Interview with Charles Personnaz – Director of the Institut National du Patrimoine

Interview with Charles Personnaz – Director of the Institut National du Patrimoine

Institut national du patrimoine
Charles Personnaz and CHARTER had a conversation about the cultural heritage field in France. Since 2019, he is the director of the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP) and thus an expert in issues relating to the training of cultural heritage Conservators and Conservator-restorers. He shares his thought on how to improve the trainings offered by INP and which cultural heritage skills are in highest demand in France.

We also took the opportunity to discuss the fire at Notre Dame in terms of main takeaways from the event and how the restoration is going. It’s going as fast as possible while also dealing with new discoveries and choosing the best solutions for a very complex operation.

Can you give an overview of the work carried out by the Institut National du Patrimoine?

The Institut national du patrimoine, which belongs to the French Ministry of Culture, was founded more than 30 years ago in order to train, what we in France call the “conservateurs du patrimoine”, the civil servants in charge of both the preservation of heritage in various specialities such as museums, archaeology, historical monuments, archives and of the management of cultural institutions.

Practically, all the directors of the main museums, centres of archives, heritage administrations in France are coming from our school. Our students, who are already civil servants, have succeeded in passing a very difficult exam. We train them during eighteen months with the objective to add new professional skills to their academic knowledge.

The Institut national du patrimoine (INP) is also training conservators-restorers over five years in one of seven specialities. The training is at the crossroad of sciences, manual skills and history of art. It stresses in-field experiences. From the beginning, students can practice on real objects lent by public collections. A progressive practice is proposed by their teachers, who are professionals, and the items from collections are stored at INP under the supervision of a professional registrar.

Continuing training is also a key mission in our development. Our sessions are open to every heritage professional. We offer around one hundred sessions a year, to more than 1 400 people in 2021. We try continually to renew our program and to deal with all the subjects that make heritage care today, from the most technical ones to the most philosophical.

Through these 3 types of opportunities, INP is a central place in allowing heritage professionals to better know each other and to learn how to collaborate together.

Another mission is to develop international cooperation. We are present in more than 25 countries, sending and welcoming students, professionals, teachers and experts. We try to create long-term cooperation and exchanges, especially in China, the Middle East and Caucasus, West Africa and Ethiopia.

Which are the main focus areas of the Institut National du Patrimoine right now?

Training is always a work in progress. We try to change our programs each year in order to improve the proposal and to take into account more accurately some challenging subjects. For the “conservateurs”, we have opened new classes about provenance research and the art market for example. For the conservator-restorers, we want to answer the needs of heritage. We are thinking about new sessions dedicated to mural paintings, stained glasses or archaeological objects.

We also pay attention to the professional integration of our students, especially the conservator-restorers. Most of them will work as independent professionals and we have to train them for that. We also work with the Ministry of Culture in order to improve their legal conditions of work.

In terms of skills in cultural heritage, which are the ones you see being highly demanded in France? Would you say the education curricula is responding to them?

Globally, I would answer yes. But we have to make efforts to create links between the different professions. In our institute, it is easy to conceive programs for “conservateurs” and conservator-restorers but we have to improve the way of working with architects.

Skills in cultural heritage are all highly demanded. Our responsibility is to prepare enough people to protect our heritage in the future. And in France the difficulty remains to attract students towards manual skills professions.

How is sustainability understood and implemented in French cultural heritage?

It is not a new subject because of course heritage policies are part of sustainability programs. Our goal is to make collections, monuments and skills last thanks to a reasonable use of materials, sciences, technologies and the intervention of adequate professionals.

At Institut National du Patrimoine, we have developed continuing training sessions on these subjects from the eco-conception of an exhibition to the use of new products for restoration. We also integrate these topics in initial training. What’s more, with the Ecole du Louvre, we have created a research seminary on sustainable development and heritage.

At a political level, one of our objectives is to make understand that investing into heritage and create sustainable economic conditions for heritage professionals is investing into sustainable development.

How is diversity and inclusion represented in cultural heritage trainings?

Our initial trainings are public and free. To prepare for the entrance examinations, our candidates can benefit from adapted tutoring with a specialized preparation class and grants. What’s more, we are making a real effort to present our trainings to new audiences. We went into a certification process and we received the AFNOR diversity label.

What can we expect from the French Presidency of the Council of Europe in relation to the cultural heritage field at European level?

The French presidency insisted on the fact that heritage was a major European subject. With various means, the Ministry of Culture has gathered a lot of European heritage professionals around subjects such as illicit traffic, heritage and crisis, sciences of heritage. It has been the occasion to strengthen the links with our European colleagues and to better know about some initiatives such as CHARTER.

INP has organised workshops in Portugal, Greece, Poland and Belgium in order to present our trainings, to discover the practices in other countries and to prepare deeper cooperation.

Could you let us know how the progress of Notre Dame’s restoration is going and which are the main takeaways from this event for you?

Notre Dame’s restoration is going as fast as possible but without ignoring the time necessary for dealing with new discoveries or for choosing the best solutions for this most complex operation.

At this stage, I would insist on two major takeaways. One is that our “conservateurs du patrimoine” have to be trained to be heard by political decision makers. Expertise on monuments has to be translated in such a way that nobody could ignore that investments are necessary. The other is that we have to encourage the cooperation between the different heritage professions.

After the fire at Notre Dame, have you noticed shifts in policy recognising professions and training to respond to unpredicted events like this?

Certainly. First, it has emphasised the importance of keeping skills at a high level of excellence. Secondly, it has shown that we needed to encourage vocations. The creation of the campus in Versailles dedicated to the presentation of heritage professions to the youth is good news. And we have continued the organisation of many training sessions about safeguarding plans. Our students are all trained for that.

Which are the main points you would like to see CHARTER succeed on for the cultural heritage sector?

A lot of points! First would be to create at last a real European policy for heritage. Second to identify clearly the professional and economic sector of heritage. Third of course to develop the exchanges between the trainings.


Portrait of Charles Personnaz, director of Institut National du Patrimoine

Charles Personnaz 2019, ©mc Vigutto/INP

Charles Personnaz graduated from Sciences Po in 1999, and then completed a master’s degree in History at Paris IV – La Sorbonne, after which he joined ENA (the National School of Administration, Senghor promotion) graduating in 2004.

In 2005, he completed a Diplôme d’Etudes Avancées in History from Paris IV – La Sorbonne, with a thesis entitled: Greece and France, 1918-1928.

He has had a dual professional experience, alternating between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Culture assuming several advisory, analytical and administrative positions:

    • 2004-2009 Ministry of Defence, Memory, Heritage and Archives department, Head of the cultural and museography actions office.
    • 2009-2012: Ministry of Culture Secretary General of the Museum’s Directorate in France, then Deputy Director of Museum’s Policy at the Ministry of Culture, leading on: Heritage Management, supervision of National Museums; animation and control of the Territorial Network.
    • 2012-2014 Project Director, Delegation of Strategic Affairs.
    • 2014-2019: Cour des Comptes (French national audit office), Rapporteur outside the third chamber, responsible for the communication sector.
    • 2018: President of the Republic Special Envoy to the Middle East. Reporting on France’s action in the protection of Middle Eastern heritage and supporting the educational network.
    • Since April 2019, he has been appointed Director of the Institut National du Patrimoine.

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