The useless superintendencies

A part of politics and journalism almost believes that superintendencies are useless. We express our opinion on this matter.

No, we have not gone out of our minds and do not think that superintendencies are useless, on the contrary: their importance is fundamental, and former minister Massimo Bray also reminded us of this just yesterday in an article published on his website, which very briefly traced the history of the institution of superintendency from Raphael onward to remind us that “we are guardians of a universal heritage that must constitute our pride and not become a burden,” and therefore the task of superintendencies is, precisely, to exercise the duties of protecting this vast heritage.

There is, however, a section of politics and journalism that thinks diametrically opposite. This is the dictum of the new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who has been conducting attacks on superintendencies since time immemorial: Italy is therefore “a land where superintendencies also and above all bind and protect crap,” “the superintendency system is nailed to a centralist and bureaucratic model of the state that might have been fine, perhaps, in the second half of the nineteenth century,”(Out! 2011), “superintendent is one of the ugliest words in the entire vocabulary of bureaucracy. It is one of those words that sounds gray. It crushes enthusiasm and imagination from the third syllable. Superintendent de che?”(Stil Novo, 2012), “We have culture in the hands of a nineteenth-century structure, it cannot be based on the superintendency system” (a phrase uttered in the aftermath of Renzi’s victory in the PD primaries on Dec. 8, 2013), and so on.

Lending a helping hand to Renzi’s theories was Giovanni Valentini, who, despite not being an expert in the field, wrote an article (moreover published on the front page) in La Repubblica last Sunday, titled All the no’s of the superintendencies that hinder the treasures ofItaly, which aroused the indignation of almost the entire world of cultural heritage, so much so that a series of associations and intellectuals, led by the Associazione Bianchi Bandinelli, thought to respond in a statement signed by, among others, Vezio De Lucia, Vittorio Emiliani, Alberto Asor Rosa, Salvatore Settis, Tomaso Montanari, Marco Tullio Giordana, Andrea Emiliani and many others, which brands the article as an “anthology of the most worn-out, uninformed and uninforming stereotypes against the organs of protection.”

Leaving aside the now overused quotes to Paolo Sorrentino ’s Grande Bellezza, which, outside of its context, have already become largely tiresome, and glossing over the fact that the author of the article repeatedly quotes Matteo Renzi to prove his theories, a disturbing underlying idea emerges that, unfortunately, is finding more and more widespread use: that according to which, to quote the article, “the superintendencies become factors of preservation and protectionism in the strict sense: that is, of braking and hindering development, the growth of tourism and the economy.” And Valentini also brings examples, such as the clash over the lease of Ponte Vecchio to Ferrari and the clash over conducting surveys of Giorgio Vasari ’s frescoes in Palazzo Vecchio. And, by the way, in both cases, the former mayor of Florence succeeded in his intentions: that of taking Ponte Vecchio away from the citizenry to give it to the Ferrari people in the first case, and that of giving the green light to an invasive intervention on Vasari’s frescoes. If, therefore, evidence was needed to show how the superintendencies sometimes endorse quite questionable choices (recall, in fact, that the Florentine superintendency authorized research on Vasari’s fresco), such evidence can also be gleaned from Valentini’s article itself.

It is a demonstration, therefore, of how the logics of conservation, protection, and public enjoyment of a work often give way to logics of another kind, and what is worse is that this"fashion" is becoming more and more widespread: the latest case in chronological order is from last week, when some of the precious rooms of the Santa Maria della Scala museum complex in Siena were turned into a gym for fitness, zumba and martial arts without the slightest measures being taken to secure the works, left at the mercy of kick-boxing amateurs and, of course, of the sweat of all the participants in Sport Week held in the halls of the Sienese complex (and an open letter written by a group of Sienese intellectuals not only reminded us how sweat causes damage to the works, but also reminded us of the regulations regarding microclimate for works of art). A case for which reality has far exceeded imagination.

We witness every day situations that we would not like to see happen: because in addition to the unscrupulous use of cultural property, we must also put into account the results of neglect, which are now the order of the day, and the recent collapses of Pompeii and Volterra, as also highlighted by the Bianchi Bandinelli Association’s statement, are testimony to this as a product of the lack of protection (and it is therefore not true that the superintendencies are institutions of easy bureaucratic fetters, on the contrary: they often cannot even do their job, for lack of adequate resources). And without the superintendencies, how will it be possible to curb degradation and turn things around? If the bodies in charge of preservation and protection are dismantled, who will deal with such sensitive issues? Because so far we have read avalanches of criticism of the superintendencies, but we have not read about alternative proposals. But the point is that alternative projects are not needed: without the superintendencies, there would be no protection and preservation. It is true that the staff of the superintendencies has a rather high average age and in many cases appears unmotivated, but let us also ask ourselves how much does a super-qualified person earn at the top of his career in the field of cultural heritage, obviously in the public sector. Let us recall that Antonio Natali, director of the Uffizi, i.e., the Italian museum with the most visitors, said that he earns a salary of 1,890 euros per month: in order not to be demotivated, it really takes enormous passion, and we are one hundred percent sure that most of the public personnel in the ministry are animated by precisely this enormous passion.

There is nopoint in abolishing superintendencies, in fact, it would be a harmful measure: what we need is to renew, to be open to new things, to motivate and gratify staff, to allocate more resources to culture (we don’t need reminding of how little we spend on culture in Italy). A country that has a cultural heritage like ours, and for all the activities related to this heritage allocates only 1.5 billion euros, absolutely must change course and increase the resources allocated to culture: words leave time to find, and above all so far we have heard far too many words, it would be time to see facts, but by “facts” we mean facts that go in the direction of the preservation, protection and enhancement of our heritage, because of facts that go in the direction of the subjugation of heritage to the logic of marketing we already have several examples and above all we do not feel the need. And, thinking about preservation and protection, these will only be possible if the superintendencies remain where they are: renovated and with younger (and better paid!) staff, but in place. Without preservation and without protection, we will run the risk, also feared by the Bianchi Bandinelli Association, of letting most of our historical-artistic heritage fall into ruin, and we will only take care of those few works considered useful by marketing because they attract the great masses of tourists, but we will turn them into empty and meaningless fetishes, good only to be adored without a critical spirit.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.