, aesthetic and environmentally responsible. This is the École du Louvre project.

An extended restructuring of the document areas and the redevelopment of the document and IT services have also been included in the programme of works, to enable them to develop into spaces fit for future purpose.

A research centre at the École du Louvre?

Research is inseparable from teaching. Every higher education establishment connects the two and it is my firm belief, as someone who has been a teacher-researcher for many years, that the best classes we ever teach are those that come from the research we conduct alongside them. My predecessor, Philippe Durey, was convinced that we needed to raise the profile of research within the School — our specific kind of research carried out in close proximity with the museum’s collections, the biography of objects, museology, and so on. He put together a research team and this has evolved, driving research projects, with numerous partners, and offering support to PhD students, through methodology workshops, topical seminars and individual monitoring. But today we are taking a new step forward with the creation of a genuine research centre, with its own offices and facilities for welcoming researchers from other countries, bringing an additional dynamic to project development at the School!

A cafeteria …

For enrolled students, ‘auditeurs’ (occasional students), teachers and researchers, a sense of community life depends on having an opportunity to meet in a more social environment, and there is no better place for this than a cafeteria! Here at the School, our café is always busy and greatly valued, but we felt that it could be improved. Naturally, size constraints mean that it will always be a café and nothing more, but the aim was to turn it into a true and unique social space where people can meet and talk, and which could have other alternative uses.

How is a project like this funded?

A project like this could never have happened without the support of a patron.

In this ambitious programme of works, the redevelopment of the library, of the document and IT services, and the creation of the research centre have been made possible thanks to Mr Majid Boustany, founder and president of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, who has provided us with the most substantial support ever received by a Ministry of Culture teaching establishment.

This active and engaged support has been significantly extended with a new gift from our patron of two sculptures by Antony Gormley — Witness VII and Witness VIII — installed in the very heart of the library; he has also donated a large easel which belonged to Francis Bacon and came from his Paris studio and is now located in the library lobby, and an original photograph by Jesse A. Fernandez (showing Francis Bacon in his studio at 7 Reece Mews, London, in 1977) on display at the entrance to the new research centre.