Here's when and how Venice's Civic Museums will reopen. And on the closure is a clash in the City Hall

Very tense confrontation in the Culture Committee at the Venice City Hall on the issue of the Closed Museums. Budget Councillor Michele Zuin reported the budget problems the Foundation faced and consequently the reasons why the museums had to close.

The coffers of the Venice Civic Museums were in dire straits due to closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Foundation’s board of directors had to work with a cautious attitude to bring the accounts back in order. In addition, the museums will soon reopen, albeit with dropper drops. This is, in a nutshell, what emerged from the discussion that took place yesterday in the VI Commission (culture) in the city council in Venice: a long discussion where there were also moments of tension between the majority and the opposition.

On the agenda was the discussion around the two questions presented by councilwoman Monica Sambo of the Pd, one on the reopening of the Venice Civic Museums, the other on museum budgets. The vicissitudes of the Venetian museums are well known: in fact, the Foundation decided last December to keep them closed until April, regardless of the progress of the contagion. The decision raised strong controversy, since the civic museums are, indeed, of all citizens, and it seemed unfair to keep them closed only for cash reasons (since they are managed, as we have repeatedly pointed out, by an entity endowed with legal personality under private law).

The problem of reopenings

On closures, Sambo recalled in his question that “the disruption of collective work and scientific, conservation and programming activities casts doubts on the very preservation of our artistic and cultural heritage and threatens to jeopardize the very resumption of the foundation’s activities,” that “already during the summer, the foundation had adopted a policy of drastically reducing openings,” that “the unexpected , tragic and total stoppage of tourist flows due to the pandemic imposes a radical rethinking of tourism policy,” that “it is necessary to rethink, in addition, a new model of museum system that is more open to the city, to those who live there and to those who live it with diversified schedules and activities,” and then again that the role of culture “is fundamental to characterize the Venetian offer and as such the first months in which the influx of tourists will certainly be reduced is to be considered as an investment for the revitalization of the Venice system.” The reopening is therefore essential, and for Sambo it will be necessary to do so with such an extension of hours as to make it easy to enjoy precisely for the benefit of an attentive and interested public.

Several questions, therefore, the Dem councilwoman poses to Mayor Luigi Brugnaro: Sambo asks whether the mayor intends, in his role as vice president of the foundation and alderman for culture, to provide for the reopening as soon as the dpcm will allow; whether there are plans to extend the contract for the civic museums or to issue a new tender in view of the imminent expiration; why it is intended to suspend the activities of curators conservators, archivists and employees of the foundation in the coming months; what activities the foundation intends to carry out in these months for the revitalization of the civic museums of Venice and what plans it has for the restart; whether it intends to envisage a plan for the revitalization of museums also through scientific, curatorial, professional and labor programming; whether coordination is envisaged with the other museums that manage public heritage in the city; how the foundation intends to use the resources received from the government and the eventual savings that will result from the choices related to the structure.

The budget chapter

Then there is the budget issue. In the second question, Sambo remarked that “from the minutes of the minutes of the CDA of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia it appears that in July 2020 two 2 million euro loans were taken out for a total of 4 million euros and that the charges incurred would amount to at least 250 thousand euros.” that “it appears that in 2020 (in addition to the 4 million in funding) from a financial point of view the foundation had an availability of about 3million 800 thousand euros to which were to be added other disemployable financial investments of about 2 million 900 thousand euros for a total of almost 6 million 700 thousand euros.” and that on June 26, 2020, the decree on the allocation of the emergency fund for cultural enterprises and institutions was approved, which was followed by a notice of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as a result of which, in November, two grants were disbursed to the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, by MIBACT executive decree, for a total of 8 euros.444.008,59. In addition, the 2020 preliminary budget (of December 2020) assumed a closing profit of euro 1,929,324. Also according to Sambo’s report, “it appears that the Foundation did not use the 4 million euros borrowed and decided not to return them to avoid the payment of any penalties.” Moreover, “the 2021 budget estimate in the first quarter projected a profit of about 130,000 euros with the museums partially open and about 370,000 euros with the museums closed in the first quarter (so the difference between the two assumptions corresponds to about 240,000 euros less profit),” and the albeit partial opening of the museums in 2021 would still have guaranteed a profit, as projected in the draft 2021 budget approved by the Foundation’s board of directors.

On these points, Councilwoman Sambo asks to know “why, in the face of an apparently positive financial situation, the Foundation took out two loans in July 2020 for a total of 4 million euros, which turned out to be unnecessary, with a total cost of more than 250 thousand euros; why, after contracting these loans, and after receiving 8,444.008.59 from the MIBACT, the Foundation, while forecasting an additional profit for 2021 (even in the case of partial opening of the museums in the first three months) decided to keep the museums closed for the first months of the year 2021; whether it is true that almost all of the savings related to the closure of the civic museums, is related to labor costs; why in the face of the closure of the museums for 3 months, in the program of activities for the study and preservation of the historical and artistic heritage and its enhancement is provided for a possible expenditure of euro 40.000 for the boat show; how the 150,000 euros for the 1600 years of Venice provided for in the program of activities for the study and preservation of the historical and artistic heritage and its enhancement will be used and by whom; what the item ’housing rental’ worth about 22,000 euros, provided for both the year 2020 and the year 2021, corresponds to, and whether such expenditure is necessary for the year 2021.”

Budget councillor Zuin’s answers

Sambo’s questions were answered by Venice City Council Budget Councillor Michele Zuin. “I know that the budget doesn’t warm anyone’s heart,” Zuin began, “but unfortunately the numbers and resources come from that, so the foundational basis of everything that is asked has a reflection on the budget anyway, and that’s what I have to talk about.” There is talk of a “revenue,” Zuin said, on normal years around 30 million euros. “In the year 2020, these revenues were reduced to around 6.5-7 million euros. This is to show the difference there was in the pandemic year for the Civic Museums. The value of production, that is, the revenues, are entirely or almost entirely, 98 percent, formed by ticketing. That is, the Foundation lives, pays salaries and does all its activities, covers costs, solely and only if it sells museum tickets. There is no other income: there has been this extraordinary income related to Covid, like so many other extraordinary incomes that there have been in the budgets of other companies, and clearly this suggests that the framework of concern and prudence on the part of the board of directors, the junta, the administration in general, and I would hope also on the part of the city councilors who are in any case those who then vote on the budgets of the City of Venice, which in turn include the guidelines of all the investee companies, including the foundations in this sense, had some prudence.”

“I understand that this junta does not like it,” Zuin said in the most heartfelt moment of his speech, “but it was characterized in the previous council and in this one, precisely by having prudence, bringing the accounts back in order and giving continuity to the companies. All this is not because it is a boast of Alderman Zuin or Mayor Brugnaro, but because it is what I or the mayor is called to in this committee, and in here the thing should be sovereign for everyone: the defense of jobs. Because without business continuity, without continuity of action on the part of a foundation (which is not a business but we clearly consider it a business in that sense), there is no going forward and there is no protection of jobs. This should be of interest to you, Councilwoman Sambo, first of all, since you are rightly here to lecture about when you open and when you don’t open, about layoffs, about jobs: except for serious disciplinary measures, this junta and the previous one did not lay off anyone in its investee companies, and it made sure that no one was left on the street, and it is doing so in these months and in this terrible year with all the companies. That should first of all be of interest. And so just because of the concept of prudence, I answer one basic thing that you mention in the questions: why was that 2 million loan made? Because that loan was decided in April 2020 when the financial cash situation on the part of the Foundation, which had been closed for more than two months now, was in deficit, and therefore (to cover costs, bills, part of salaries, cig paid in advance and whatnot) it needed liquidity. The funding from the ministry whose notice expired on August 28, they were assured of having those funds that you mention (and we thank the government that gave them to us), were for 6.9 million decided on November 6 and for 1.5 on December 4. Explain to me how the president and the related board of directors had to live and what they had to do in those months to pay the costs, if not go into debt. Wait for what? Wait until November 6 for them to confirm that they were giving me 6.9 million? Wait until December 4 for them to give me 1.5 million? But from April to November there are months in between when this foundation incurred costs, and when I tell you that from 32 million in the year 2019 this foundation took in about 6.5-7 million in all of 2020, you can well understand what a cash crisis there was. It is the most well spent money, because it is the money that has given continuity to the company! Then you make a fundamental mistake, Councilwoman Sambo: you make an access to the records with the documentation of December, where that million and a half, which was confirmed on December 4, and which the foundation hoped would arrive in December, has not yet arrived: and so that 2 million that you say is of 2020 foundation profit, I remind you that this Italian state, for all companies and foundations, the approval of budgets is on April 30 of the following year, and do you know why? Because in these four months we make adjusting entries, and I’ll give you news: the foundation’s board of auditors has rightly decided to use that grant, as it has not yet arrived in March 2021, for the 2021 budget. So the 2020 profit will not be 2 million euros, but it will be about 550 thousand euros. And 550 thousand euros, for a foundation that in a full year makes 32 million in sales, is nothing. It is like saying that it ended up breaking even: the Foundation cannot afford that any one expense (we are talking about hundreds of thousands of euros) could bring it into a loss. So that margin of about half a million euros in a foundation is nothing, it is for me considered a break-even.”

Still on the budget chapter, Zuin then responded to other questions raised by Sambo, stating that: the 2021 budget draws a scenario in which “attention and rationalization are present on several cost factors: services to the public, utilities, personnel. In both 2020 and 2021, however, there have been cost reductions, so it is absolutely not true that this is the result of savings on labor costs. ”As for spending on the Boat Show, Zuin said that the Foundation participates in the Boat Show initiatives by organizing an international call for the selection of studies and projects of boats to an exhibition: the amount planned is 20 thousand and not 40 thousand; as for the 1600 years of Venice, the Foundation’s contributions, Zuin pointed out, amount to 15 thousand euros and not 150 thousand euros, and it is planned to organize initiatives that enhance the municipal collections.

As for museum activities: on the layoff fund, Zuin said that the clause for the extension option provided in the tender for an additional year of the contract has already been invoked, the contract for integrated museum services (surveillance, reception, public reception, ticketing, library, armed security) has been extended from 1.3.2021 to 28.2.2022. The cleaning and sanitation contract was extended from 1.4.2021 to 31.3.2022. The activities of the approximately 74 employees are currently not at 100% layoff, but at about 70%. These activities are currently underway: activities to monitor the state of preservation of the historical-artistic heritage, the activities on which the Foundation is working and which engage in staff turn-over are: refurbishment of the Fortuny Museum (bidding procedures are being finalized and the start of clearing and refitting of the ground and second floor rooms), project to upgrade public services (ticket office and bookshop) of Ca’ Rezzonico, final stages of the restoration and fitting of security systems of 26 rooms of the Royal Palace; exhibition Venice 1600. Births and Rebirths (September 4, 2021 - March 25, 2022): initiation of loan procedures and editing of scientific texts for the catalog; creation of 30 video clips on “Treasures of Venice” to be promoted on social and web; revision of texts and illustrations for the website; ordinary social activities on joint projects; co-production, with the Grand Palais in Paris, and scientific curatorship of the virtual exhibition dedicated to Venice that will take place in Paris in 2022, to be followed by stages around the world; initiation of scientific consultancy with the Museum of Sciences in Boston for an exhibition to be held in 2022 in the American museum on the effect of climate change; scientific advice and logistical support to Nexo Film and Villaggio Globale for the production of a docu-film on Venice as seen through its museums; educational activities, virtual tours for groups and families; preliminary investigation of loan files for exhibitions held in collaboration with Italian and foreign museums; creation of the Exhibitions Archive from 2008 to 2020 for the purpose of the digitization operation of the information it contains; preliminary investigations for new donations and long-term deposits for the permanent collections (including works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Tintoretto and Titian for the Doge’s Palace).

Regarding coordination initiatives with other entities, among others, the Foundation signed in January a new collaboration agreement with Mavive spa for the enhancement of the perfume section of Palazzo Mocenigo and a redevelopment with Art Bonus of the centro studi storia del tessuto e del profumo. An agreement is also in the works with Palazzo Grassi and Fondazione Pinault to organize joint initiatives.

In the final stages of the session then came Monica Sambo’s reply. “I cannot be satisfied,” she said, “given the kind of answers given by the alderman: clarity on the matter was only partially fulfilled. For example on the issue of the 150,000 euros expected, it comes to me as the value of production on Venice 1600 (she says the Foundation will spend 15,000), from the access to the records it shows 150,000 euros so the data should be correct, and I ask the Foundation if it can answer me in writing. It is not true that in these years, alderman, you have left no one behind: in these years there was the non-reappointment of the bookshop workers, who were left on the street. After we had complained, together with the unions, that the contract did not sufficiently protect the workers, these workers not only got less money (so it is not true that we helped them, because they received less money: the hours of the museums were also reduced, and consequently the benefits we had were reduced), but someone was left at home, I’m sorry that you don’t remember because these people are still at home and I think without even unemployment anymore, since it has been a few years. It was then mentioned that there was a willingness to make a change: but what change without the workers who do the programming and do the scientific work, since most of them are laid off? It was then said that the choices were made wisely, but it does not seem to me that opening two days apart is a shrewd choice and one that can allow true participation and attract those who want to come and visit the museums: programming has its role. Also, it is not true that we did not open in relation to the regulatory framework: that is not true, the regulatory framework allowed us to open from February 1. And Venice was the only major city that decided not to open: it was a political choice, which the mayor claimed. And we claim that choice is wrong.”

Sambo’s statements were then followed by a tense moment with committee chairwoman Giorgia Pea accusing Sambo of not complying with the rules that require the questioning councilor to respond only if he or she is satisfied or not with the councilor’s answers, and Sambo responded by saying that he wanted to articulate his own lack of satisfaction with Councilor Zuin’s words.


On the reopenings, the answers came from President Mariacristina Gribaudi: in March, the museums of the Marciana area, namely the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum, will reopen on Thursdays and Fridays of each week (the Doge’s Palace from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the Correr from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). In April, the Marciana area will open, of course if epidemiological conditions permit, from Thursday to Sunday, while from Friday to Sunday the Glass Museum, Ca’ Pesaro, the Natural History Museum, Palazzo Mocenigo, and the Lace Museum will start up again.

Here's when and how Venice's Civic Museums will reopen. And on the closure is a clash in the City Hall
Here's when and how Venice's Civic Museums will reopen. And on the closure is a clash in the City Hall

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