Ilaria Borletti Buitoni's disconcerting statements on MiBAC and volunteerism

Ilaria Borletti Buitoni's disconcerting statements about volunteer work in the Ministry of Culture

For days now, the controversy over the Night of Museums, the event to be held on Saturday, May 18, has been lingering: through a Facebook post (later removed), the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in fact had asked for the support of volunteer organizations to ensure the realization of the event, triggering the protest of professionals in the cultural heritage sector. I am not going to argue about how inappropriate it is to entrust volunteer staff with tasks for which specific skills are required that professionals obtain after years of study and experience (take for example the figure of the guide), and on the other hand it goes without saying that volunteering nevertheless covers an important function if employed in the right way (for example, in the organization of side events that are beyond the competence of professionals, or again if aimed at the enrichment of those who practice it to prepare them for a future -and safe!- profession in the field of cultural heritage).

I also find nonsensical the potential emergence of a “war” between professionals and volunteers: it should not be the volunteers who are the target of the professionals’ struggles, but politics, fully represented by Ms. Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, who just yesterday, on her website, brought out a post titled "Culture Volunteers,“ with disconcerting statements that leave one baffled. Says Ilaria Borletti Buitoni: ”I would just like to remind everyone that from 2000 to 2013, the percentage of public spending allocated to culture has dropped from 0.39% to 0.22% and the number of resources employed by the Ministry has decreased by about 3,000 people, due to political choices attributable to both center-right and center-left governments. [...] What is needed is a real and substantial reversal of the trend, leading to considering the activity of protecting and enhancing the national heritage as central to the country’s development. Once this context is changed being able to finally give job prospects to people who have invested in cultural training, such as archaeologists or art historians, will become not only possible but a priority."

Really disturbing details emerge from this post. First: if Borletti Buitoni says that in the future “finally giving a job prospect to people who have invested in a cultural education [...] will become not only possible but also a priority,” does that mean that it is now impossible for archaeologists and art historians to find work? And does it therefore mean that, in the absence of sacrosanct remuneration, indispensable professional figures such as archaeologists and art historians can be replaced by volunteers? Or even worse, that they can be dispensed with? If there were no adequately paid archaeologists and art historians, there would also be no artistic-cultural heritage to protect, enhance, disseminate ... or even to link to tourism. Without archaeologists and art historians, not only would there be a lack of culture and education, not only would society become more and more brutalized and there would be a greater spread of ignorance and incivility, but there would be less work for hoteliers, restaurateurs, travel agents, guides, escorts, and all those working in the tourism sector, with all that would follow.

Secondly: Ilaria Borletti Buitoni says that the issue will become a “priority” in the future, and this is as contradictory as can come out of the words of an institutional figure. It is nonsense! From the Treccani Vocabulary: priority and “The coming before another or others, because of importance, rank, dignity; possessing a fundamental value, or superior to another.” How can an issue become a priority? If the importance of the issue is recognized, it means that the issue is already a priority; there can be no “future priority.” Otherwise, it means that for Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, the issue for now is not important, and having solved other problems (which ones?) in the present, then we can think about recognizing the professionalism of archaeologists and art historians.

Third: Ilaria Borletti Buitoni says that “we need a real and substantial reversal of the trend, which leads to consider central the activity of protection and enhancement of the national heritage for the development of the country.” Recall that Ilaria Borletti Buitoni holds the position of undersecretary at MiBAC: reversing the trend is her precise task, her institutional duty, and she personally must propose ways and methods to reverse the trend. It is not possible to say that “once this context is changed being able to finally give a job prospect to people who have invested in a cultural education [...] will become not only possible but also a priority.” Who is it that should change this context? The task of those who lead a ministry is to assert decisively the importance of the problems in their field and to work to solve them. And above all, to consider the problems that plague culture truly a priority for the country’s development.

And to have some doubts about this firmness on the part of Ilaria Borletti Buitoni is more than legitimate. Not only because of the tone of the post. In an interview with the program Anteprima News on Radio Monte Carlo (from Jan. 10, 2013), the then self-suspended president of the FAI told Beppe Severgnini, who asked her questions, “I think culture is, of course after work, of course after the emergency of our accounts, of course after other emergencies, one of the great priorities of the country.” By linking to this link you can listen to the interview. Besides a semantic conflict (something that comes after cannot be called a priority) one can find in Ilaria Borletti Buitoni’s words more than one reason to be concerned. If an undersecretary, and therefore a figure who should be working steadfastly for her own cause, believes that culture should be placed “after other emergencies” (but I say that just the idea of making a priority ranking is something unconscionable), there is really no reason to be reassured. Not least because Ilaria Borletti Buitoni’s vision of culture contrasts sharply with Massimo Bray’s: how will two such distant personalities be able to coexist at the head of a ministry is a good question. One can only hope that the line of the minister will prevail, who, after declaring his intentions and showing his closeness to citizens and professionals in the sector, is now called upon to operate on the front line.

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