Count government with grill-leftist traction, unprecedented game opens for culture

Reflections on the departure of the Conte government: for culture, which will be led by Alberto Bonisoli, an entirely new game opens up.

“Alberto Bonisoli is someone who has pursued a goal in his years of career: he has aimed to enhance the heritage of made in Italy that we have, to enhance the excellence that we have, and which in some cases is also a tourist attraction. In general, he is a deep connoisseur of both made in Italy and Italian beauty, and he has been able to enhance it for the purpose of job creation, but also for promotion abroad and in Italy. And I think he has the right sensibility to manage such a complex and such an important ministry.” These are the words of Luigi Di Maio, who thus introduced last March 1, during the election campaign, the new minister of cultural heritage, Alberto Bonisoli. It is interesting to start from the words of the new vice-president of the council of ministers because it is possible to read between the lines a sort of convergence of views between the idea of culture that the head of the 5 Star Movement seems to have (and which is quite far from the one that we have instead been able to appreciate in the party program) and the one that the Northern League has always advocated. Culture as “valorization of the heritage of made in Italy,” culture as “valorization of excellence and tourist attractions,” culture as “Italian beauty.” The term “valorization” used three times in thirty seconds.

Alberto Bonisoli giura da ministro
Alberto Bonisoli swears in as minister

And this was then the line on which Pentastellati and Leghisti agreed and included under the heading “culture” in the government contract. It should be emphasized that, in the face of the evidence of the document penned by Di Maio and Salvini shortly before the formation of the Conte government, any real attempt at change (at least as far as the culture sector is concerned) fails. If the action of the Conte government will really follow the intentions indicated by the contract on page 16, we may as well rest assured that there will be no government of change: for culture everything will remain as it was, since the document does not move away from the logic of culture as a “fundamental tool for the development of tourism throughout the Italian territory,” according to the assessment of the text drafted by the two parties. In fact, the chapter on culture opens with the usual blunt rhetoric of the country being “filled with artistic and architectural riches scattered evenly throughout the territory,” but there are complaints that Italy “does not take full advantage of its possibilities, leaving in some cases its assets and cultural heritage in the condition of not being properly valued.” While it is true that the document acknowledges that cultural heritage also contributes “to the education of the citizen,” although it is specified “in continuity with our identity” (whatever this evidently leghist nonsense means), but the main governing coalition would seem to be concerned above all with the fact that “the State cannot limit itself to the mere preservation of the good, but must enhance it and make it usable through effective systems and models, thanks to careful management and better cooperation between public and private entities.” And it is very true that “cutting in a linear and unreasoned way the spending to be allocated to our heritage, whether artistic or cultural [as if artistic heritage had no cultural value, nda], means considerably reducing the possibilities of increasing the wealth, including the economic wealth of our territories,” but it is equally true that investment in culture, according to the contract, is functional above all to attract tourism and numbers.

It is a vision substantially similar to that embodied by the Renzi-Franceschini line: culture being held in consideration not by virtue of its intrinsic value, by its ability to make citizens grow, to fight degradation, to stimulate participation, but simply as a mere economic tool, an attractor for tourists, an “engine of growth.” Yet it cannot be said that the two governing forces did not receive adequate grassroots solicitations during the election campaign. And if the Northern League systematically ignored such solicitations, carefully avoiding reference to the real priorities of the sector in its program, focusing almost entirely on the equation “culture equals tourism,” and also placing itself as one of the few parties that did not even send a representative to the presentation of the bill for the regulation of volunteer work in cultural heritage, the same cannot be said of the 5 Star Movement, which nevertheless had some excellent ideas in its program, starting with the resolution of the problems triggered by the Franceschini reform (it proposed to return to giving a significant role to the Superintendencies), initiatives to limit the presence of the third sector in the management of culture, proposals to reconnaissance the need for resources for archives and libraries, and the proposal to revise the Ronchey law on additional services in museums. These are all topics that the Northern League does not address in its program: and the government contract, it has to be noted, looks much more like the Lega Nord program than the Grillo one.

On the one hand, however, it is comforting that the minister is in the Pentastern quota. Of course: he is a manager, comes from the fashion industry, works in the field of Higher Education in Art, Music and Dance (AFAM), and it is not yet known what knowledge he has of the problems of our heritage (perhaps, Alberto Bonisoli would have been better suited for the Ministry of Education). His profile, therefore, apparently clashes with the grillino program: much more similar to a Franceschini than, for example, to a Tomaso Montanari (I mention the art historian’s name because, as he stated in an article published in this week’s issue of Left, he himself had considered before the elections the possibility of accepting a post in a hypothetical government, later rejected because of the looming convergences with the Northern League). Thus, a minister who could stand in continuity with the line of the Renzi and Gentiloni governments. However, there is also to point out that the statements made by Alberto Bonisoli on March 1, during the presentation of the grillina government team, could conceal some timid openness to change: “our cultural heritage has not received enough attention and enough resources and investment over the years from governments that have evidently not been able to enhance this sector. This is the reason why there is an overall proposal to reach an amount of investment in this sector that reaches 1 percent of GDP, and possibly even exceeds it. Through investments basically of three types: an investment of cultural heritage protection (this is very important: we have a huge heritage that needs to be protected), a discourse of digitization (just think of the impact that digitization could have in spreading a culture of art education in schools) and, last but not least, through what is called ’widespread culture,’ which are the initiatives on the ground. In particular, I would prioritize interventions aimed at recreating a consciousness, a social fabric in urban suburbs, because culture can help overcome the social discomfort that there is in our suburbs.”

In other words, from Alberto Bonisoli’s words, it seems to be inferred that the newly appointed minister is clear about some of the key priorities: increased investment (at the moment, spending on culture by the state amounts to 0.8 percent of GDP, according to Eurostat data referring to 2016), spending on preservation, digitization, and peripheries. However, there was no mention of labor, the fact that state structures are understaffed, the fact that there should be a serious fight against precarious employment, the fact that culture is a sector where the unscrupulous use of volunteer work as a substitute for labor abounds. Above all, there is a need to see how the new minister will behave in light of the alliance with the Leghists, which at the time of the above statements had not yet been officially established. In addition, there will be to assess what role the Conte government will accord to culture: the discussions that preceded the formation of the government never referred to the ministry of culture. Is this a sign that there is community of purpose between the two forces and that Bonisoli’s name has never been questioned, or a sign that culture will not be given a major role in government action? Whatever the answer, it is by leveraging the intentions of the Pentastasized program, and the initial intentions of the new minister, that it will be possible to trigger, if not change, at least some scattered progress.

The Conte government, in essence, places culture in front of a totally unprecedented game. Never has there been, in Italy, a government deemed populist. Never, at least in recent times, have the governing forces had such contrasting visions on culture. Never had we seen Italy in the hands of two parties so incredibly inconsistent, ready to change not only strategies, but even visions, from one day to the next. It will be, in short, a challenge. The terms of which, however, are now unknown. Not least because it is not certain that the parties of the grillino-leftist line-up will not be ready to change them abruptly and without warning, as they have shown to do on several occasions in the days of government formation. It will, therefore, be a very difficult challenge.

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