Paris. The French heritage landscape is enriched by a new organization: the French branch of the World Monument Funds (WMF). To tell the truth, this is nothing new, there was already an office in France from 1989 to 2017; although the structure remained on hold after 2017, the projects undertaken (around thirty) continued to be supported, such as the restoration of the Saint-Joseph chapel at the Saint-Eustache church, in Paris, which has just been inaugurated.
The Paris branch of this American NGO created in 1965 has been entrusted to Mathilde Augé who, at only 33 years old, already has a unique career path. Normalian, holder of a master’s degree in art history and graduate of HEC, she left for the United States in 2017 to join the teams of the French Institute Alliance Française. Contrary to what its name suggests, this structure is independent of the French cultural network abroad and functions like an American foundation with trustees and private financing. Mathilde Augé developed a conference program there before managing all the cultural programming.
A business operation
It was this experience of the operating methods of American foundations that convinced the president of the WMF, Bénédicte de Montlaur, also French, to entrust her with the French office. Because the WMF acts like a company with strategic objectives, very professional operations and a board of directors (CA). But, unlike a company, it is the members of the board who finance the structure “wanting to give back to society what society has given them”, according to the American philanthropic canon. In addition, the NGO takes advantage of the notoriety of its turnover to raise funds for large-scale projects, which allows it to have a comfortable budget of around 20 million euros per year, to finance around forty of employees and long-term programs. In France, the CA welcomes personalities such as Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Maryvonne Pinault and Stéphane Bern.
The presence of the television host does not mean that the WMF is positioned in the same register as the Heritage Foundation which is very active in small heritage, notably through the Mission Stéphane Bern. “We tend to finance projects worth around 500,000 euros”, explains the director, this in an operator logic in the medium and long term. The WMF has been present on the Angkor archaeological site since 1991 and has contributed to restoring numerous buildings. Currently, he is participating in the construction of an interpretation center.
The WMF favors large-scale operations. It has just signed a partnership with UNESCO to inventory Jewish heritage throughout the world, with an initial budget of 1 million dollars (roughly the same value in euros). And it is thanks to a donation of 1.5 million dollars from the Florence Gould Foundation that the French branch will be relaunched. The first beneficiaries will be the King’s vegetable garden in Versailles where the WMF has been involved for a long time. Mathilde Augé is counting on her board of directors and the committee of experts she is setting up to choose future projects which will have to respond to the three challenges that the NGO wants to address in their interactions with heritage: climate change, tourism sustainability and social cohesion.