Tense social climate in Besançon museums

A report from the France 3 Bourgogne Franche-Comté channel revealed a strike on April 12 in the Museums of Art and Time (MAT) in Besançon which employ 90 people. According to the SUD/FO inter-union, several alerts and testimonies had been brought to the attention of the general director of services “since November 2023” concerning the management of the director of museums appointed in April 2023, Laurence Madeline. The inter-union and the staff talk in particular about “suffering at work” And “of sick leave which has increased over the past year”.

Staff criticize the director for management methods “unsuitable” and decisions “authoritarian”. Laurence Madeline has a busy career punctuated by a few troubles: she was stationed at the Guimet Museum, the Orsay Museum, the Picasso Museum and the Museum of Art and History (MAH) in Geneva. She had to leave her position as head of the fine arts department at the MAH in 2017: the French-speaking Swiss press mentioned “burn-outs” among the staff and a series of “collective complaints” against her. Her time at the Musée d'Orsay where she was chief curator from 2007 to 2011 was also somewhat eventful.

Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon

Photo Jean-Louis Dousson

© City of Besançon

Laurence Madeline therefore arrived in Besançon preceded by a difficult reputation, which she did not hide according to the communications director of the City of Besançon Stéphan Raphaël. However, he points to a report against France 3, and specifies that “work on the situation of agent discomfort had already been underway for several weeks”. He recognizes that “the overload of work in museums is real but it does not date from the arrival of Laurence Madeline” : museums have notably developed mediation actions in recent years, which represents an additional workload. He points out that meetings between the municipality and the agents have already been held and that it emerges “a lack of recognition of the work in museums, and criticism of the slow reaction of the municipality”.

He announces a reduction in the programming of museums until 2026 by mutual agreement, in particular a potential exhibition of drawings by Courbet announced for fall 2024 “without consultation” according to SUD and FO. Stephan Raphaël specifies that the idea for the exhibition came from a discovery of drawings in archives, and that the project had been abandoned after discussion with the Museum Management Committee. There will therefore only be one major exhibition per year.

The agents and the two union sections also mention the diversion of museum resources for personal purposes by the director, accusations widely reported in the local press. Stephan Raphaël explains that there was an administrative investigation on this subject, and that in the report he submitted to the municipality he proposed “a call to order” by Laurence Madeline, without sanction: he believes that the affair has been blown out of proportion. Finally he announces that for “unblock communication between parties” an external firm will intervene from May 2 with the agreement of Laurence Madeline and the museum management committee. Stephan Raphaël says he understands that the agents wanted “publicize their action of April 12” but regrets that the affair has taken on such proportions.

The Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology and the Museum of Time recently changed their identity to become the Museums of Art and Time.

The Palais Granvelle in Besançon houses the Musée du Temps.  © Wikipedro, 2013, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Palais Granvelle in Besançon houses the Musée du Temps.

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