Federculture's Cancellato speaks: "Great potential but fragile sector, contracts will have to change"

The culture sector in Italy has great potential but is fragile: to improve it, we need to change workers' contracts and initiate defiscalization policies. We discuss these issues in an interview with Andrea Cancellato, president of Federculture.

On July 14, the Federculture 2022 report was presented in Rome, at the Ministry of Culture (we had talked about it here), in the presence of Federculture’s leadership, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, and Roma Capitale’s councillor for culture Miguel Gotor. A report that, as noted by several commentators, has the merit of not getting lost in rhetoric and of giving a clear picture, though without pessimism, of a sector in difficulty. And of proposing solutions. As Federculture, which is a federation of “companies, societies, and entities whose activities are directed toward promotion, production, and management in the field of culture, tourism, services, sports, and leisure,” explains, the 2022 report is devoted in particular to the issue of cultural work, “an issue that, partly as a result of the crisis following the Covid-19 pandemic, has emerged with increasing force and today, in particular, places the issue of the recognition of work in the culture sector at the center of the debate.” This is peculiar to recent reports but also to the institutional cultural debate. Therefore, we decided to interview Andrea Cancellato, president of Federculture with a long career in the sector, in particular on these issues. “The economic result can no longer be achieved at the expense of workers but as a result of the better organization of services,” he explains to us, among other things.

Andrea Cancellato. Foto di Gianluca Di Ioia
Andrea Cancellato. Photo by Gianluca Di Ioia

LB. Let’s start with a summary of the report, which recounts a major difficulty in the sector. What has happened since 2020?

AC. The data we collected in this year’s Report clearly show how the pandemic and the related closures and measures to curb activities and sociality that came with it have had very significant impacts. The tourism freeze on the one hand and the restrictions on social life for citizens on the other have led to a profound crisis for the cultural sector in all its spheres, from entertainment to museum and exhibition activities. The numbers are quite explicit, to name just a few: Istat in 2019-2021 records a drastic decrease in cultural participation: citizens who attended cinemas were 81% less, -85% for theater; in museums 72% less and -82% at concerts. Certainly in the current year we are seeing clear signs of an upturn with exhibitions, events, and concerts becoming crowded again-just think, for example, of the success of the Turin Book Fair or the big summer concerts that are selling out-and this bodes well for a rapid recovery. But the impact of these two years has been “overwhelming,” and while the government’s interventions to support the sector have been timely and effective-we must acknowledge in this regard the commitment of Parliament and Minister Dario Franceschini-in order to get back on track and return to growth, we believe further long-term, “structural” measures and concrete reforms are needed.

What are these proposals, in brief?

That is why we have submitted a series of proposals to the legislature and the government. These include the defiscalization of cultural consumption, in analogy with medical and pharmaceutical expenses; the lowering and equalization of VAT for cultural products; the reinstatement of the “2%” law on public works and infrastructure to encourage a great season of public cultural and artistic commissioning; and the refinancing and strengthening of the Culture Fund, both in its version in favor of public works in the cultural field and as a Guarantee Fund for investments and initiatives by private entities. On these issues, a positive interlocution with political decision makers has long been underway, more than one agenda voted in parliament has committed the chambers in this direction, but the government crisis and the early end of the legislature impose a very heavy setback to every process initiated, producing damage that is difficult to repair.

Compared to recent reports, the 2022 report devotes different space to employed, self-employed and precarious work: what is the reason for this choice?

Federculture is first and foremost an enterprise union. We represent the many companies and cultural organizations that apply our contract, so the issue of labor is central to our work. And even on cultural labor, the past two years have brought out new and pre-existing fragilities and critical issues in the current crisis. The Report’s data here, too, speak clearly: in the two pandemic years, cultural employment has declined by 6.7 percent, and in the most strictly cultural fields, the decline is as high as 11 percent. In addition, the question of the recognition of work in the cultural sector has emerged with increasing force and is at the center of the debate. We therefore felt that it was time to explore this issue in more depth, starting by outlining an updated picture of the various aspects of cultural work. The contributions we have collected in this volume, from so many authors engaged on this “front,” tell us from various points of view the problems, sometimes the dramas, the opportunities and the occasions that cultural work brings to the table for our country. It is not easy, even in Italy there are different levels within which cultural production and fruition takes place: those of the structures, public and private, guaranteed within the fence of public contributions (those that despite the pandemic have closed 2021 and, before, 2020 with budgets in profit), those of the many grassroots associations and structures that have in precariousness their natural life system, those of the private social and cultural sector that within the temper of domestic and international competition still manage to produce events and cultural projects of great social and economic impact and that do not always enjoy public funding.

Recently, and in the report, the association pointed to the urgency of applying the Federculture contract to all workers in the sector, which today happens in less than 30 percent of cases. Why have you developed the conviction that this is the way forward?

It was precisely the observation of what is moving in our sector and the collection of data and testimonies that showed us that today cultural work is no longer and not only merely creative and poetic, but strongly connected with a real professionalism, which produces “things” that have a “market,” which contributes to the good outcomes of projects and initiatives, which participates in the overall services of a country aware that culture is fundamental to the quality of life and communities, and which, as is the case in other areas of the economy, demands proper evaluation. We have before our eyes a sector with great potential but a fragile sector, in which there are high levels of professionalism and quality of work alongside endemic precariousness and fragmented protections and organizational arrangements. We believe that the contract is the main tool for agreeing with workers on the common path that, starting from different responsibilities, unites everyone toward the goal of wider and better enjoyment of culture in Italy. Alongside the contract, our commitment is to draw up and sign shortly a kind of Statute of Rights for Culture Workers, an instrument perhaps from the last century but useful to remind everyone, us first, of what and by whom cultural work is made.

Today different contracts, starting with the Multiservice, are applied at a great many state sites, starting with the Colosseum or Pompeii. How has the Ministry shown itself toward a reorganization in a positive sense of contracts?

The contractual inhomogeneity present in concessionary services in many sites, not only of the state, is one of the aspects that we have noted and that undeniably characterizes the sector. I believe that the contracts applied by the concessionary companies of cultural services will have to change and adapt to a new and more comprehensive instrument of union relations. The economic result can no longer be achieved at the expense of workers but rather as a result of the better organization of services. In this regard, too, experiences in the international field will be welcome to complete the journey toward the single contract for culture.

2023 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Ronchey Law, which introduced additional services for museums and libraries. The next Federculture report will be a kind of stocktaking of these 30 years of reform. What are your assessments of the impact so far of the law?

I don’t think there is anyone who wants to go back. It is clear to everyone that the so-called additional services are indispensable to complete a truly inclusive and comprehensive cultural proposal. Or do we want to go back to the days when you couldn’t drink coffee in a museum? Then, not everywhere there is the same quality, but overall this is an absolutely important reform, whose scope in terms of innovation in the management of cultural facilities is unquestionable. In any case, we will make a collegial assessment of the scope of this law and of possible proposals for improvement in the direction of extending the capacity for autonomous initiatives by museums and libraries.

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