Historically, the market for graphic design and the visual identity of cultural institutions was mainly reserved for small and medium-sized structures that were highly qualified and creative in graphic design. The influence of the Louvre, the Center Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay, to name just a few museum institutions, stems not only from their museographic activity and their remarkable exhibitions, but also from their visual identity designed by internationally recognized creators.
These identities have become classics in the history of graphic design and are part of the collective memory in France and abroad. For each of these museums, the visual identity is the institution’s calling card. In the landscape of major international institutions, the visual identities of French institutions are among the most iconic, the most unique and the most remarkable.
Advertising agencies were virtually absent from this market until a few years ago. We can understand them, this area is the subject of tenders with very tight and, it must be said, very modest budgets. In addition, the competition was also highly competitive, both creatively and strategically. Rarely were the ad agencies that tried their luck at these tenders and even rarer were the ones that won.
The Skills Sponsorship Act, instituted by Jean-Jacques Aillagon, was supposed to ease the coffers of public institutions and allow them to save money. Orders placed under skills sponsorship agreements will therefore no longer feature in public procurement – a basic legal tool designed to keep competition open between players, the “best bidder” service provider and the most creative and most suitable to the needs within a given budget.
Skills sponsorship eliminates this obligation: assignments are awarded without control and without competition, both in terms of creativity and budget. This law thus allowed certain advertising agencies to enter this sector to the detriment of the historical players who had always been subject to competition rules. Without competition, the agencies can position themselves with mediocre solutions that, without costing the institution anything, would previously have had little chance of being acceptable. Incidentally, the savings of the institution are indirectly financed by the taxpayer thanks to the tax credit granted to the patron.
For their part, small and medium-sized graphic design structures have neither the will nor the cash advance to write off the investment to introduce this tax relief mechanism. The consequences are serious: independent graphic designers, small structures or groups of makers no longer have access to commissions from large cultural institutions. These receive proposals from a single player without competition. With what they save at the taxpayer’s expense, they usually lose in quality of representation. Financially, the prices offered by the agencies and to which they are exempt are not public and can be set freely in order to optimize the tax exemption. Fortunately, some cultural institutions have realized that the results obtained through the sponsorship of graphic design skills have not met their requirements and have returned to awarding contracts through tenders.
For its part, the Ministry of Culture has recognized the need to better regulate skills sponsorship. On August 28, 2020, it sent a note to public cultural institutions detailing certain skills sponsorship practices. The best practices listed in this note inform cultural institutions that this system should not prevent them from engaging freelance graphic designers for assignments for new visual identities. However, these recommendations are non-binding and therefore insufficient.
Faced with these multiple observations, we ask that the law be better framed and take into account without delay the specificities of this sector of the cultural economy. The crisis is serious and has a double effect: it deprives many individuals and structures of work and promotes an impoverishment of creative proposals.
Rik Bas Backer
Evelyn ter Bekke
Benoit Bonnemaison Fitte
Pierre di Sciullo
Alain Le Quernec
Toan Vu Huu