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The Louvre Lens
In 2003, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the then Minister for Culture and Communication, and Henri Loyrette, president of the Musée du Louvre, announced plans to create a regional branch of the Louvre. The president of the Nord-Pas de Calais region Daniel Percheron rapidly voiced his great interest in the project and undertook to provide solid support.
Following the announcement, five towns and cities in the region, along with Amiens, capital of the neighbouring Picardy region, put together proposals to host the new museum. Following visits to the six proposed sites, particularly by the then Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the city of Lens was put forward to Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the then Prime Minister, who announced Lens as the winner on a visit to the city on November 29, 2004.
Lens offered the best site
The city of Lens offered a site of over 20 hectares in a former mine yard, closed in 1960. The site was ideal for the construction of a contemporary museum building with no constraints on design, as the Musée du Louvre wished. Its proximity to the train station, the absence of geotechnical issues, the esthetic quality of the landscape, and its location in the heart of a dense urban agglomeration were all key qualities that meant the site received an excellent technical report.
An ideal location
Lens was also the perfect site from a geographical point of view. It lies in an ideal position between Lille and Arras, the two regional capitals. The city is at the junction of the A26 freeway from Calais to Rheims, popular with British motorists, and the A1 freeway from Paris to Lille, popular with Belgian and Dutch motorists. Lens is just two hours by car from Paris, 1.5 hours from Brussels, 45 minutes from Calais, and 30 minutes from Lille. Nearly 13 million people live within two hours' drive from Lens.
The city is also on a TGV line, putting it just 1 hour 10 minutes from Paris by high-speed train. TGV links take travelers on to Lille, and from there to Brussels and London.
Local support proves decisive
The people of Lens lent wholehearted support to the campaign, led by the mayor Guy Delcourt and the president of the Lens-Liévin urban area Michel Vancaille.
A local support committee was created and local inhabitants were invited to come and add their signatures to the campaign at the city hall. All in all, over 8,000 local people signed the book of support! During a visit to Lens, the Culture Minister was impressed by the vigor of the local campaign to bring the Louvre to the city as a symbol of pride and cultural renewal.
A symbolic choice
The decision to build the new museum in the former mine yard for the 9 and 9 bis shafts is highly symbolic. It is a way for the French Nation to express its gratitude to this corner of France that has suffered much in the past, both from war and from intensive coal-mining, followed by the closing of the last pit in Lens in 1986. Today, economic and social conditions remain difficult in the region, with a higher-than-average unemployment rate of 15%.
Following the example of the Tate in Liverpool and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Louvre-Lens aims to play a part in local regeneration, helping to modernize the region's image.
A project for urban renewal
The local authorities have fully seized the project's potential and aim to make the Louvre-Lens a key to future economic development.
The planned Musée du Louvre-Lens has been awarded Metropolitan Project status within the metropolitan district of Lille, which groups 23 municipalities and partners representing a population of over 3.5 million inhabitants. Mission Bassin Minier, a planning agency specializing in former mining regions, has been charged with producing an urban planning study to ensure ease of accessibility to the new museum and its successful integration into the urban fabric. Lens city council is actively supporting the project, announcing in 2007 major plans to renovate the area around the train stations, following recent improvements to the boulevard Basly, the main thoroughfare through the city center.
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.