On the spot

Olivier Cogne

Director, Musée Dauphinois, Grenoble

Direction of Culture and Heritage

Department of Isère

The Musée Dauphinois is home to a great exhibition on Grenoble 1968 Olympic Games, in which focuses in particular on the transformation of the local territories as a result of the Games. How did this theme, mostly related to sport – but not only – find its place and its legitimacy in a venue like the Musée Dauphinois, above all dedicated to mountain territories?

This subject appeared obvious as the event had a considerable impact on the Department of Isère. It caused the most important change in terms of urban planning that this Department underwent during the 20th century. Therefore, it was logical that this museum dedicated to history and regional heritage would devote an exhibition to the impact of the 1968 Winter Games. This project was born at the beginning of a meeting with the team of the COLJOG (Conservatoire Observatoire Laboratoire des Jeux Olympiques de Grenoble), an association very much involved locally in perpetuating the memory of this event. Jean Guibal, then director of the Museum, and I met Geo Perli, President of the COLJOG, in 2014, and the decision was made to initiate an exhibition. Four years were necessary for its preparation. It was also an opportunity for us to remember that the Musée Dauphinois was transferred to its current location at the occasion of the Games and with the Games’ means. It is now located at the former convent of Sainte-Marie d’en-Haut, on the heights of Grenoble. On February 3rd, 1968, on the eve of the sports fortnight, André Malraux, then French Minister of Culture, inaugurated the Museum.

What does this exhibition show us about the role of a city as a territory in organising an event as historic as an edition of the Games?

It first shows that the Isère territory was strongly mobilized from the beginning of the project. While the City of Grenoble applied to the International Olympic Committee through the voice of its mayor, Albert Michallon, it has always been able to count on a great involvement of the local services of the State and their first representative, the prefect of Isère. We were then standing before the decentralisation laws. The role of the state was of paramount importance in this context. The Grenoble Games were a real opportunity to increase French visibility and influence abroad. Locally, the event was a tremendous vehicle in developing a city that was experiencing a significant population growth, but was lagging far behind in terms of infrastructure.

How are the Games shaping the places for the long term?

In three years, on the eve of the Games, the city and its surrounding territory were deeply transformed. Entire areas were built (the Olympic village, Malherbe) in the southern part of Grenoble, hitherto composed of huge fields and an aerodrome (Jean-Mermoz) which disappeared in favour of an airport built on the commune of Saint -Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs (45 K from Grenoble). Many public facilities were created at the time thanks to the event: the City hall, the police station, the fire station, the train station, the southern hospital, etc. The list of all achievements related to the Games is long. Construction also included widening the roads, connecting Grenoble to the Olympic resorts, the expressways and a first portion of motorway towards Lyon. Only 10% of the 1500 million € invested went to sports equipment! Let us not forget that about 80% of this amount was paid by the State.

What iconic legacies do we remember from the 1968 Olympics? Either because they are visible and identified, or because they are completely integrated and melted within the city? Beyond tangible, “hard” inheritances integrated into the territory, what intangible legacy can we retain from the Grenoble Games?

Beyond the performances of the athletes in general and the Alpine skiing French team in particular with Jean-Claude Killy’s three gold medals, some sports facilities remain present and visible on the territory. The Ice Stadium, now named The Sports Hall, located in Park Paul Mistral, is the most emblematic building. Although it is no longer in use, the long ski-jump in Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte is still a sound footprint that can be seen from Grenoble in the Vercors Mountains. Moreover, the Games refer to a set of achievements that are not directly related to sport but that come from this even anywayst. What would Grenoble and its region be if they had not hosted the Games? I am also thinking of the works of art made on the eve of the event either as part of the “1% culture” (funds dedicated to cultural and artistic achievements in public buildings, editor’s note) and at the occasion of the International Sculpture Symposium. They remain visible in the public area of Grenoble. Most of the time, the inhabitants do not know about the origin of these sculptures and the context in which they were conceived.

How does the Musée Dauphinois exhibition fit into the activation and celebration of this Olympic legacy?

The exhibition offers the opportunity to discover or rediscover this legacy. And what a legacy for our territory! The museum was one among other institutions to highlight the significance of this event and its impacts. Many cultural and sports actors and of course the IOC itself contributed to the exhibition with testimonies, artefacts and documents. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne and other lenders put at our disposal major pieces to restore the atmosphere of the sport fortnight. Many of the tens of thousands of visitors who have already visited the exhibition have shown their emotions by somehow reliving what they experienced fifty years earlier. A significant portion of our audience is also made up of people born after the Games who often seem to discover the true significance of this event through the exhibition and the celebrations.

How did the exhibition “connect” with the different territories that marked the Games?

The Department of Isère, our home community, wished to give a genuine echo to this anniversary throughout its territory. The idea to propose a traveling version of the exhibition of the Musée Dauphinois germinated and a refitted urban bus circulated throughout the territory: the Olympic Museobus. Given the high number of requests, priority was given to the five mountain municipalities which co-hosted the Games – Autrans, Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, Villard-de-Lans, L’Alpe d’Huez and Chamrousse – as well as to high schools outside of the Grenoble agglomeration. From January 23 to April 22, 2018, more than 5,000 people were able to enjoy this exhibition.

The popular craze for the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Grenoble Games is undeniable. What do you think will be the legacy left by these celebrations themselves?

This anniversary generated great popularity among the population. Fifty years later, we are fortunate to have an important legacy linked to the Grenoble Games, which needs to be maintained and valued. These numerous elements, scattered on the territory, are not connected to each other most of the time. It might be interesting to conceive one or more routes or tours. However, it would probably be necessary to decide beforehand on the conservation and the use of certain facilities and venues which have suffered damage overtime. The flame of the Games is not extinguished and is just waiting to be re-ignited.

Grenoble, 1968, Les Jeux Olympiques qui ont changé l’Isère, Exhibition at the Musée Dauphinois, 6.02.2018 – 7.09.2019