Revolution in Sicily, here's the Catania Charter: payday loans for assets in warehouses

Protection or havoc? In Sicily, the groundbreaking Catania Charter, which grants assets from the island's museum repositories on loan for a fee, was approved.

A real revolution is shaking up the world of cultural heritage in Sicily: last Dec. 3, in fact, the Sicilian Region’s councillor for cultural heritage and Sicilian identity, Alberto Samonà, signed the so-called Catania Charter, a measure that grants the loan for a fee of goods in the island’s museum deposits, with inventories to be compiled not only by expert catalogers but also by university students and volunteers. The measure, officially Assessorial Decree No. 74/GAB of Nov. 30, 2020, decrees the concession for the use, “for purposes of valorization and public enjoyment,” of cultural goods “belonging to its State Property and Patrimony that are in storage in regional deposits, so that they may be valorized through display in public or private places open to the public that meet the requirements of the law.”

The assets to be loaned will be those that are not on public display and have been acquired by confiscation, or by donation or spontaneous delivery, or even those “of older acquisition whose documentation has been lost and, in general, those deprived of any reference to their context of belonging.” Institutions that own the assets will be required to draw up lists of such assets, “preparing homogeneous lots by historical-cultural or typological characteristics.” The concession of assets, Article 6 of the charter states, will be “subject to the payment of a fee that cannot be less than one-tenth of the value of the assets granted, as deduced from the inventory estimates made by the regional deposit of origin.” The payment may be in cash, but also in two additional forms. The first: “provision of goods and/or services destined for the heritage object of the concession, or in favor of other goods in storage in the same deposit of origin, or in general, in support of the cultural assets of the State Property and Heritage of the Sicilian Region, such as, but not limited to, restoration, archaeometric analysis, cataloging, publication and marketing.” The second: “provision of goods, services, infrastructure or improvements in favor of the repository of origin of the goods to be agreed with the granting institute.”

Loans of repository assets may have a term of between two and seven years, tacitly extendable once, all things being equal, unless the concessionaire notifies (by registered mail or pec) within six months prior to expiration of its waiver of renewal. Upon expiration of the concession period, the assets will return to the availability of the originating institution. Ensuring the supervision of the assets entrusted on loan will be the superintendence in charge of the territory, which will have the power to verify at any time the effective application of the provisions of the Cultural Heritage Code, the notice that the Sicilian Region will issue for concessions, and the relevant agreement. In case of failure to apply the sector regulations, the revocation of the concession will be triggered.

In addition, last December 10, Samonà himself signed another decree, number 78, containing guidelines for the application of the Catania Charter. Institutions that will grant the assets will have to produce a technical document (with the security and conservation measures of the exhibition space that will house the assets under concession) and an enhancement project that will have to provide and make explicit the forms in which external communication will be made, the ways in which it is intended to ensure the public and possibly free use of the assets, and the economic spin-offs in terms of employment and development of the project. The document will also describe the exhibition container, the ways in which it will be exhibited, and the activities, occasional or periodic, that are intended to be linked to the exhibition of the assets that are the subject of the procedure (for example, the calendar of opening to the public, educational, cultural and convivial activities).

The concessionaires will then designate a technical conservator, choosing him or her from among archaeologists, archivists, librarians, demoethnoanthropologists, physical anthropologists, restorers, restorative assistants, and experts in cultural heritage diagnostics who possess adequate training and experience. Again, the concessionaire will ensure that the placement of the loaned goods will be consonant with and respectful of the cultural value and destination of the goods. Again, prior to transport operations or during the exhibition period, the goods will be restored if necessary, based on the indications of the superintendencies. Another important point concerns the inventorying and cataloguing of the goods stored in the repositories: the institutes of the Sicilian Region will be able to make use of expert cataloguers as a priority, or with the help of university students in disciplines related to the preservation of cultural heritage working under a training internship, or volunteers from cultural associations provided with appropriate qualifications.

“A revolutionary intervention,” said Alberto Samonà, “thanks to which thousands of cultural goods, often uninventoried and stored in the deposits of museums and other regional cultural places, will finally be able to be displayed and enjoyed by all. The decree, named the ’Catania Charter’ thanks to the commendable work of Superintendent Rosalba Panvini who oversaw its drafting, honors the commitment made together with President Musumeci to enable greater enhancement of the region’s conspicuous heritage. The Catania Charter will, likewise, provide new opportunities for young professionals who will be called upon to work as outsiders alongside the administration and private individuals to make possible the implementation of projects for the concession in use of the requested assets.”

“I would like to thank the President of the Region and Councillor Samonà,” says Rosalba Panvini, Superintendent of Catania as well as the “mind” behind the Charter, “who promptly picked up the proposal that arose from a conference held last February and gave rise to the activities to arrive at the Catania Charter. The document, which marks an important turning point in the management of regional heritage, is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the Catania Superintendency, and in particular Fabrizio Nicoletti of the archaeologists’ nucleus, lawyer Nunzio Condorelli Caff and Dr. Mario Bevacqua, international president of UFTA. It was a team effort that led in a very short time to an important innovation in the overall management and enhancement of so-called minor cultural heritage.”

But there are also strong critical voices, such as that of Salvatore Settis, who today in Il Fatto Quotidiano speaks of “havoc” and a “low blow to the good practices of protection.” “The so-called Catania Charter,” Settis writes, “affects the cultural heritage of Italy’s largest region (and one of the richest in cultural assets). But it is even more dangerous because it is being spread as if it could serve as a model. Some clarifications are therefore necessary. First of all, Article 6 of the Cultural Heritage Code defines enhancement as intended not to make money, but to ’promote knowledge of cultural heritage in order to promote the development of culture.’ As for museum deposits, the Sicilian norm falls victim to the widespread but no less fallacious prejudice that materials in storage are doomed in perpetuity to obscurity, covered in dust, neglected by insiders and ignored by citizens. [...] No less irresponsible is the idea of entrusting student trainees with such a task as choosing materials to ’rent’. Recruiting unpaid labor responds to the same rationale behind the generally unsuccessful so-called school-to-work alternation. It entails a disregard for expertise, indeed it implies that to evaluate what is in the repositories one can do without a practiced eye, such as a novice university student cannot have.” In short, for Settis it is a decree “written in haste and badly” and which “will hopefully be challenged in Sicily itself because of its generality, which makes it unenforceable. But couldn’t the national government strike a blow?”

Pictured: Selinunte

Revolution in Sicily, here's the Catania Charter: payday loans for assets in warehouses
Revolution in Sicily, here's the Catania Charter: payday loans for assets in warehouses

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