Genoa, why Palazzo Ducale scores own goal by not confirming director Serena Bertolucci

The non-reconfirmation of Serena Bertolucci as head of the Ducal Palace is bad news for Genoa that raises questions of merit (the institution risks losing a talented cultural manager) and method (why can't an administrator be renewed if she works well?).

Strong concerns have been raised about the decision by the board of directors of the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa not to renew the appointment of director Serena Bertolucci. It must be said that so much has changed in the past year in the shadow of the Grimaldina: in October last year, Luca Bizzarri ’s non-confirmation on the board of directors of the Fondazione Palazzo Ducale prevented him from being eligible for re-election as president, and the new president Beppe Costa took his place. And the concomitant reshuffle of the board of directors had ended up changing half of its composition: Bampi and Wolfson were confirmed (the latter, however, until 2022 in the Liguria Region quota, and last year appointed in the Genoa City Council quota), Lazzari and Bozzi Sentieri were out, and Berti Riboli and Messina were in. Nothing, however, portended the news in recent days, because Serena Bertolucci has worked for four and a half years at the Ducal Palace with results of excellence.

It is perhaps not the case to go over in detail the successes of the current director, who is among the most talented cultural managers we have in Italy (and we have been writing about it on these pages since unsuspected times), but it will be worthwhile nonetheless to offer a brief summary: one can start with the exhibitions, which are almost always of a high standard, on which the exhibition on the 1920s undoubtedly stands out, capable of investigating in a precise and rigorous manner a complex historical period that is, moreover, difficult to convey to the general public, and then the one dedicated to Michelangelo, which had the spectacular merit of ’having brought to Genoa the Cristo Giustiniani by the great Tuscan sculptor, not to mention La forma della meraviglia, an exhibition that, in the midst of the pandemic, stood out as one of the best projects of the year and brought together in the rooms of the Ducal Palace works of the Genoese seventeenth century of the highest quality and extremely difficult to see, either because they are kept in private collections or because they are kept in distant museums. On the economic side, it will suffice to skim even a quick glance at the budgets, easily available on the Ducal Palace website, to see, minus the Covid years, the increases and above all the percentage increase in own resources, in the face of the need to find income to compensate for the decline in public contributions. And then there is not only the increase in the number of visitors and participants in the hundreds of activities (including exhibitions, conferences, events, presentations, meetings, visits, workshops), the number of which, without taking into account the inauspicious interlude of the pandemic, has always remained above half a million: even more important is the strong attachment of the Genoese to their palace. The writer has had the opportunity to take part in several initiatives at the Ducal Palace: in few other cultural realities is there such a heartfelt involvement on the part of the citizens, such a sincere and participatory affection for a cultural institution. Merit of an extraordinary mixture of different elements, favored and fine-tuned by Bertolucci’s direction: the variety of the proposal and its continuity, thehigh level of the activities, the peculiarity of certain formats invented by the director (for example, the “five minutes with,” or the possibility of booking to admire in solitude a’work by a great artist, an experiment conducted, and with good results, with Van Gogh and Monet, or the guided tours with the director, another point of merit when one considers that some of her colleagues would rather have an arm amputated than spend half an hour with an audience composed of people without ahour with an audience composed of people without PhDs in art history), the ability to speak an accessible language while increasing the feeling that the Ducal Palace is truly a place for everyone, theintelligence of recognizing the importance of communication, and surely this necessarily short list can be further lengthened.

Last but not least, it will be necessary to mention that if Genoa is Italian Book Capital 2023, much of the credit must be attributed precisely to Serena Bertolucci, author, together with Giacomo Montanari, of the project A pagine spiegate that led the Ministry of Culture to bestow the recognition on the Ligurian capital. Which further translated, means 500 thousand euros more for culture in Genoa. And, still on the subject of resources, it should also be mentioned that the Bizzarri-Bertolucci pairing managed to bring into the Foundation’s coffers as much as 2.5 million euros in projects for the PNRR, the highest funding in Italy, with which it will be possible to start important projects and construction sites, such as the restoration of the Grimaldina tower.

Serena Bertolucci
Serena Bertolucci

This is, in a quick overview, the figure before whom, after four and a half years of work, the board of directors of the Ducal Palace has decided that it will be necessary to start a procedure to select a new director once Serena Bertolucci’s tenure expires, which will last until December 31 of this year. And it is unclear what motivations led the board to put the position up for bid, because the Foundation’s statute has decidedly wide meshes on the appointment of the director and leaves wide discretion to the board of directors in this regard, both on appointments and possible renewals. So much so that Bertolucci’s predecessor himself, Pietro Da Passano, worked for several months under an extension the year before the current director arrived. Moreover, if the procedure, as the Doge’s Palace writes in a note, “will trace the one already used by the Foundation five years ago,” then it will proceed with a notice by expression of interest and not through a competition: the difference, of course, is abysmal, since for an expression of interest there is no process with examinations, and in the one in 2018, which led to the appointment of Serena Bertolucci, the board of directors was not only responsible for the appointment, but also for the evaluation, and in the notice there were no references to external commissions, an unusual choice, moreover.

Given that the Bylaws published on the Foundation’s website, in Article 15, state only that “the term of office and the emolument of the director shall be determined by the Governing Board” without specifying anything else, what necessity prompted the board to opt for the call and not for renewal?Couldn’t it have at least waited until the start of the NRP projects? What, given the broad plot of the Statute, are the legal, administrative, bureaucratic reasons for not continuing with Bertolucci, to the point that in interviews in local newspapers one even went so far as to point out, with a sense of elegance that is curious to say the least, that if he wants to continue as director of the Ducal Palace he can apply?

Then there is a problem of method, which we have already discussed recently: if a director has worked well, even for so many years, why can’t he have his appointment renewed? What are the obstacles that should prevent a competent director, and suitable for an institution, from continuing to work as long as he operates well, properly, with success with the public and among the approval of insiders? Former president Luca Bizzarri is absolutely right when, on his Facebook profile, he writes that “if Palazzo Ducale in recent years has withstood tragedies and pandemics, if our exhibitions have received praise and awards, if the Grimaldina tower can soon be returned to the city, it is only thanks to Serena Bertolucci and how all the staff of the Palace have worked with her. The result is this.” And for Genoa, losing Serena Bertolucci would be anything but positive.

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