This year, the Arles Festival will not take place. For the first time since its creation in 1970. The announcement is official as of Wednesday, April 29. For all photography enthusiasts, the Rencontres d’Arles has always been the must-see summer event. It is an opportunity to admire beautiful exhibitions, meet great photographers from around the world, showcase one’s own images, arrange professional meetings with partners, find new opportunities, and sign new contracts… A whole small world that meets in a relaxed setting and within a limited perimeter, which obviously goes against the French government announcements of April 28: “All the events that bring together more than 5000 participants and are as such the subject of a declaration at the prefecture and must be organized well in advance, cannot be held before September.” This 51st edition was also to be the last one organized under the direction of Sam Stourdzé who, after six years at the head of the Rencontres, was appointed last March as director of the Villa Medici in Rome.
“In view of the current situation, we were hoping that the Rencontres could be postponed. We are clearly disappointed, but health and safety are ourpriority, and this is undoubtedly the most prudent decision,” explained Julien Alamo, director of the New York branch of the Picto laboratory, one of the festival’s historical partners, which notably ensures the production of prints for the exhibitions.
In 2019, the Rencontres d’Arles welcomed 145,000 visitors. Attendance was up 70% over the last five years, driven by the growing interest in photography among professionals and amateurs alike. Some thirty-five exhibitions were scheduled between June 29 and September 20, 2020, with a production budget of 8 million euros and financial benefits for the city estimated at 30 million euros. Each year, the festival hires 200 people on subsidized contracts, thus reintegrating into the world of employment. It’s a less well-known aspect of the festival: being that social player who lowers unemployment by 5% each summer. One-third of the festival’s 8 million budget comes from public subsidies, but the return on investment is a lifeline for the profession. “The event is a meeting groundfor 18,500 professionals, an exhibition market where institutions come together to forge collaborative agreements, and a place of discovery and inspiration for galleries, publishers, advertising agencies, and fashion designers,” Sam Stourdzé noted in the newspaper Les Échos last year.
A week ago, the board of directors declared “it needed a few more days to examine various hypotheses in consultation with the city and the state,” in view of a deferred launch in late July in a modified format. All the partners of the festival, including BMW, Pictet, Kering, or BNP Paribas, are faced with major disruptions to their exhibitions and award ceremonies, both in terms of communication and from a financial standpoint. When a sponsor becomes a partner of the Rencontres d’Arles, 60% of their donation is made tax-exempt, which in turn encourages continued support.
Dupon-RC Group, which had just joined the list of major partners, was to present the photographer Françoise Huguier’s exhibition on fashion and Africa at the Palais de Lupé, a venue earmarked exclusively for this sponsor. “For Dupon, reclaiming their position as a major partner of the Rencontres d’Arles was a dream we had cherished for a long time,” explained Jean-François Camp, advisor for the company’s exhibitions. “The withdrawal of Olympus and our friendly relationship with Sam Stourdzé and Aurélie de Lanlay sealed the deal. Given the current economic situation, many sponsors may be facing difficulties down the road. In order to maintain this dynamic collaboration, I hope that venues will be made available in Paris this winter and that, in partnership with Les Rencontres, we will be able to relocate François Huguier’s exhibition.”
Picto, which in 2020 celebrates its 70th anniversary and was preparing a major exhibition on the history of the photographic laboratory from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day (within the official program), is also feeling the impact of the crisis. “The production was very far along, but now we must review this exhibition from a different angle,” said Julien Alamo. “Picto produces a large number of exhibitions in Arles every year. Most of these productions had not yet been launched, pending an official position of the Rencontres in the face of the pandemic. We now know that these exhibitions will not see the light of day. Ultimately, for both Picto Paris and Picto New York, Arles is a great way to get or get back in touch with our long-time collaborators, photographers, galleries, institutions, and other actors in photography worldwide.” Arles is the Parisian laboratory’s second major event to be cancelled this year; it was supposed to be a special one, coming on the heels of a beautiful exhibition slated for April and organized jointly with Magnum at the Taittinger Gallery in New York.
Voies Off is another highly anticipated event of the Rencontres d’Arles, especially during the busy professional opening week. It showcases 160 ephemeral galleries and a host of satellite events. It too has been officially called off. “We are saddened by the absence of this great international photography festival,” said Cécile Schall, founder of the Fotofever art fair, who, in partnership with Voies Off, had planned to announce the three winners of the Fotofever Prize on July 2 in the Cour de l’Archevêché, followed by a screening of the artists’ work. “We’ve been expecting this for some weeks now, but were hoping the event would be postponed or moved off-site… Given the uncertainty as to whether the Rencontres d’Arles would proceed or not, we had already decided to cancel our award ceremony. The announcement will be made on social networks, and, with our partner Dahinden, we are going to take the event to Paris, if possible.”
The board of directors of the Rencontres d’Arles, which met on Wednesday, has therefore approved the plan to cancel the Rencontres d’Arles 2020 in order to “preserve its future”, its members said. “We are already looking for alternatives to the serious consequences of this cancellation. In addition, we will best support artists and curators by paying them their exhibition rights. We are exploring all the solutions to support our teams who have always been committed with enthusiasm and determination. We also have a thought for the many Arles people who mobilize by helping to welcome the festival audience throughout the summer.”
By Jonas Cuénin