How do the parties running in the March 4 elections talk about cultural heritage? We analyzed the programs

How and how much do the parties competing in the March 4 general election talk about culture and cultural heritage? We analyzed their programs

It is likely that we will remember the election campaign that is (finally) drawing to a close as the bleakest in the entire republican history. And not only for the tones to which the parties were able to arrive, but also for the discouraging absence of content. Indeed, there were many important issues forced to succumb before vacuous debates centered on nonexistent immigrant invasions, magnified security problems, inauspicious nonprogressive tax systems, anachronistic crusades against vaccinations, abolition of Fornero laws, RAI fees, university taxes and whatever else the imagination of political leaders deemed worthy of truncated and noisy cancellation. Rare exceptions aside, little was said about jobs, youth unemployment, the environment and energy, research and education, transportation and mobility: it almost seems as if a severe form of myopia afflicts most of the political leaders, whose length of vision seems not to exceed the distance that separates us from the date of March 4. Of course, it seems almost superfluous to point out how very little has been said about culture, a topic that has been minimally touched upon in public debates, and not even included in programs by some political forces.

However, if it is true that culture is almost never mentioned in the debates followed by the general public, it is equally true that in several programs the topic is introduced, sometimes even with good ideas, although the general panorama appears rather discouraging. The great outcast from the political parties’ cultural heritage insights seems to be, once again (again, of course, apart from a few exceptions), labor: precariousness continues to be a serious problem, but few have been willing to discuss it. Yet culture plays a doubly important role, since it is the basis for the growth of the citizen and is an economically strategic sector for the country: according to research by the Symbola Foundation, presented last summer at the Ministry of Culture, in 2016 culture produced almost 90 billion euros (a figure higher than 5 percent of GDP), generating an induced activity of an additional 160 billion euros, employing about 414 thousand businesses (almost 7 percent of the entire productive fabric of the country) that provide work for one and a half million people. We would have expected, therefore, more attention. Moreover, by many programs culture seems to be taken into consideration more for its role as a tourist attractor than for its intrinsic value: as a result, the issues of protection, preservation, digitization, communication, and contemporary art have often had to mark the pace within lists focused mostly on tourism. And again, another great absentee, which practically no one talks about, is the issue of additional outsourced services, on which it would be a case of intervening with a reform that could clearly define what the spaces of public and private relevance should be. However, we wanted to analyze the programs of the major parties to see in what terms culture has been discussed, what proposals have been made, and how the parties intend to invest in the sector.

I principali partiti in lizza alle elezioni del 4 marzo 2018

The most disheartening scenario is the one offered by the center-right: even, what according to the latest polls is given as the first party in the coalition, namely Forza Italia, does not even have a chapter dedicated to culture in its program, totally centered on the figure of its leader, Silvio Berlusconi. The only reference that can be read in the document (of 148 pages, although the real program occupies only the last 19) is the programmatic point “development and promotion of culture and tourism,” however devoid of further elaboration. A sentence devoid of any concrete meaning, therefore impossible to comment on. Fortunately more verbose is the Northern League’s program, which after discussing an “Italian national identity” based on language and cultural heritage and “deeper and older than the creation of the national state” (without dwelling more on the assumption of “cultural heritage as the foundation of national identity.” which betrays a substantial fasting in art history, one wonders how national identity can be older than the nation state itself) and after wishing that Italy should become “the Silicon Valley of cultural heritage, the Bangalore of landscape, the Shanghai of bien vivre,” he goes on to rattle off a long series of proposals. Some of them are futile, such as “transforming the Ministry of Cultural Heritage into the Ministry of the Treasury of Cultural Heritage,” or such as “providing Italy’s large and autonomous museums with a Manager to flank the director, who is usually an art historian” (the large museums, the first thirty on the list of the most visited, already promote themselves very well without additional managers: they alone make about half of the total number of visitors of all state museums). Others are even contradictory, such as the creation of working groups to link “the marketing and development group” (another Leghist creation) with “the superintendencies and the 20 major museums,” and the parallel introduction of museum federalism: in fact, on the one hand a centralized structure dedicated to marketing and communication is envisaged, and on the other a federal structure to take care of... it is not clear what, since it is not specified: written in this way, the measure appears rather chaotic. Other proposals, such as the abolition of the spending review rules on reporting spending by municipalities, seem unlikely. More sensible, however, is the intention to promote the digitization of museums, just as sensible is the idea of encouraging tourism with “cards, reservation systems, seasonal promotions, efficient transportation services, planning of cultural events with coordination at the provincial and regional levels.” However, any reference to labor is missing from the League’s program, the issue of outsourcing is completely omitted, and culture appears mainly as an asset to be exploited for tourism: and we have already had enough of that, a decisive turnaround is needed.

Far worse, however, is the program of Fratelli d’Italia, which, moreover, is also uninformed: it cites museum access fees that are no longer in force, it has a list of Italian UNESCO heritages stopped in 2011, it dates the ministry’s last competition to more than a decade ago when in fact the last one was announced in 2016, it believes that the rule (actually abolished in 2014) requiring MiBACT to pay the revenue from museum fees to the “Ministry of Finance” (which, incidentally, has not existed since 2001: now there is the Ministry of Economy and Finance) is still in force. For the rest, the program is a concentrate of the usual proposals on tourism, moreover trite (a few examples: the promotion of the “Italy” brand, defiscalization for private individuals who invest in tourism infrastructure and accommodation facilities, support for tourism training), to which are added a few unrealistic, if not ridiculous ideas (such as “facilitating the international itinerancy” of the works stored in museum deposits, which Fratelli d’Italia believes are “very rich in historical and artistic materials,” with the aim of advertising our heritage: we can already imagine the audience of the Met in New York or the National Gallery in London swooning in front of a Carlo Antonio Tavella or an Ottavio Campedelli), others abortive (“bringing schools and universities closer to the labor market,” “study of new media for the artistic heritage”: thanks, but how?), still others that seem to ignore the current situation (introduction of a tax break to encourage restoration: it is already there, it is called Art Bonus, if anything it needs to be incentivized and improved). Finally, Fratelli d’Italia believes that Italy should churn out “excellencies” working in tourism and in the Superintendencies: we already have them, the problem is that we are able to offer them largely precarious work. And the issue of labor, in Fratelli d’Italia’s cultural program, is barely touched upon (and the same goes for outsourcing). As for the skimpy program of Noi con l’Italia - UDC, there is a complete lack of references to protection and labor, and the few points present are almost all about tourism (good, however, is the intention to enhance the natural parks: but it does not specify how it intends to achieve the goal).

As for the center-left coalition, the PD, in contrast to many of the actions taken during the last legislature, has clearly separated the item “tourism” from the item “culture” in the program (there are even almost thirty pages in between). The Democratic Party, in the document released on leader Matteo Renzi’s website, claims the results of its government action (enumerating, however, percentages without references): a “boom in visitors” to museums (actually a trend that has been going on for the past 20 years), “the hiring of a thousand technical officials after years of blockade,” theArt Bonus, the increase in the MiBACT budget (dutiful: with the center-right governments and the Monti government we had reached the abyss), and the creation of the blue helmets of culture. The PD’s proposals range from an interesting “plan for the regeneration of disused, underutilized, peripheral areas” (which, however, is understood to be based on the model of the “Bellezza@” project: a sort of reality show of cultural sites, which we sincerely hoped we would never have to see again), to securing the cultural heritage beyond the emergency (after all, already started with the last 600 million euro allocation), from the enhancement of theArt Bonus, to the completion of the country’s landscape planning (it’s about time). In practice, the “regeneration of territories and cities” section appears to be a kind of continuation of what has been done so far. On the other hand, the section on “culture is production, not just protection” is more foggy: beyond the classic Renzian dichotomy of “protection vs. enhancement,” there is talk of a “culture 4.0 plan for cultural and creative enterprises that invest in technological innovation” (but the meaning of this “culture 4.0”: in fact, it seems to read a kind of nonsense), of a “new law on publishing with support measures for all the book sectors” (but it does not go into the merits), of a more than vague “Erasmus of culture,” of a strengthening of the bonus for 18-year-olds. On the other hand, the intention to “establish a single fund that brings together all existing funding to complete the digitization and cataloguing of Italy’s cultural heritage” is excellent. Lacking, however, even in the PD program (which really appears much more resigned and less magniloquent than the outings to which Renzi had accustomed us in the past), are references to the issue of precariousness, of getting young people into (stable) work in the cultural heritage, and of additional services.

As for the other parties in the coalition, there is a total absence of the slightest mention of cultural heritage in the program of Civica Popolare, the list of Beatrice Lorenzin, while the Insieme list, which brings together the PSI, the Greens and the Prodians of Area Civica, talks about the protection of the landscape rather than cultural heritage (and even in the program of Insieme there is no in-depth discussion of the subject): Giulio Santagata’s list rightly calls for the passage of the law on land consumption and the initiation of immediate action to prevent hydrogeological risk, to combat land consumption and illegal building, and to stop demolitions. In the event that the center-left wins the elections, one has to wonder how the Greens, who believe that Italy “needs a law that blocks soil consumption,” will be able to coexist in harmony with those who, on the other hand, conceived, promoted and approved the “Sblocca Italia” decree in the past legislature: given that oxymoron is inherent even in the lexicon used by PD and Together, should the center-left go into government it is likely that parliamentary discussions on landscape protection will be to be enjoyed on the couch, with cold drink and packet of chips. The last entity in the coalition is +Europa, Emma Bonino’s list, which in its program does not advance a list of resolutions, but of findings: we all agree that Italy invests little in culture, we know that we need to get out of the logic of “culture consumption,” we know that we need to make progress on new technologies, we know that we need to increase opportunities for creative expression in schools. So what? The answer, probably, to the reader: the +Europa program does not contain a single proposal. However, the list must be given credit for pointing out that Italy needs a law that simplifies cultural patronage and can be added to theArt Bonus.

The 5 Star Movement wins the record for the longest programmatic insight into cultural heritage: a document of no less than 17 pages, very detailed and articulate, essentially leftist. The grillini begin by identifying their goal: “to create medium- and long-term prospects,” because “it is necessary that we begin to consider Culture as a constituent element and strategic sector for the growth of the country.” The proposals begin with an extension of theArt Bonus (whose importance the Movement recognizes) through the possibility of micro-donations by citizens, combined with the calibration of tax relief based on the type of donation. Very vague turns out to be the “reform of the system of state funding of institutes”: the program intends to promote an “audit of all funding disbursed according to the last three-year table 2014-2017,” a “review of the requirements and criteria for allocation,” and “the introduction of the criterion of transparency in the procedures of reporting both accounting and activities carried out” (in fact, the Pentastellates claim that funding is disbursed opaquely: but they do not specify what the merit requirements should be, and why, in their view, “the evaluation of requirements and merit seems to be latent”). Equally obscure is the wish to revise the reform of the export of cultural goods, which the 5 Star Movement would like to modify by restoring the “fundamental function of control by the competent bodies”: how, it is not known. Question marks over the idea of providing “special educational services for children” (which already exist) “and dedicated to the ’interactive’ enjoyment of museums by minors and young people and with particular reference to schools” (whatever the meaning of this phrase is). It is then unclear why the recovery, restoration and rehabilitation of places and itineraries of historical and artistic interest should serve the “improvement of tourist receptivity.” Instead, it fits perfectly with the PD program to establish a fund for cataloging and digitization. Equally interesting appear to be the idea of improving the usability of heritage assets by breaking down architectural barriers, expanding reception capacity, supporting small museums (although it is not specified how), the intention to return to the public sphere cultural activities now considered an additional service to be entrusted to external private parties (the 5 Star Movement, it must be emphasized, is so far the only one to have addressed the issue), and the willingness to carry out a reconnaissance of the real need for human resources at archives and libraries to see if it is not the case to proceed with staff increases.

However, there are also several flaws in the Pentastellated program. It lacks any reference to contemporary art, it lacks serious intentions on communication, and above all it lacks a long-range vision based on attention to work, on overcoming the use of volunteer work as a substitute for stable employment (the theme is vaguely hinted at, but the program lacks proposals), on rearranging the balance between preservation and enhancement (the 5 Star Movement document hangs in favor of the former): instead, it seems that the only concern of the Five Star Movement is to dismantle the Renzi-Franceschini reform. More than fair to solve the problems, but beyond the pressing needs, it would be the case to think more about the long term. And again, it is not well understood how Dr. Alberto Bonisoli, chosen for the role of minister of cultural heritage in the case of a Grillina victory in the elections, can be considered a guarantor of the programmatic points, since there would seem to be nothing further than his figure with respect to the issues of protection, work in the Superintendencies, and the recognition of professional figures working in cultural heritage: Bonisoli is a manager (and it was precisely the Franceschini reform, which the Grillians oppose and would like to profoundly revise, that introduced the figure of the director-manager), he has experience mainly in the field of fashion, and he has never had anything to do with the sector (except for his role at the New Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, which moreover is a private entity). In sum, the 5 Star Movement presents on the one hand an overtly anti-Franceschinian program, while on the other hand it would like to entrust the ministry to a Bocconian manager who, on the contrary, fully embodies the spirit of the reform. One therefore has to wonder how consistently the 5 Star Movement can carry out its program.

Finally, the parties to the left of the PD that will run alone in the next round of elections deserve a mention. Liberi e Uguali, the list headed by Piero Grasso, promises in its program an in-depth discussion on cultural heritage, but it has been unreachable for a few days now (we were therefore forced to retrieve it from the Facebook page of a LEU candidate, Daniela Tedeschi). The introduction talks about regulating volunteerism in cultural heritage, a strategy for libraries “that must go back to being centers of aggregation and discovery,” for museums that must “fill with narrative and visitors,” for suburbs and blighted areas, all in the belief that culture serves to “develop rights and active citizenship.” The introduction then mentions the problem of precariousness and the recognition of cultural professions. Proposals range from widespread initiatives for small museums (but no mention is made of this) to the re-discussion of the principle of silence-consent introduced by the Madia law (LEU is the only one to talk about this), from interventions to ensure quality and stability of work (but, again, nothing is specified) to the regulation of volunteer work and civil service, from the idea of announcing competitions every two years to hire functionaries and support professionals (“surveyors, accountants, lawyers, technical and administrative assistants”) to the support of private fundraising especially in tourism, from the completion of landscape plans to the revitalization of public libraries. All very good intentions, also because the program seems well balanced and foreign to the idea of culture being the handmaiden of tourism or representing something to be put up for sale: nevertheless, the proposals are not very in-depth, there is a lack of concrete references, there is talk of investment but no analysis of possible coverage. In short: pragmatism is lacking.

The program of Potere al Popolo also contains a chapter devoted to cultural heritage. Viola Carofalo’s party reports Eurostat data on the ratio of GDP to investment in culture (we are among the last in Europe, with 0.7 percent), hoping for an increase in such investments to 1 percent, in line with the EU average (but no proposals are given on how to boost such investments), and again there is a focus on guaranteeing workers’ rights, defending net neutrality, and public support for independent newspapers. True, it insists on the (right) idea that culture should not be commodified, but the program seems almost patched together at best: publishing and cultural heritage are mixed, there is even talk of a “real law” on conflict of interest (it is not clear why this topic should appear in the chapter on cultural heritage), it calls for the introduction of “laws for the protection, preservation and enhancement of cultural and artistic heritage by the State” (perhaps Potere al Popolo does not know that these laws already exist, and not even recently: in Italy, the first legislative interventions on protection date back to 1902), there is no mention of digitization, the word “museums” is not even mentioned, there is no mention of archives and libraries, and there is only a reference, in a totally generic and lacking concreteness, to an “extraordinary plan for the maintenance of the landscape and of our historical and artistic, library and archival heritage.”

In short, a confusing, impractical panorama that often betrays a lack of even the slightest familiarity with the cultural heritage sector and a poor or lack of knowledge of the real problems. The outcome of the elections appears uncertain, but it will certainly have to be hoped that, whoever wins, does not venture to take paths that risk taking us backwards in time: the problems of culture are still many, and of serious gravity, but it would be unobjective not to say that, in recent months, we have seen some encouraging results. In our opinion, the winners will have to build on what has been done, avoid upheavals, combat the phenomenon of precarious employment, deal with the law regulating additional services, rebalance the relationship between preservation and enhancement, and give priority to everything to which little attention has been given so far (small museums, archives and libraries, digitization, landscape plans). Given what emerges from the programs, however, there is also reason to hope that those who will govern will simply not take steps backward and will be able to pay due attention to culture.

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