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Paris’s iconic Pompidou Centre has just turned 40

The Pompidou Center in Paris
The Pompidou Center in Paris Getty Images/Arnaud Chicurel

More than 100 million people have visited the venue designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers since its opening in 1977. Access to a special programme of events in all domains the weekend of 3 and 4 February 2017 is free for all.

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Success has also translated into the setting up of a Pompidou Centre in Metz, in eastern France in 2010, and in Malaga in Spain (a five-year venture). Opening projects include Brussels and Shanghai.

Beaubourg, as it is also known (in reference to the area of the French capital where it proudly stands), still retains its architectural quaintness - a steel and glass building with painted outside pipes and escalator.

It houses one of Europe’s best collection of modern and contemporary art – an amazing 120,000 though only a tenth are on show. But the Pompidou Centre has also put on some crowd-pullers – the latest, which ended last week, featuring Magritte attracted close to 600,000 visitors.

But the place is more than a museum. It was in the vanguard of cultural centres to cater to children and teenagers. It is also home to IRCAM, the music research centre launched by one of the leading figures in post-war classical music, composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

Hosting a weekend of free events to fete the 40 year-anniversary, the Pompidou Centre's director, Serge Lasvignes boasts its pioneering role in bringing art and young people together. However, he says it's most important to forge ahead, "It’s easy for institutions to become ritualistic or complacent. So I insist we have to stay on our toes. President Pompidou said art must keep on contesting. I say the Pompidou Centre must keep on contesting itself.”

It has two libraries and also provides venues for films to be screened and for contemporary dance and experimental theatre shows. Beaubourg’s deputy director Brigitte Léal tellingly describes the centre as "a hive".

The "hive" however now faces major challenges: one is financial - the shrinking of the subsidies it receives from the state (a drop of 10 million euros over eight years) and a mere 1.8 million euros to add to its collections at a time when contemporary and modern arts works fetch eye-watering prices.

The second cloud on the horizon is the need to find ways to attract new visitors and bring back existing culture aficionados, in the teeth of the digital array on offer that allows to view the country’s cultural heritage via mobile apps without ever setting foot in a museum, art gallery or chateau.

Greater public participation and interaction seem to be one of the answers.

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