Mayor Appendino, don't touch the Turin Art Library. #savegamBIS

The Turin Art Library is in danger of closing, and art history students are mobilizing. We join them.

Maintaining culture in good health is equivalent to taking care of a human body: if one of its organs suffers, it is the body itself in its entirety that will suffer painful consequences. The loss of a library is thus not only an unpleasant event for its users: it is a defeat for the citizenry and for culture as a whole. And the same is true should the library be dismembered or distorted. This is what is in danger of happening in Turin, where the local Art Library, officially the Library of the Fondazione Torino Musei, but known to everyone as the “Biblioteca della Gam” (the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna with which it was united for a long time), is in danger of being dismantled for mere spending review reasons.

The Fondazione Torino Musei, the entity that manages the Library, has suffered a drastic cut in contributions from the City Council, which has hatched the idea of selling off the institute’s library holdings to third parties. A huge patrimony: 140,000 volumes, CDs, DVDs, videotapes and tapes, an endowment of 150 Italian and foreign periodicals by subscription, several of which are also available online. Above all, it is a patrimony that has been enriched in the course of an eighty-year history: in fact, the Library was founded in the 1930s to support the work of those who worked in the Civic Museums of Turin. The books are therefore at risk of being transferred to the National University Library, but this is a solution which takes into account neither the history of the Library, nor its practical and particular needs: the National University Library and the Art Library are two different institutions, and the collection of the GAM Library, for this reason, would be frozen (part of the patrimony of the GAM Library has also grown thanks to exchanges: moreover, given the cuts already made in the past, the institution is unable to make new targeted acquisitions). Not to mention that the Library’s staff lives in uncertainty, since there are still no secure solutions for the future of those who now work in the institute.

The Gam Library is a highly specialized library, which has continued to update throughout its history, which has trained generations of scholars, and which also survived the destruction of World War II, and is now in danger of not surviving the cuts of the current administration led by Mayor Chiara Appendino. We believe that it is not possible to give up the history of an institute that has given and continues to give prestige to the city just to save on room rent and bills (in a note by Culture Councillor Francesca Leon, reported on journalist Gabriele Ferraris’ blog, we read that “the relocation of the library would allow the Foundation to use the space thus freed up to set up its offices, saving the related fee and rationalizing logistics.”) A saving that, moreover, would be worth very few thousand euros: for the offices, it appears that the Fondazione Torino Musei pays an annual rent of twelve thousand euros, plus condominium expenses and heating. It is necessary that a shared solution be found that averts the risk of causing the city (and Italy, since the Turin Art Library represents an asset whose interest transcends municipal boundaries) to lose such a valuable institution, or of distorting it and not allowing it to operate in the most appropriate manner. We would therefore like to join the appeal of the students of art history of Turin (you can read it in full by clicking here), who had already mobilized two years ago, when the Library experienced a drastic reduction of its opening hours: at that time they collected more than a thousand signatures, obtaining the support of, among others, Salvatore Settis, Massimo Bray and the Memofonte Foundation. Today, students of art history in Turin wonder if “we are really divesting from one of the largest and most strategic research centers in the field of art history in northern Italy in order not to pay rent for administrative offices downtown.”

The appeal goes on to reiterate that it seems “impossible to imagine that there is no other solution,” that “a city that wants to focus on culture does not close the organ that more than any other allows for the production of knowledge,” and that “we are throwing to the wind an asset more precious” than we think. And it concludes with an exhortation, “let’s keep the library open, as a matter of consistency, of political vision, of cultural strategy.” So we hope that the city administration can continue to ensure the survival of the Art Library. In the meantime, we at Windows on Art share the appeal of the Turin students by reiterating that a library is indispensable for the proper functioning of culture, and that the Turin Gam Library constitutes an excellence to be preserved.

Gli studenti di storia dell'arte di Torino in occasione della protesta del 2015
Turin art history students at the 2015 protest.

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