“Heritage is a popular cause, which brings people together”

He admits, the bar is high. But, with his experience within the Heritage Foundation – first as head of public affairs from 2019, then as secretary general from 2021 and right-hand woman of his predecessor, Célia Verot, since January 2023 –, he is the ideal candidate to take over. At the head of the institution since October 1, Alexandre Giuglaris aims to protect heritage in the broad sense, from the small churches of metropolitan villages to the mangroves of overseas territories.

What changes do you want to implement during your mandate?

I would like to continue to convince people that heritage is not only a cost, it is also a profitable investment: if France is the world’s leading tourist destination, it is not by chance! Then, I would like us to strengthen the identification and selection of projects by favoring those with a positive territorial impact on the economic, social, educational, environmental, tourist levels… Another of my priorities is to strengthen the quality of the counterparties to the commitment of our 950 volunteers, by offering them more training, visits, etc. But I also want to expand our network with more diverse profiles.

Your arrival at the head of the Heritage Foundation is concomitant with the establishment by the government of a local religious heritage protection program, of which your institution is one of the main actors. How do you envisage this mission?

After the attention given to the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, we now want to take care of the little “Notre-Dames” everywhere in our villages. We must not forget that in twenty-five years the Foundation has helped to safeguard more than 8,000 religious buildings, all religions combined: we therefore have in-depth knowledge of these subjects. The best way to preserve this heritage is for it to be used: through the Sesame Prize, we have rewarded initiatives allowing cultural and social activities to be reconciled – such as student accommodation, welcoming people without permanent residence, the organization of concerts or exhibitions – with religious activities. The national collection that we have launched also benefits from an exceptional system, directly inspired by what was done for Notre-Dame, through a 75% tax exemption for individuals up to 1,000 euros in donations.

This year, the Heritage Foundation has strengthened its commitment to the protection of natural heritage. Is this a priority file for you?

This is indeed a subject that I have been bringing to the Foundation for several years, at the request of the president, Guillaume Poitrinal. I am convinced that you cannot separate nature from culture. Faced with climate change, biodiversity and natural heritage are, of course, in danger. But today we realize that natural disasters also damage built heritage. We also saw it with storm Ciaran [les 1er et 2 novembre] : bell towers have collapsed, walls have cracked… On our scale, I want us to do more in this area, because we are an actor capable of uniting, and of mobilizing money to safeguard heritage nature and biodiversity.

However, some of your major patrons, like Axa or TotalEnergies, are not really known for their action in favor of the environment. Isn’t this incompatible with your ambitions?

Our position is very clear: it is an opportunity to see companies mobilizing in favor of built or natural heritage. The TotalEnergies Foundation finances projects to safeguard built heritage including a socio-professional integration component. Axa focuses its sponsorship on projects selected by the Heritage Loto, therefore also on built heritage. Today, we finance projects linked to natural heritage mainly by collecting donations from the general public and from the Foundation’s own funds. It is therefore up to us to find new patrons, companies and individuals, ready to mobilize on this subject. On these themes, our priority is first to appeal to the general public for small local projects that are not always very attractive but essential – such as the uprooting of invasive plants – which are struggling to raise funding.

Donation is, indeed, your preferred mode of action. But in this inflationary context, is it still possible to count on the generosity of the French?

Since 2017, donation collections have continued to increase. After the collection for Notre-Dame de Paris, we also felt this worry: after so much money collected for this monument, will there be any left for the others? We have observed that in reality the generosity of the French can still progress. What is certain is that we must approach donors and offer them great projects to finance to convince them that their action is useful. I think we must continue to try to convince new donors, because the number of projects received by the Foundation continues to grow.

In your opinion, why is heritage protection still so important in our time?

The needs remain the same! Heritage continues to deteriorate, it needs support. We have succeeded, thanks to this extraordinary ambassador Stéphane Bern, in demonstrating that heritage is a popular cause, which brings the French together: it is found everywhere in our country, it constitutes a link with our collective history, and we have all an attachment to a museum, a wash house, a church, a dovecote… We are storytellers: our responsibility is to pass on heritage, whether built, natural… or intangible.

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