After getting rid of Suez, which specializes in water management, then relieved of its subsidiary Endel, an expert in the maintenance of nuclear power plants, the Engie group, which wishes to refocus on renewable energies, has just sold its cultural jewel, Culturespaces, at IDI and Chevrillon. Two investment capital companies accustomed to acting in tandem, and which announce respective net assets of 600 million and 500 million euros.
Good news for Bruno Monnier, founder of Culturespaces, who needs cash to ensure his international expansion. Launched in 1990, the cultural operator first made a name for itself by managing cultural venues, on behalf, in particular, of the Institut de France. If it still operates the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris or the Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence, the SME made a much more profitable shift in 2012: “immersive exhibitions”. Halfway between cultural entertainment and artistic attraction, these operations culminated in the opening, in 2018, of the Atelier des Lumières in Paris.
Although decried by the art world, the site, which does not show any physical work, immediately found its audience: 1.3 million admissions in 2019 for the “Van Gogh” sound and light experience. The starry Night “. That’s a tad more than the record attendance at the Chtchoukine collection exhibition, a year earlier, at the Louis Vuitton Foundation. With a much lower investment, a digital “immersion” costing around 500,000 euros when an exhibition flirts at the very least with a million euros.
“Very great potential”
The mayonnaise has taken so well that Culturespaces has split, in 2020, in the former submarine base in Bordeaux, with the Bassins des Lumières. “We reach the younger generations”, welcomes Mr. Monnier, recalling that 30% of his visitors have never set foot in a museum. The company, which generated a profit of 4 million euros in 2019, has certainly suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused it to lose 14 million euros in 2020.
But it recovered in 2021. With a turnover of 48 million euros, it now says it is in balance. “We do not depend on international tourism, says Mr. Monnier. In Paris, 80% of our visitors come from the Paris region, and in Bordeaux, 90% are from the South-West. » The Covid-19 has not cut its momentum. The company will open three new immersive centers in 2022, in Amsterdam in April, Seoul the following month and New York in June. And two other centers are planned for 2023, in Hamburg and Brussels.
Each time, the investment amounts to around 10 million euros. The new shareholders of Culturespaces say they are ready. “We see great potential in digital art centers, especially as attendance has caught up with pre-Covid levels”, says Marco de Alfaro, partner in IDI. French museums, which viewed the phenomenon with loftiness, have also understood the potential. The Grand Palace had proposed in 2020 an immersive stroll through the streets of Pompeii, which attracted nearly 2,000 visitors per day.
In March, the public establishment does it again with an immersive one-on-one with Mona Lisa, at the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille, in partnership with the Louvre. For Jérôme Glicenstein, professor at the University of Paris-VIII, this vogue translates the cult of “all-experience”. “People are distracted, especially by the screen of their smartphone, says the academic, and the answer to this distraction is the spectacular…”