France Comes to Manhattan

Via Micro-Folie, a digital platform for the arts on view from Jan. 14

03 Jan 2020 | 03:23

Do you miss the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay? Can’t get to Paris or don’t want to risk the manifestations (strikes)? Well, the great Paris cultural institutions can be yours in New York beginning January 14. That’s when the French Institute/Alliance Française (FIAF) is inaugurating Micro-Folie at its midtown Manhattan home.

Micro-Folie is a high definition, digital platform for the arts. Using a computer tablet, you can experience the fountains at the Palais de Versailles or a ballet or opera at the Palais Garnier. Or you can analyze any one of several thousand masterpieces from numerous museums and institutions. FIAF’s president, Marie-Monique Steckel, is aware that most museums and cultural institutions offer some digital access. She said those others are “too complicated.”

In FIAF’s Gallery, a large screen will display a series of artworks, historic monuments and performances in high definition. There will be tablets and headphones so visitors can follow the presentations closely. Or they can browse on their own, following the handy instructions or talking to a trained guide. For now, there are no virtual tours but, according to Artistic Director Courtney Geraghty, they may be added in the future.

Geraghty said that FIAF will be reaching out to schools. “Last year, our young audience program brought in 2,300 students throughout the tri-state area,” she said. In a phone call, Geraghty emphasized that FIAF’s young audience outreach is free for all New York public schools, with minimal charges for private schools. At a sneak preview, youngsters easily took to the tablets, while the adults with them seemed equally intrigued.

What's In a Name

The name “Micro-Folie” doesn’t mean what you may think it does. It translates literally to something like “tiny insanity.” But folie doesn’t mean madness in French. The naming of Micro-Folie is a nod to the Parc de la Villette, Paris’ multi-disciplinary arts and culture venue.

The extravagant country houses built around Paris in the 18th century were called folies. In architecture, a folly is a decorative construction that is wildly overdone. The architect for La Villette created 26 folies scattered throughout the 137 acre park. They’re nothing like what you’d expect in a garden ornament. They are boisterous, fire-engine red metal structures that boldly contrast with the vast green lawns. Some ten million visitors show up every year to this huge playground, each folie devoted to a different cultural or leisure activity.

The name Micro-Folie seems somehow apt for the park director’s vision of a cultural digital platform for local development. In partnership with La Villette, the French Ministry of Culture intends to bring access to the arts that transcends geographic and economic inequalities. Already reaching communities throughout France, as well as cities in Belgium, Myanmar, Egypt, Peru, and Turkey, the program is designed to be in some 1,000 locations over the world within three years. The recorded guides are available in several languages, depending on location. In New York, they will be in English and French.

Steckel sees Micro-Folie as a democratization of culture. “At the smaller places throughout France and elsewhere, this reaches people who don’t have access to museums and other cultural institutions,” she said. Steckel said she sees Micro-Folie as another way to teach French.

FIAF is planning a six month test. “If people like it, we’ll continue,” she said. Her goals are to outreach to youngsters who don’t have access to the arts, and to reach a larger population of adults, beyond those who go to museums or performances.

Steckel said Micro-Folie experiences are digital excursions or trips. She said she hopes to “titillate” visitors so they’ll want to dive deeper into the wonder of culture and the arts on their own.