Is Morocco Secretly Hijacking Nicolas Bourriaud’s Plans for an Art Academy Outpost?

It will be the first art school in Europe to open an international branch.

Nicolas Bourriaud still had several years before the end of his contract. Photo: via artension.um2d.com
Nicolas Bourriaud still had several years before the end of his contract.
Photo: via artension.um2d.com

The esteemed French institution École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) lost its director Nicolas Bourriaud in early July when the Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin fired him without warning.

Called to defend himself, Bourriaud listed his achievements for the academy, where he also mentioned plans to establish an outpost of the ENSBA in Rabat, Morocco. “The board of directors of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris—of which I was director—was scheduled to meet on July 2, 2015,” Bourriaud explained in an article for Spike Magazine, in which he outlined his view of the scandal surrounding his dismissal.

“There were major items on the agenda…. I was to announce the contacts I had made with the Moroccan Sovereign Fund with a view to setting up an annex of the school in Rabat—a venture that would make the Beaux-Arts de Paris the first art school in Europe to expand abroad.”

“There are no good schools in Morocco,” Bourriaud said in May. “The training is poor while Africa is an extraordinary pool of talent. The ENSBA had intended a branch in Doha in 2004-2005, but I do not think you can be useful in the Emirates. There is money out there but not yet talent. If there is a logical country to establish a school in, it’s Morocco.”

Bouregreg Valley in Rabat is set to be the future site of the ENSBA outpost

Bouregreg Valley in Rabat is set to be the future site of the ENSBA outpost
Photo: DR via Le Monde

However, the French paper Le Monde reports that no one in the Moroccan art circles has been involved in this plan, or has been approached in order to participate. “When a project is that secret,” says an unnamed Moroccan curator, “it is likely managed by the Palace.” According to Le Monde, the Moroccan monarchy—and not Nicolas Bourriaud—has initiated the project.

The paper reports that last March, representatives of Wessal Capital, a subsidiary of the Casablanca-based Al Ajial Investment Fund, approached the French art academy to discuss the possibilities of repeating the model of the ENSBA in Rabat as part of the cultural and urban development carried out in the Bouregreg valley.

Bourriaud has previously indicated that a forerunner to the school could open in Rabat in 2017, with the new structure for the academy to be completed in 2019.

French Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin. Photo: via le Monde

French Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin.
Photo: via le Monde

But will the project survive Bourriaud’s dismissal? The Wessal Capital Fund declined to comment, but the French Ministry of Culture seems confident about seeing it through. “The feedback we’ve received show that Moroccans are very enthusiastic about the project…which they plan to launch after clarifying mutual expectations regarding human resources and intellectual and financial requirements,” a spokesperson told Le Monde.

This essentially means that the discussion regarding the Moroccan outpost of the ENSBA will continue with Bourriaud’s successor. Some 15 applications for the post have been submitted to the Ministry thus far, with the deadline set for August 24. The new director will be announced this fall.


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