Louvre satellite seeks to revive bleak French region

Mon Dec 3, 2012 3:49pm EST
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By Vicky Buffery and Clotaire Achi

LENS, France (Reuters) - The Paris Louvre opens a regional offshoot this week in a former mining town in northern France, hoping to revitalize a region better known for football fans and takeaway chip stands than the noble pursuit of art.

The 150 million euro ($195 million) art centre in Lens, to be inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, will house a rotating collection of 205 works from the Louvre museum in Paris, along with temporary exhibitions.

Its design, four sprawling rectangles in glass and polished metal structures, bears some resemblance to the modern glass pyramid in Paris. But all similarity ends there.

While the Louvre looks out onto the elegant Tuileries Gardens, with manicured lawns and flowerbeds, Lens offers views onto the Bollaert stadium, home to local football club RC Lens.

In the other direction, slag heaps crowd the skyline.

The building itself sits on a disused coalmine, homage to a once-thriving coal industry, and a reminder of an industrial decline that has sapped the region of jobs.

The last mine in Lens, situated in the tip of France near the port of Calais, closed in 1986, according to the town's website. Today, the unemployment rate stands at 16 percent, well above the national average of 10.2 percent.

Tellingly, the town's 36,000 residents last hit the headlines in 2008, when their football club played Paris Saint-Germain. Fans in Paris unfurled a giant banner in the stadium, branding the Lensois "Unemployed, Paedophiles and Inbreds."   Continued...

General view of the Louvre Museum with its glass Pyramid entrance designed by Chinese-born U.S. Architect I.M. Pei, in Paris, August 6, 2007. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau