The department of Hérault stops its free loan of equipment to cultural associations: “It’s a cold shower”

The department of Hérault stops its free loan of equipment to cultural associations: “It’s a cold shower”

Le dispositif Hérault Matériel Scénique, porté par le Département, va cesser dans quelques mois. ILLUSTRATION MIDI LIBRE

Le dispositif Hérault Matériel Scénique, porté par le Département, va cesser dans quelques mois. Considéré comme de la concurrence illégale, il est pourtant vital pour de nombreux festivals.

"It’s the cold shower. We don't yet know how we're going to get out of this story…" Shock and worry, these are the feelings that have gripped many cultural actors in the Thau basin in recent days , and well beyond. Since, on Tuesday April 2, the department of Hérault announced on its website and in a laconic press release the shutdown of the HMS system, for Hérault Stage Equipment. The service offers free provision of sound and light equipment, which many cultural structures, associations and festivals in Hérault have benefited from for several years. More than 400, according to the SAUVONSHMS Collective, which was hastily set up last weekend and which immediately put a petition online on the site.

The cultural world is mobilizing

Among the 600 signatories (this Tuesday, April 9), around ten companies and players from the Thau basin, from Sète to Gigean via Frontignan, Montbazin, Poussan or Vic-la-Gardiole. The HORIZ’Arts association, which organizes the Punk’In Fronti festival in the muscat-producing city, is one of them. "We are supported by the municipality, but this in no way covers the costs related to equipment rental. The loan from HMS is therefore crucial to the survival of our small festival. We are suffering this decision head-on, not having been warned in advance. We cannot resolve for next July's event to be the last…", explains Jessica Maupetit, the president.

This clearly jeopardizes a lot of festivals, in the short and medium term!

Same story with its neighbors in Scopi, specialized in supporting cultural projects and carrying since 2021 the Scopi Fun Fest, the festival ;street arts which will take over the Crique de l’Angle in Balaruc-le-Vieux in June. For the appointment, the help of  HMS – which will be ensured for the next edition (read below) – represents an average saving of around ten thousand euros per edition. "It’s a decisive support when we fight to keep culture accessible. This clearly raises the question of free , alarms Sophie Laurent, the director of Scopi. Especially since we have all finalized our budgets for the coming season. If we now have to resort to private service providers, that clearly puts a lot of festivals at risk, in the short and medium term!"

How can we explain such a sudden decision, which took even certain elected officials of the departmental majority by surprise ? "We were questioned about our practices in the illegality of our equipment loans. […] Consequently, it was decided to stop the Hérault Material Scénique system in order to avoid any litigation", we can read on the site from the Department of Hérault. The implementation of this decision, initially with immediate effect, was subsequently postponed to October 1, 2024. Requested by Midi Libre, the community did not wish to dwell on the reasons for the stop, contenting itself with specifying that under the terms of the stoppage; article L 2222-7 of the General Code of Property of Public Entities, "provision or rental operations cannot be carried out either free of charge, nor at a price lower than the rental value".

A form of unfair competition?

According to our information, this unfair competition was recently pointed out by private companies in the stage equipment rental sector, which would have forced the Hérault department to make a very rapid decision. A letter signed by President Kléber & Mesquida was to be sent to beneficiaries to inform them of the legal issue, and an internal meeting is planned in the coming weeks to try to find a solution. "No one is satisfied with the end of this important service, but the law must be respected, especially when you are an institution", slips a departmental elected official. Others have already taken a public position, like the departmental councilor of the canton of Sète Gabriel Blasco. On social networks, the elected official quickly expressed his disagreement, asking "that this subject be debated collectively and that we think together about how to maintain this system crucial".

“Let’s sit around the table and talk”

Sandrine Mini, regional delegate of the National Union of Artistic and Cultural Enterprises (Syndeac) and director of the Molière theater in Sète.

Do you share the astonishment of cultural actors, after this decision ?

The union shares their astonishment and their concerns. Especially since this decision, sudden and without any consultation, comes in a very complicated context for the world of Culture. This is an additional blow which condemns the most fragile actors to disappearance. But Culture is a very intertwined ecosystem. If small structures disappear, larger ones will automatically be impacted. At the end of the chain it is always the artists and the public who toast…

Is the problem more global ?

The devices to aid artistic creation jump one after the other. We can understand the budgetary constraints, but the direction taken by our institutions escapes us. We unravel a cultural network. However, which comes into contact with all audiences ? Which occurs in priority neighborhoods ? Rural areas ? Popular education is in danger…

In the case of HMS, what do you expect from the Department?

The return of dialogue and consultation, urgently. We are not talking about subsidies, but about equipment that exists. If there is a legal problem, let's sit around the table and talk. For 20 years, we, the cultural actors, have become specialists in finding solutions when the room for maneuver is limited!

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