Like similar institutions elsewhere, it is subordinate to the French embassy. But unlike all other bodies of its kind, the cultural centre in Stavanger has introduced a form of bilateral relationship. Its job is not only to make France and the French language better known in the city, but also to raise awareness of Stavanger and Norway among the French.
The centre was inaugurated with due ceremony in 1981. The audience in Kongsgaten 54 included Einar Førde, minister of education and church affairs, Stavanger mayor Arne Rettedal, French ambassador Pierre Dessaux and Pierre Chouzenoux, managing director of Elf Aquitaine Norge. Visiting professor Jacques Blanc at the Rogaland Regional College (now the University of Stavanger) became the centre’s leader, with Nora Smedvig as his assistant. It took less than a year from the time the centre was proposed until it stood ready.
After two years, the centre outgrew the premises in Kongsgaten and a third floor was taken over. It moved in 1989 to modern facilities in Løkkeveien, which include a conference room, classroom, media library and film room. The new building was financed by Elf (now Total), and the company also contributes to the centre’s annual running costs.
According to general manager Marc Ordaz, the centre has a unique collaboration with Total and could not survive without its support. This is provided under a contract renewed every three years. “Total’s backing reveals the French mentality,” says Ordaz. “It demonstrates how important culture is for France and the French.”
The centre had three permanent staff and 12 teachers under contract in 2007. Its three priority areas are cultural exchange, assistance for studies in France, and – most importantly – language courses in French. A large cultural programme is pursued, with events to promote French culture. Scholarships are awarded annually to students in the last year of further education who want to do an extra year of studying in France. The centre has contacts with five French universities in this programme. Language courses are provided at every level, from beginner to advanced conversation. Many Elf/Total employees and their families have had the pleasure of learning French at the centre.