Antonin Baudry was appointed Cultural Counselor for France in the United States (French Embassy) and Permanent Representative for French Universities in the United States in September 2010. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to promote the best of french culture, language and education across the United States. We were fortunate enough to work with Baudry and his team on branding French culture in America.

B: You decided almost immediately upon entering your position at the French Cultural Services in the US to look at how you brand and communicate French Culture. Why did you see this as a priority?
AB: Our role is to create and manage communities as diverse and different as possible. We do so through our projects and through our media. Today it is obvious that an intelligent and well designed website is the most effective tool to bring people together. It is the most accessible and tangible way to offer a bit of France to the American public, whatever the background, anywhere in the country.

B: Can you talk a bit about what you consider to be ‘culture’, and how the French Cultural Services are structured? And who is developing the content you are communicating?’
AB: The essence of culture is the utilitarian and the dream part of life: music, writing, the pleasure to prepare a great meal, the idea of transmitting dreams… The Cultural Services of the French Embassy are divided into seven different departments: books, audiovisual, visual and performing arts, education, secondary education, higher education, and non-governmental cooperation. We have cultural attachés spread all over the country in ten cities, which makes 70 combinations of action. They are the ones who create the content, in order to be as close and reactive as possible to contemporary events in both countries. They are the leaders of the Francophile communities in the US.

B: Are there aspects of French culture that you think are better understood? Are there other aspects that need more attention to be better understood?
AB: There is a clear divide between what’s in a narrative form (fiction, theater and films) on the one hand, and what’s in a non-narrative form (non fiction, music, dance, thinking) on the other hand. For all that is non-narrative, there are almost no boundaries left today. There is no specific or inherent difficulty to make French music known, or to make the works of a French painter known. By contrast, the context in which narrative art is created plays an enormous role. If you haven’t seen the same ads on TV when you were young or eaten the same food, you won’t tell stories the same way. This is why narrative art needs more support, real work for cultural diplomacy.

B: Just to keep you on your toes, what is the word that you like most in French? In English?
AB: I would say “lune” in French and “wonder” in English.

B: On the website, you requested that we develop and include games. Why do you feel these are effective in educating your audience on French culture?’
AB: We created games because they are interactive and fun. It’s a simple and efficient way to include the public in contemporary French culture, play with the clichés and show our American public that French culture is living and evolving. In fact, we had a lot of fun ourselves inventing them! It is especially important on the web sphere to create some life: you need movement on the Internet, you need your website to be alive, and this game spirit is exactly the contemporary French version.

B: How has your time been in New York? What do you love about living here? What frustrates you?
AB: I love living in New York. I love every minute here. I love the people, I love the buildings, I love the air between the buildings. I love the people inside the buildings. And also the people between the buildings. What frustrates me is that I don’t have full access to what’s happening under the buildings, in the basement of New York, but I will figure it out.

B: One of the things you introduced, that we in turn communicated, was the “Want to know more?” slogan and campaign. How did that come about?
AB: Our “Want to know more” campaign was in the same line as our games. Our goal was to bring a surprise element and some life to the way American people see French culture. There are so many avenues one can go with French culture; we wanted to bring nuances, to show all the aspects of our cultural traditions. For example, one of my favorite “Want to know more slogans” is “we love Proust but we also are comic book nerds”: it is especially true for me! Our French literary heritage is part of our current creation and is contemporary in its own right, whereas our contemporary creation is encoded in our literary heritage.

B: What are the objectives of branding and communicating French culture in America? How will you measure success?
AB: Our goal was to show who we are in a precise and clear manner and to give a truer image of French culture. The new friends of France we’ll make and the new communities we’ll get involved with will be our measure of success.

B: Oh, and what’s the story behind the cupid statue downstairs at your headquarters (the stunning Payne Whitney mansion at 972 Fifth Avenue)?
AB: A real mystery is hidden behind this statue. Payne Whitney was a millionaire and patron of arts who hired the famous architect Stanford White to design a mansion on Fifth Avenue for him in 1902. This mansion was remarkably conceived and considered as Stanford’s finest mature work. He had brought many treasures from Europe, including the statue of a young archer, naked and without arms. It was called the “cupid statue”, and maybe this statue was a little too real: White then fell in love with a married woman and was challenged in a duel by her husband. He died without revealing the origin of the statue and it was left a secret. For many years, the statue didn’t attract much attention, even when France bought the building in 1945. It was only about one hundred years later that it came to light, when a New York University professor visited the Embassy and argued it was nothing other than a Michelangelo. There is still no undeniable proof. Some experts disagree; others claim Michelangelo sculpted it when he was 15 or 16 and that it is an impressive accomplishment. Maybe one day the truth will surface. But one way or another, the Young Archer keeps testing the faith of art lovers.

To learn more about the activities of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, please click here.