Bonisoli reform: summer bungling without parliamentary discussion. Autonomies and small museums at risk

The point on the reform of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage after the August decrees.

If there is one merit to be given to the Minister of Cultural Heritage Alberto Bonisoli, it is that of having put everyone in agreement on his cultural heritage reform: all parties, from the PD to the League, from Potere al Popolo to Fratelli d’Italia, from Alternativa Popolare to even exponents of the minister’s own party (the 5 Star Movement), and then again mayors, local administrators, museum directors, journalists, unions, committees, and associations. Even Bonisoli has succeeded in a task on the edge of the possible, namely to bring together those who, like Tomaso Montanari, were firmly opposed to the 2014 Franceschini reform and those who, like Giuliano Volpe, were among its most staunch assertors. The problem is that they all agree, yes, but in affirming that the cultural heritage reform envisioned by Bonisoli is a mess, to use only the eloquent and generous euphemism that the aforementioned Volpe used in an article he published in the Huffington Post (moreover, on June 16, long before the reform became operational).

And this is not only a problem of content, but also of method: the reform was approved in a hurry through decrees (thus without there having been a parliamentary discussion, as would be the case when planning measures that are likely to have a lasting impact on a complex sector such as the cultural heritage), in a very short time (the dpcm of the reform was published in the Official Gazette in early August, and the implementing decrees were signed by the minister all the week of Ferragosto) and a few days after the official opening of a government crisis, almost as if the speed with which the reform was approved is the clearest symptom of the need, on the one hand, to achieve a concrete result, and on the other (at least according to the interpretation of Sergio Rizzo of La Repubblica) to carry out a precise design without, with the opening of the government crisis, paying more attention to the encumbrance of the League pressing against centralization. Such a political conjuncture should have inspired prudence: now, however, we find ourselves with a reform opposed by most, which risks returning us to an anachronistic centralism, sclerosing and flooding processes, undermining the autonomy of large museums (and making the work of those who must direct them more complicated), dropping a windfall on small ones, and further slowing down the reconstruction of the areas of central Italy hit by the earthquake. All this in an oppressive climate of uncertainty and only five years after the last reform.

To understand the reasons for so many attacks and so much criticism, it is necessary to examine the Bonisoli reform point by point at least in its most relevant new aspects, making comparisons with the previous situation. One can start with theabolition of regional museum poles and the establishment of territorial directorates of museum networks (one could say that the situation is complicated even from the name of the new institution): in short, the territorial directorates will have responsibilities over territories much larger than those of the now former regional museum poles, identified on the basis of individual regions, while instead with the Bonisoli counter-reform we will find ourselves with ten large networks that are partly interregional (Liguria-Piedmont, Lombardy-Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo-Molise, Campania, Puglia-Basilicata, Calabria, Sardinia). On why the expansion of former poles is a risky measure, the Italian section of ICOM - International Council of Museums - intervened precisely: in a note circulated on August 23, ICOM Italy considers it “a mistake to have provided single directorates for several regions,” due to the fact that “the extension of the competencies of the former museum poles to such vast territories (the Lombardy-Veneto case is particularly abnormal)” could “make the coordination action of museums less effective and, above all, the integration of cultural policies between different public and private actors and the promotion of networks of museums (and other institutions such as archives and libraries) of different ownership, generally operating on a regional or subregional scale.”

Moreover, again in relation to mergers, on these pages the writer has already had the opportunity to point out how certain decisions (the Cenacolo Vinciano being removed from the Lombardy museum pole and merged with the Pinacoteca di Brera, the Galleria Franchetti in Venice leaving the Veneto pole to join the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, the merger of the Uffizi, Galleria dell’Accademia and Museo di San Marco) could have devastating effects on small museums, and the increase in the solidarity fund from 20 percent to 25 percent is but an insufficient palliative to redress the balance. Take, just as an example, the situation of the Lombard museums: before the Bonisoli reform, the Cenacolo Vinciano, with its nearly four million euros a year (a little less in 2018, when it was three and a half million), gave oxygen to the other museums of the pole, since the Franceschini reform provided that the ticketing revenues of the individual museums of the institute (minus the 20 percent to be allocated to the solidarity fund) were redistributed to all the museums belonging to the pole. The Cenacolo’s income was mostly divided among the various museums, while with the move to Brera it will remain almost all to the autonomous institute.

Still on museums, Minister Bonisoli’s wish has always been to abolish the boards of directors: a purpose that, barring any improbable last-minute upheaval, will be punctually implemented. This is a move that will affect the autonomy of museums, despite the fact that MiBAC has attempted, in recent days, a defense of the reform with a press office note asserting that “museum boards of directors were abolished in order to simplify, since their opinions were already approved by the central directorate anyway.” It is worth recalling what the functions of the BoDs were, provided for by the Franceschini reform and regulated by the ministerial decree of 12/23/2014, “Organization and Operation of State Museums.” to determine and plan the lines of research and technical directions of the museum’s activity (in accordance with the directives and other policy acts of the ministry), and in particular to adopt the statute of the museum (after acquiring the consent of the Scientific Committee and the Board of Auditors), to approve the charter of services, the budget (with its variations), the final account, the instruments of verification of the services entrusted in concession with respect to the enhancement projects prepared by the museum director, to express its opinion on the issues submitted by the museum director. All these activities will now be in the hands of the museum director, who will have to prepare budgets and accounting documents, to be sent to the central management for approval: the directors will thus be deprived of a body that exercises important support and control functions (again, the pairing, announced in the above note, of an administrative manager with the director to assist him in handling these tasks does not seem to be sufficient). At this point, we might as well abolish the financial autonomy of museums and leave them with only scientific autonomy.

Alberto Bonisoli
Alberto Bonisoli

There has also already been much discussion about the new General Directorate "Contracts and Concessions," which will centralize all procurement decisions, both of the headquarters and of the peripheral offices (for the latter, the directorate will act as the contracting station only for amounts above a figure that will be established later). Another move that contributes to crippling the autonomy of museums, and moreover, one wonders what staffing the new directorate will work with (in its opinion on the reform, the Higher Council of Cultural Heritage emphasized that, in order to set up the directorate, recruitment of qualified and specialized personnel will be necessary), and how it will be efficient for all the peripheral offices of MiBAC. The fear is that the processes will stiffen and lengthen. And similarly, there are fears about the extension of the powers of the secretary general, who will also have technical expertise, and about whose overbearingness even the Higher Council itself has expressed concerns: he will be able, for example, to coordinate policies on foreign loans of cultural heritage, coordinate MiBAC’s tourism policies in agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture (which has competence for tourism), deal with institutional communication and information policies. And he or she will also be able to propose a replacement in case a director of a peripheral management office is vacant: thus, he or she will be able, for example, to indicate the name of the person who will have to temporarily take over the direction of a museum.

Analysts have largely focused on museums, and little attention has been paid to superintendencies, i.e., the bodies responsible for protection. Here, one of the main contradictions of the Franceschini reform has actually been resolved, namely the balance of competencies within the single superintendencies established by the 2014-2016 measures: the person in charge of authorizations, opinions, visas, clearances, and whatever else will be the official responsible for the subject matter, the so-called “area manager” (ie: the archaeologist will be in charge of archaeology, the architect of the architectural heritage, the art historian of the historical-artistic heritage), and the single superintendent, if he wants to issue a measure that deviates from the preliminary investigation conducted by the area manager, will have to inform the General Directorate of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape. This is one of the most interesting passages of the reform, which improves on the ministerial decree of January 23, 2016, the one that introduced the “holistic superintendencies,” as they were then called (and which had generated some confusion on these passages). Then there would also be another positive cue, although, at least on a first reading, it would seem to introduce conflicts: the extension to the superintendencies of some competencies related to enhancement. The text of the reform states that the superintendency “enhances the assets given to it,” but it also states that the planning, coordination and promotion of enhancement activities are the responsibility of the territorial directorates of the museum networks: it is therefore not clear what range of action the superintendency has in enhancing its assets.

On safeguarding, however, it is also necessary to look further into the issue of the new “district secretariats,” which replace the old “regional secretariats,” merging several regions. The secretariats are (in short) a body that connects the center of the Ministry to its emanations in the territory, and in particular deal with labor relations and bargaining at the territorial level, efficiency of administration, administrative support and advice to the peripheral offices: an articulation that the reform could easily have abolished by transferring its competencies to other territorial bodies. However, the functions of the secretariats are extended (they will also have inspection functions, absent from the Franceschini reform) and again, as mentioned, they will work on an interregional basis. A measure that has already aroused protests: it is worth mentioning the position of the Marche Cisl, according to which the amalgamation of Marche and Umbria with a move of the secretariat’s headquarters to Perugia “seriously jeopardizes the functioning of the entire economic and management system of the Marche cultural heritage,” since the Marche secretariat “has done an egregious job coordinating all the contracts and construction sites related to post-earthquake reconstruction and restoration.” According to the CISL, “reducing the executive offices in the territories means reducing the Ministry’s ability to act and spend in a region, generating not only serious consequences on the effectiveness of the protection and enhancement of heritage, but also in economic terms.” In the Fatto Quotidiano of August 29, Salvatore Settis asserts that the extension of secretariats to more regions could be a “counter-poison to the possible regionalization of protection”: the most effective counter-poison is given simply by the fact that protection remains (and hopefully will remain forever) within the boundaries of state action (if anything, if anything needs to be objected to, it can be emphasized that in the scientific committees of autonomous museums a representative of the municipality where the museum is located will enter). The extension of an office over a larger territory could, if anything, make presidium more difficult.

The last fact to note is that in any case the Bonisoli counter-reform does not affect the core of the Franceschini reform (autonomous museums, unique superintendencies, separation of preservation and enhancement): it seems, if anything, to be a tweaking of it in pejorative terms. In practice, the 5 Star Movement has not followed up on any of the programmatic points related to the reform with which it presented itself in the March 2018 elections: limited to the “adjustment of the reform of the organization of the Ministry and its peripheral bodies,” the rift between protection and enhancement that the 5 Star Movement set out to solve has not been healed, no initiatives have been put in place to really help small museums (indeed, perhaps the situation will get worse), no initiatives for mapping abandoned cultural heritage have started, no active and direct involvement of citizens has taken place (indeed: it is worth repeating that the reform was dropped by decree), there was no revision of the Market and Competition Law changing the value thresholds for exporting cultural property abroad. And, of course, no news was produced on additional services in museums. There was a need for measures that would frame and correct some obvious distortions of the Franceschini reform: what we got was only a twist that, however, did not undermine its structure. And at this historical moment there was really no need for it.

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