Journey into the Italy of culture in the service of politics

By December 9, the general director of Pompeii will be appointed. It would not be bad if this time politics would be at the service of culture. Not like the other times we talk about here.

In Italy it has become increasingly difficult to find the right people in the right places when it comes to public bodies or at least bodies chaired by publicly appointed people. For example, someone who understands agriculture to be in charge of agriculture, someone who understands health care to be in charge of health care, someone who understands transportation to be in charge of transportation, and so on for almost every sector of society, and culture is no exception, indeed: lately it seems that the trend is not for politics to serve culture, but for culture to serve politics.

A few days ago, Minister Massimo Bray wrote on Twitter that by December 9, so by Monday (if all goes well), we will know the name of the director general of the Great Pompeii project, a figure established with the recent introduction of the decree known as Valore Cultura.

On theHuffington Post, on Nov. 7, Michele Dantini said that the battle will be between the two candidates of Minister Massimo Bray, who demands a figure with expertise in cultural heritage for the role of director general (and has proposed the names of Gino Famiglietti, director general of cultural heritage for Molise, and Fabrizio Magani, homologue for Abruzzo: two people of sure and proven experience in the field) and the candidate proposed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, the former diplomat and economist Giuseppe Scognamiglio1.

In order to help the government of the broad entente in the decision that will be the basis for the appointment, if ever any of its representatives would like to read this article, we thought we would list a dozen cases in which culture in Italy has also stood out for the right people in the right place:

  • Sandro Bondi, Giancarlo Galan and Lorenzo Ornaghi, that is, the triptych of cultural heritage ministers who, in the words of Salvatore Settis, if they had happened to be in 15th-century Florence would have succeeded in covering up the Renaissance2. Two politicians (PDL) and the only non-technical one in a technical government: we will remember the first one, the vate of Fivizzano (a town in the province of Massa and Carrara that besides Bondi was also the birthplace of Denis Verdini, but the people of Fivizzano beg the rest of Italy not to take it out on the village because it is not their fault), for his enthusiastic love of poetry (albeit not reciprocated), and for giving us Mario Resca (about whom we will speak shortly); of the second, on the other hand, we will remember his program based on the "petrol culture of the country,"3 while of the third we will probably not remember anything, since with his immobility he even ended up making us regret (and it took great effort to achieve this!) his two predecessors.
  • Mario Resca, the character mentioned just above: the former CEO of McDonald’s Italy called by Bondi to hold the position of director general for the enhancement of cultural heritage at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage4, who, to the many criticisms that were directed at him, responded by candidly saying, "I admit that I am not an expert in the artistic field but I can bring the experience of organizing companies in difficulty"5. With the result that the budget of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, during the cheerful Bondi-Resca management (and with the contribution of successors), suffered cuts until 2013 that resulted in a 24 percent reduction of the already unexciting resources available to the ministry in 2008 (from 2,037,466,020 euros in 2008, to 1,546,779,172 in 2013). But peaking at 30 percent in the last year of the Bondi administration (2011), when the ministry’s budget amounted to 1,425,036,650 euros6. And with some nice marketing campaigns in between, since by his own admission one of Resca’s goals was “to do marketing”: so we ended up with Michelangelo’s David taken away by helicopters, with Raphael’s Veiled Veil transformed into a bearded energetic man, and with many other gems of this ilk7.
  • Marino Massimo De Caro, director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, friend of Marcello Dell’Utri, former advisor to Galan at the Ministry (a position confirmed to him by Ornaghi), lacks titles: despite this he was entrusted with one of the oldest and richest libraries in the country. But the serious problem is another, since, following reports by scholars such as Tomaso Montanari and Francesco Caglioti, investigations began that led to a pre-trial detention order for De Caro in October 2012, on the grounds that he allegedly abusively engaged in "the removal and misappropriation of volumes."8 In other words, simply put, according to the prosecutor’s office, the library director, instead of protecting the jewel he had been entrusted with, looted it. The whole thing ended on March 15, 2013 with De Caro being sentenced to seven years in prison and a perpetual ban from public office9.
  • Giovanna Melandri, who was appointed president of the Maxxi Foundation (i.e., the entity that manages the Maxxi, National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) by Lorenzo Ornaghi, again without the person appointed having any expertise in art. In order to quell the controversy, Melandri declared that she wanted to carry out the position for free10 (except that she later received a fee, and attracted new controversy11), but this did not prevent her from calling people close to her to the Maxxi, such as the lawyer Francesco Spano, who was appointed secretary general of the Foundation. Still amid controversy, of course12.
  • Nicola Sodano, the mayor of Mantua who not only brought the right wing back to the government of the city after 65 years of leftist administrations, but not content with his new chair obtained in 2010, thought well of also wanting to get (succeeding) the chair of president of the International Center for Art and Culture at Palazzo Te, just a few months away13. All this without any particular merit, except perhaps that of having succeeded, the year before, in getting Salvatore Settis to resign from the scientific committee: in a letter written by Settis to Sodano and published by the Gazzetta di Mantova, the scholar said that he had received a phone call from the then president of Palazzo Te, Enrico Voceri, during which the latter allegedly told Settis, "the mayor expects you to resign."14 Settis’s fault was allegedly that the mayor did not like him in his role15.
  • Sandro Arco, who was appointed director general of the Molise Cultura Foundation in 2012 despite appearing not to have the required degree for the type of role16.
  • Evelina Christillin, Giovanni Minoli, and Fabrizio Del Noce: united by all three being heads of important Piedmontese museum institutions (Fondazione Museo delle Antichità Egizie, Castello di Rivoli, and Consorzio Venaria Reale, respectively), having no particular expertise in the field of art history, and having important friends in the business world and in politics. Names that led Tomaso Montanari to ask himself questions: "does it make sense that in all these cases membership (political, social, corporate whatever) should prevail over competence? Wouldn’t it be better to have an art historian in Venaria, a contemporaryist in Rivoli, an Egyptologist in Turin? Is this how we sustain international competition? Is this our idea of culture? Is this the Italy we want to build?"17

Montanari’s actually, given the situation, appear to be entirely sensible questions. Let us hope that those who will have to decide on the appointment of the general director of Pompeii will also ask them, so that once in a while politics will once again be at the service of culture, and not vice versa.


1. Michele Dantini, What’s happening at Pompeii? Letta wants a former diplomat as director general, from Huffington Post, Nov. 7, 2013

2. Salvatore Settis, Fuksas, Benetton and the roofs of Rome the Italian art of private interests, from Repubblica, Feb. 23, 2013

3. See Federico Giannini, Giancarlo Galan president of the Culture Commission: if anyone feels like commenting..., from Windows on Art Blog, May 14, 2013

4. Paolo Conti, From McDonald’ s to museums. Lite over manager Resca, from Il Corriere della Sera, November 15, 2008

5. See press release How the culture system will change

6. Cf. Programmatic lines of action of the minister for cultural heritage and activities (Rome, May 23, 2013) available at this link

7. Cf. Federico Giannini, The Riace bronzes at the gas pump, from Windows on Art Blog, October 26, 2013

8. The sacking of the Girolamini library new raid, priest arrested, from Repubblica, October 3, 2012

9. Girolamini: De Caro sentenced to 7 years, from ANSA, March 15, 2013

10. Maxxi, Melandri: “I will work for free,” from Il Messaggero, Oct. 21, 2012

11. See Gian Antonio Stella, “I will work for free for the Maxxi” Melandri’s retreat, from Corriere della Sera, July 27, 2013

12. Pasquale Raffaele, Maxxi Melandri strikes again: loyalist Spano appointed secretary general, from Il Serale, January 2013

13. Mayor Sodano is the new president of Palazzo Te , from, March 15, 2011

14. Settis to mayor: “No pressure but I was expected to leave,” from Gazzetta di Mantova, May 11, 2010

15. Salvatore Settis leaves Mantua: “I am not liked by the new mayor,” from Corriere della Sera, May 9, 2010

16. See Culture Foundation, Valente: Arch degree sought, from Caffè Molise, Jan. 4, 2012

17. Tomaso Montanari, Not only Maxxi, the many cases to report, from Corriere della Sera, August 7, 2013

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