Paris museums shut down in protest over cost cuts

Wed Dec 2, 2009 2:33pm EST
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By Sophie Hardach

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Paris's top museums shut on Wednesday and the Mona Lisa kept her fans waiting as staff went on strike, protesting against cost cuts that they see as a threat to priceless art.

Museums such as the Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa at the heart of an art collection spanning millennia, help make France the world's top tourist destination. But staff say job cuts and lower subsidies are endangering this status.

"The fewer staff there are, the greater the risk that the museum opens in conditions that are unacceptable in terms of security, be it for the artworks, visitors or building," said Didier Alaime, spokesman of the CGT union's culture section.

The Louvre opened more than an hour late after workers met under its famous glass pyramid to discuss strike options. The Musee d'Orsay, home to Edouard Manet's "Olympia," some of Vincent Van Gogh's most striking landscapes and room after room of sun-dappled Impressionist paintings, was closed for the day.

Its employees will meet Thursday morning to decide on further action after talks with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand Wednesday.

The Rodin museum with its sculptures of entwined lovers and the futurist Center Pompidou, which has spearheaded the protest movement and has been closed since last week, were also shut.

France's government is restructuring its culture sector as part of broader budget cuts, arguing it is improving quality while controlling costs through audits and other initiatives.

Union workers are particularly angered by a government plan to fill only half the vacancies left by retired officials. They also complain that a growing emphasis on costs and ticket sales is overshadowing cultural worth as a measure of success.   Continued...

<p>Visitors to Paris' Pompidou Centre (Beaubourg) find the doors looked due to a strike by personnel, December 2, 2009. The signs read "On strike". REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>