Audrey Azoulay, France's 'passionate' arts defender to Unesco chief

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Audrey Azoulay, France's 'passionate' arts defender to Unesco chief
Audrey Azoulay will become director-general of Unesco in November. Photo: Thomas Samson

When Audrey Azoulay, then number two at France's National Cinema Centre, was named culture minister last year, she barely had a public profile - she didn't even have a Twitter account.


That was quickly rectified as the career civil servant, long used to working behind the scenes in the higher spheres of French administrations, got her first exposure to the bright lights of politics.

When the 45-year-old becomes the next director-general of the troubled UN cultural body Unesco in November, her profile will become global - in a job fraught with diplomatic, bureaucratic and financial challenges.

"In a time of crisis, we need more than ever to get involved (and) work to strengthen the organisation," Azoulay said after her election on Friday.

During her tenure of just over a year as culture minister under Socialist president Francois Hollande, Azoulay secured a budget increase for her ministry after years of deep cuts.

Her tenure was also marked by the passage of a "creation and heritage" law aimed at ensuring artistic freedom and protecting France's myriad historic sites, the culmination of years of efforts.

Defender of French films

Azoulay was born in Paris on August 4th, 1972, into a Moroccan Jewish family, originally from Essaouira, which gave pride of place to books and debate.

Her father is Andre Azoulay, a banker and adviser to the Morocco's King Mohammed VI - as he was to the king's father, Hassan II - and her mother is the writer Katia Brami.

She studied at Sciences-Po university in Paris and at the Lancaster University in Britain before graduating from France's ENA, an elite school that grooms France's future leaders.

During her studies she worked in banking, an experience she said she "hated".

She spent time at France's Court of Audits and several years in various media departments at the Culture Ministry, before joining the CNC, guardian of the French film industry, as financial director in 2006.

By 2011 she had become deputy director at the CNC, making her a key player in the structure which regulates the industry and doles out subsidies for French productions.

"It's the film industry that formed me the most professionally," said Azoulay, who has also been a staunch defender of the French industry's "cultural exception" against the Hollywood juggernaut.

"She is a brilliant and passionate woman, a friend of artists and creativity," CNC president Frederique Bredin said in 2014, when she was tapped to become Hollande's culture and communications adviser, on her way to the top post at the Culture Ministry.


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