Cultural heritage reform, chapter 2: MiBACT's holistic view. Against its own government

Reflection on Chapter 2 of MiBACT reform: new mergers for superintendencies and ten new autonomous museum hubs

Until yesterday, I had heard the adjective"holistic" pronounced in only two contexts: in advertisements for massage centers that practice, precisely, holistic massage, and in those marketing courses that, instead of aiming straight at the bottom line, fill one’s head with vain and rambling babble, leaving little of substance to think about. Now the adjective “holistic” is managing to enter the cultural heritage sector as well, thanks in part to the impetus of Giuliano Volpe, who in an article on his blog speaks of a “holistic view of cultural heritage” in reference to the contents of the next step in Franceschini ’s reform of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, unveiled early Tuesday afternoon. And it is to be expected that Volpe accords an exceedingly particular liking to the term, since he repeats it three times in his speech.

It is necessary, however, to proceed in order. Following a meeting of the House and Senate Culture Committees, the Minister of Cultural Heritage, Dario Franceschini, announced a further chapter in the reform he launched in the summer of 2014. We avoid summarizing, here, the history of the events that have affected the Ministry in the last year and a half: the reader who wishes to delve deeper will find, at the bottom of this article, three reading suggestions through which to retrace (also through the further suggestions contained in them) all the events that have led to the current organization of the department in charge of the management of “cultural heritage.” In the press release published on the MiBACT website, the highlights of this further leap forward in reform are listed. Specifically, the current superintendencies for archaeological heritage will be merged with those for architectural and cultural heritage (which following the reform have taken the name “Superintendencies of Fine Arts and Landscape”), the Directorate General for Antiquities will be abolished (again, it will be merged with that for Fine Arts and Landscape, so that there will be only one: the General Directorate for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape), and there will be ten new state museum institutes with autonomy (among others, the Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta in Parma, the Museums of Civilizations at the EUR in Rome, the Museum and Park of the Castle of Miramare in Trieste, the Archaeological Park of the Appia Antica, the Herculaneum Park, and the Ostia Antica Park).

Il nuovo assetto delle soprintendenze
The new arrangement of superintendencies after the new step of the MiBACT reform

The press release also contains an unclear comment. Here’s what it says: “With this intervention, the garrisons of protection on the national territory increase, which, precisely for archaeology, go from the current 17 Archaeological Superintendencies to the new 39 unified superintendencies,” plus the two special superintendencies for Rome and Pompeii. It is completely misleading to present the unification of superintendencies by making people believe that their number will increase: because the exact opposite is true. That is, there will be fewer superintendencies, which will gather more offices, with the same staff (and how will that of the archaeological superintendencies be redistributed? On the basis of the previous 17 principals, or on the basis of the new 39 unified superintendencies?), and with more confused competencies. Volpe says that the unification of the superintendencies for cultural heritage with those for architectural heritage has not “produced tragedies in the protection of historical and artistic heritage”: obviously not, but equally obviously it is still too early to draw sums and make assessments. Meanwhile, we can say that the “holistic vision” Volpe speaks of has already been thwarted by the severing of the link between museums and superintendencies, and thus between museums and their territory. Moreover, there is no need to emphasize the fact that the new principals will have a single superintendent, who will be called upon to make decisions on archaeology, cultural heritage, and architectural heritage. As Pier Giovanni Guzzo notes on the website of theBianchi Bandinelli Association, the consequences can only be twofold: either the superintendent will have to blindly trust his technicians, thus assuming responsibilities for which he is unable to provide assessments on his own, or he will decide autonomously, risking giving rise to “aberrant actions.”

Not to mention, then, the time that the Ministry’s workers will have to take to absorb the new changes: it would have been far better (and Volpe also agrees with this) if Franceschini had thought of a single package of reforming actions to be presented from the outset, rather than proceeding with a piecemeal reform. The tragedy is that we are not witnessing a bad television series: we are witnessing, progressively, the dismantling of our system of protection. And it seems that little can be done, since the government seems deaf to criticism, suggestions, mobilizations and appeals, as the Association of Public Service Archaeologists also notes in a lengthy press release published on its blog. The Association, moreover, points out that no directives are coming from the Ministry on how best to conduct the transition phases to the new set-up: and this entails “a further and very long period in which the few forces in the field, paid for with the community’s money, will be substantially employed in the logistical and procedural reorganization, in the mere bureaucratic operations that are triggered by the change of offices, to the detriment of the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of Services to Citizens and Protection.” And it is obvious that the Ministry’s technicians should juxtaposedly be concerned with safeguarding, and not with bureaucratic operations.

There is, finally, one last aspect to highlight: Dario Franceschini, in interviews following the presentation of the new superintendency reform project, said that the reorganization of the Ministry is especially necessary as a result of the introduction of “new norms, not least that of silence-consent.” It is Giuliano Volpe himself who operates a paraphrase of what the minister declared: “now that the Madia Law has improperly introduced the silence-consent, it turns out to be even more necessary to have bodies of protection, rooted in the territory and multidisciplinary, able to quickly and unambiguously provide answers, opinions, authorizations.” So we are at the paradox: the new chapter of the reform is designed almost as a kind of attempt to repair against a measure contained in a law produced by the government’s own action. In short: the government, through one of its ministers, is promoting measures against itself. And to think that Franceschini himself had called this summer for the deletion of silence-consent from the draft law on public administration. So if the government does not listen to one of its ministers, so much so that the latter finds himself forced to take corrective action against a law promoted by a member of the executive of which he is a member, is it perhaps possible to expect the government to listen to the social partners?

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