Freedom to #selfie at museums: but this doesn't really help the promotion of knowledge

One of the measures in the culture decree provides freedom to photograph in museums, as long as there is no profit motive. We propose a revision of the provision.

Last Friday, that is, the day after the meeting of the Council of Ministers in which the decree law for culture was approved, I scoured the entire Italian government website looking for the text of the decree law-a waste of time, because the text in fact does not yet exist. The Renzi government merely put out a press release listing the measures that will be in the decree. Of course, if the practice of issuing press releases even before the official texts are written becomes the official practice of the Renzi government, there is little sympathy in it: those who comment (and, more importantly, those who vote) have to do so on the basis of texts that do not exist and that we do not know what they will look like in their final version. But so be it.

A brief mention of the various measures announced is in order. Starting with the so-called artbonus, which will grant a 65 percent tax credit to private individuals who decide to finance a public cultural asset. According to the technical report attached to the draft decree published in Tafter, the measure is estimated to have an impact of about 50 million euros divided over four years. Good, interesting measure because it finally introduces a system of tax breaks for those who decide to help public heritage. Slightly less good if we think about the fact that it will obviously be the private sector that decides what to fund, which may be perfectly fine when it comes to supporting institutes, entities or foundations. Debatable, on the other hand, if we think about restoration works: as Mario Cobuzzi of Kunst was also pointing out yesterday, although about the FAI’s “Places of the Heart,” the choice of works to be restored should be conducted according to scientific criteria having in mind the restoration priorities, the type of asset, the one that needs the most maintenance (although, in any case, this seems to be taken care of by the “Strategic Plan Great Cultural Heritage Projects”). Nevertheless, the artbonus is shaping up as a compromise that we hope will work. We will see.

Also good are the 50 million given to the Lyric Foundations, good is the tourism mobility plan (hoping that it will be conducted with an eye to sustainable tourism and that it will really focus on smaller centers as promised: the big “art cities” are saturated) while one does not understand the sense of “commissarial powers” for the “General Director for the Great Pompeii Project” (for years Pompeii has seen managers and commissioners take turns without much results being produced). Not to mention the renzian managerial figure who will flank the superintendents, on which we have already commented extensively. Finally, the chapter that most closely affects our activity here at Windows on Art: that on the photographic reproduction of cultural property.

The text of the press release issued by the government says this: “a partial liberalization of the authorization regime of the reproduction and dissemination of images of cultural heritage for non-profit purposes such as study, research, free expression of thought, creative expression and promotion of knowledge of cultural heritage is introduced.” Which means that anyone will be able to take selfies in front of their favorite work: one only has to hope that the practice does not become disruptive to those who go to museums to see works of art. But that’s not the point: if the decree introduces the possibility of photographing oneself in front of works, welcome (as long as, precisely, visitors always have the tact and sensitivity not to take too much advantage of it, disturbing others): the “social wizards” have always taught us that crowdsourcing is a great way to promote something, in our case museums.

I, however, think of those who, like us at Windows on Art, have made the promotion of cultural heritage a profession (which then, in my case, is more... a part of a profession, since I also deal with other things in life) and by necessity their work must be for profit. Because if you decide to do heritage promotion professionally, in a serious and rigorous way, first of all you have expenses that have to be covered. And then a profession must be able to support those who do it. What I mean to say is that heritage promotion and profit-making are two concepts that can safely coexist. Through our work we do heritage promotion: we have a website that generates over 1,000 visits a day (and, by the way, we are aiming to double that in the short to medium term), we have a large following on social media (on Facebook alone we have 100,000 fans). Let’s imagine what it can mean to make a work belonging to a public museum known to a parterre of this size. It means arousing curiosity, it means spreading culture, it means stimulating people to go and see the works live in museums and to visit exhibitions and, more generally, all places of culture. And from the surveys we have conducted in the past, we know that there is a good part of our audience that goes to the museum because they followed our advice or because thanks to us they discovered a work.

With the wording “for profit,” the decree law automatically cuts us off. Fortunately, there are some museums, such as Palazzo Madama in Turin and the Pinacoteca di Brera, that already allow freedom of photography, as stated in responses to this tweet by Minister Franceschini. But there are also many museums that have not taken a stand. In order to publish an image of a public heritage work (even those that under copyright law would be in the public domain) on our site, we would have to, according to the Urbani Code, make the request to the entity that manages the work, pay the concession fee (which is anything but cheap, and would automatically turn our project into a huge expense: think that for each episode of the podcast we are talking about ten works by an artist), wait for the response (without having, of course, any guarantees on timing, and this for the web is totally inefficient). This is an anachronistic practice for those who use the web. And to remedy this, we always resort to links to external sources. And we still wonder how we should deal with Facebook where posting images of artwork is the norm for everyone, not the exception.

It would be enough simply for the wording “for profit” to disappear from the final text of the decree. Because it is one thing to make money from a heritage promotion activity, which is also good for the heritage itself. On the other hand, it is one thing to associate a cultural asset with a brand or a company (as in the case of the infamous advertisement of Michelangelo’s weaponized David). Removing the words “for profit” would allow those who divulge by profession to do so more freely, serenely and, above all, effectively, and public museums could also benefit from this activity. And, on the other hand, it would still force companies who want to promote products through heritage to pay concession fees, as operations such as the armed David are neither study, nor research, nor free expression of thought, nor promotion of heritage. We could argue about “creative expression,” but just circumscribing the rule would be enough to allow those who are really and effectively involved in heritage promotion to no longer be subjected to constraints that make their activities less efficient. We therefore ask those in charge to consider this proposal of ours: remove the wording “for profit” from the final text of the decree, and circumscribe the areas where photographs of works of art can be used freely. This could be a really good, modern and intelligent measure, and we could all benefit from it: both those who do promotion and those who are the objects of promotion.

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