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How France is leveraging a lottery to finance historic preservation
Amna Nawaz: The Palace of Versailles, the Chartres Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, France is home to a number of famous monuments and structures. But it also has a big and growing problem protecting and preserving its lesser-known sites.
Jeffrey Brown reports from France on an experiment in raising new funds for that purpose.
It's part of Canvas, our ongoing series on arts and culture.
Jeffrey Brown: This is where she worked?
Katherine Brault (through translator): Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: An old mansion in the suburbs of Paris, home to a once world-famous 19th century French artist named Rosa Bonheur, best known for her paintings of animals, and, says Katherine Brault, who bought the chateau two years ago, it remains largely as Bonheur left it.
Katherine Brault (through translator): All the objects here are Rosa Bonheur's belongings. They have never left the castle. It's not like in a museum, where objects are placed to show how it was before. Here, things are real. That's what is unique.
Jeffrey Brown: Rosa Bonheur was a pioneer, the first woman to receive the Grand Cross from the French Legion of Honor, a proto-feminist who chose how she would live and what she would do.
And, in her time, she was hugely successful. Her works are in the collection of places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Katherine Brault (through translator): This is the costume Buffalo Bill gives to Rosa Bonheur.
Jeffrey Brown: Buffalo Bill.
Katherine Brault: Buffalo Bill.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes. Yes.
Katherine Brault (through translator): He was a big fan of Rosa Bonheur.
Jeffrey Brown: But now her home is falling apart, and Brault wants to preserve it and the legacy of the artist.
Katherine Brault (through translator): We have to act very quickly. The problem is significant. If we wait a year or two, it's over. We won't be able to restore anymore.
Jeffrey Brown: It's just one small example of a phenomenon across France, small historical sites suffering decades, even centuries of neglect.
And with so many projects requiring so much to protect and restore them, the country has turned to a different model for raising money: a so-called heritage lottery, in which everyday citizens purchase tickets, at two price points running around $3 or $16, to try to win big.
Most of the money goes to the pot. Winners can take home more than 1.5 million in dollars. But a portion also goes to a different pot, aimed at restoring threatened heritage sites across the country.
Stephane Bern: Why do you visit France? It's not because we are very charming. It is not because we speak very good English. Look at me. And it's because we have a lot of treasures to visit.
Jeffrey Brown: The program is the brainchild of Stephane Bern, a popular television and radio personality, who modeled it on a similar program in Great Britain.
Bern wants us to see beyond France's most famous, well-cared for sites, to the thousands of smaller ones that receive little or no government funding.
Stephane Bern: Have you seen the state of the state of the patrimony in France?
Jeffrey Brown: Well, most of us know the great patrimony, right, the churches and...
Stephane Bern: Of course. We know the -- of course, the main patrimony is a perfect state, I mean, Chateau Versailles, Chambord.
Jeffrey Brown: The famous places.
Stephane Bern: It's like the tree that hides the forest, you know? You don't see the little patrimony that, if you go to any village, in each village, you can find a church that would need 1.5 million euros to be restored.
So nobody pays for that because it's little villages with 200 inhabitants, and they don't have the means to do it.
Jeffrey Brown: So, you bought the place, and then you need money to restore it.
Katherine Brault: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: And that's hard.
Katherine Brault: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: Katherine Brault bought the Bonheur Chateau from the family that had held it for decades. She opened a small restaurant and a gift shop, and rents the space out for weddings and other events.
There's even places for guests to stay the night. But she struggled to convince banks to finance the restoration and needed repairs, until last year's heritage lottery awarded her 500,000 euros, about $550,000, topped off with a visit by French President Macron himself to celebrate National Heritage Days.
Katherine Brault (through translator): For me, it is saving the project. It's not enough, but it has, of course, brought us press coverage, which is very important for us, and it's a bit of a dream.
It's a dream.
Antoine Furio (through translator): We're in the gunpowder storage unit. When the gunpowder was finished being made, it was stocked here in this big building, to be sent to the front line or to other gunpowder warehouses for the war.
Jeffrey Brown: A very different kind of site that's also benefited from the lottery is this former gunpowder factory, which sits in a large park in the Paris suburbs.
Built during the reign of Napoleon III, it was the first ever to use a steam engine.
Historian Antoine Furio:
Antoine Furio (through translator): This building we're in right now is pretty derelict. It's very run-down. But the remains are important for national history, for the history of gunpowder-making, and also for the history of weapons.
Jeffrey Brown: In 2018, this site won 200,000 euros, about $220,000, money used to shore up three structures here.
It's a sign, says Furio, that sites like these are starting to get the attention they deserve.
As a historian, is it hard for you to see sites like this that are abandoned or falling down?
Antoine Furio (through translator): Yes, of course it touches me. It's particularly upsetting because this kind of heritage that we're trying to highlight is still not very well known, and it's even difficult to understand.
But we know that there are solutions after all, and that the heritage lottery is a solution for restoring this unique heritage.
Jeffrey Brown: As it turns out, France has a long history with lotteries, dating back centuries, a way for kings to raise money without raising taxes.
Today, Stephane Bern says the old regime can work in new ways.
Stephane Bern: So, I say, OK, the king built monuments with lottery money. But now the lottery will restore the monuments that we have built with the lottery.
Jeffrey Brown: It's just a start, but the hope is that these lotto winnings, plus the attention they generate, will help restore not only these sites, but the important history they represent.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown outside Paris.