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“Les Festivals internationaux de Lyon et de Rhône-Alpes” was the name of the entity formed by the 1985 merger of two non-profit bodies: one set up in 1979 to run the Hector Berlioz Festival; the other founded in 1984 to run the Dance Biennale, a new festival devised by Guy Darmet, Director of the recently created Maison de la Danse venue.
These festivals of dance and music were held in alternate years, until the Berlioz Festival ended in the late ‘80s. It was followed by a short-lived French Music Biennale, which gave way in 1991 to the brand-new Contemporary Art Biennale, the brainchild of Thierry Raspail, Director of the forthcoming Contemporary Art Museum. This event became a major national occasion and succeeded to the Paris Biennale, founded by André Malraux in 1959, and which had ended in 1985.

Since 1991, the body has operated to the current model: the Dance event in even-numbered years, and the Art event in odd-numbered years. In 2011, its name was changed to La Biennale de Lyon.

The body’s first chief executive, from its inception until 1999, was Henri Destezet, who oversaw the creation of the two events and their stabilisation. His successor, Sylvie Burgat, has since professionalised and strongly developed the whole enterprise.