Managers in museums: an idiocy, according to Settis. And how can you blame him?

The Renzian idea of managers in museums has been called 'nonsense' by Salvatore Settis. How can one blame him?

In English, the word manager basically corresponds to the Italian word dirigente. Indeed: it is its most immediate translation. Except that in the common meaning (or rather, in the meaning common to politics and journalism, which is then reflected in the meaning perceived by everyone), the “manager” is seen as a capable and charismatic administrator, always busy with phone calls, performance charts, appointments, meetings and whatnot. The “manager,” on the other hand, is an obscure paper-pusher, a bureaucrat who is not sure what he or she does all day, an almost Fantozzi-like figure. And then there is a huge difference: the “manager” would work in the private sector, the “executive” in the public sector.

Premier Matteo Renzi obviously prefers managers, and he would like to see them join the leadership of museum hubs. Renzi’s “innovative” recipe for cultural heritage came a few days ago: “amalgamate the superintendencies” (but perhaps he meant “coupling” the superintendencies, as Mo(n)stre pointed out) and start “a managerial management of museum poles.” Thank you Renzi, but we have already given. If even a very calm and distinguished person like Salvatore Settis called the idea of managers in museums idiotic (and we at Windows on Art agree with him wholeheartedly), there must be a reason. Perhaps it escapes the Prime Minister’s notice that we have had managers, running museums, before. The most memorable figure is surely that of Mario Resca, the former ad of McDonald’s Italy, whose management of Italy’s cultural heritage, in duet with then-Minister Bondi, led to progressive reductions in the budget of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, which in 2013 had resources cut by 24 percent from those of 2008. We will remember him for some promotional campaigns we could have done without, and for certain of his ideas (such as shipping Italian works of art to Dubai or the even more absurd one of turning Italy into a cultural Disneyland) that fortunately did not materialize. And concretely, what would he have done? In the same interview in which he manifested his Disney-esque intentions, Resca boasted, after a good two years from the beginning of his tenure as “general director for the enhancement of cultural heritage,” that he had “lengthened the opening hours of many museums,” had “started a transparent process for tenders for additional museum services,” and had “found an agreement to enhance the Accademia and Pinacoteca di Brera.” Although on Brera we then know how that turned out, so much so that Minister Ornaghi claimed in 2012 that the problem for Brera will be finding enlightened funders. Net of that, we can say that what has been done is a bit little for a great manager like Mario Resca, who, moreover, received a compensation of 160,000 euros gross per year. Bondi could have given anyone a tenth of that amount and the results would have been the same, given that transparent processes for tenders should be normal administration in a civilized country, and that to lengthen the opening hours “of many museums” one does not have to be a great manager. One only needs to know how to do two arithmetic calculations to see if there are sufficient funds. And, in case there are not, consistency is enough: it is not possible to wish for better treatment of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage by the government, and then to have a minister who passively accepts the continuous cutting of funds.

But do we want to talk about the MAXXI and theentourage of its president, Giovanna Melandri, composed of, among others, the young manager Francesco Spano, a member of the board of directors of some companies in Grosseto, who was appointed “general secretary” of the MAXXI in Rome (at 70,000 euros gross per year) “to look for sponsors and private funders,” and Beatrice Trussardi, who instead is on the board of directors of the well-known fashion company? What have been the results? A museum that has yet to find its identity, judging by what various art and architecture personalities think. And what about the tragic figure of the city manager of Pompeii instead? It would be enough just to pronounce the name “Pompeii,” which was already being called a catastrophe seventeen years ago (that is, not the day before yesterday: seventeen years ago!). Putting in the figure of a city manager (held, among others, by a retired air force general: let us realize) did not do much good, so much so that about ten years after its institution, this figure (which was introduced by the far-sighted Walter Veltroni) was abolished by the then minister Rutelli.

But even if the examples from our own house were not enough, one could look at what the museums that are always cited as examples elsewhere are doing when babbling about museum management: one will thus discover that the Louvre is headed by Jean-Luc Martinez (archaeologist), the Metropolitan Museum by Thomas Campbell (art historian), the British Museum by Neil MacGregor (another art historian), the National Gallery in London by Nicholas Penny (how strange, still an art historian).

The problems of the Italian museums are certainly not to be found in the absence of “managerial figures” on the executive staff, almost as if the current managers were incompetent. The main problem lies in the fact that our managers have to work in a situation of chronic lack of funds, evidently because politicians (and the prime minister is no exception) are all good with words: it has been repeated for years that the Ministry of Cultural Heritage should be considered a “first class” ministry, that we need to invest in culture, that culture is the “flywheel of development and the economy,” and so on, but the reality is that the ministry has suffered huge cuts for several years now, and today several museums are in trouble even if it is only a matter of changing a light bulb. Not to mention the “centralizing” policy that has tightened under the Resca administration: it seems that there are only those four to five important masterpieces in Italy, and the rest are not worth visiting. We talk almost exclusively about the Uffizi and Colosseum; the smaller realities have almost no voice, are not valued or adequately publicized.

Let’s start here: more funds to culture, and a policy of decentralization. Added perhaps to a campaign aimed at those who should experience the museum: citizens, rather than tourists. The ministry’s advertising campaigns have always been aimed, for the most part, at a tourist target. That may also be why it is so difficult to find Florentines at the Uffizi. Let’s start making people in the cities understand that museums are places to experience firsthand, and not cages for tourists. After all, that’s what happens in the countries that the loudmouths always take as examples. But who knows why, though, there is always a lot of talk, but very little is done.

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