Naples mayor wants to privatize city's cultural heritage: petition starts

In Naples, the mayor is cultivating plans to bring together under a private-law foundation to manage some of the city's most important sites, such as the Maschio Angioino, Castel dell'Ovo, and the Pan. And a petition is starting to prevent the privatization of the heritage.

“We find worrying the mayor’s statements about putting a value on sites such as Castel dell’Ovo, the Maschio Angioino, the Pan, the Fontanelle Cemetery or the city’s many churches: statements that hint at a desire to introduce or increase entrance fees,” wrote the Neapolitan activists of Mi Riconosci in a Feb. 20 article. But the “putting a value on,” was just the antiphon of a larger project. And as of this morning, precisely at the urging of the association’s local group, a petition calling for a halt to that project got under way.

On March 14, in fact, Naples Mayor Gaetano Manfredi presented his "Culture Plan 2022-2026" to citizens and the press. The key point of the plan, which had already been announced through a series of interviews and statements issued since early February, is the creation of a foundation to manage the city’s cultural heritage, particularly the Maschio Angioino, Castel dell’Ovo, the Pan (Palace of the Arts of Naples), the San Domenico Maggiore complex, and theHypogeum in Piazza Plebiscito. These are places now managed through the municipal subsidiary Napoli Servizi -- either completely free (Castel dell’Ovo), or providing different tickets -- or never open to the public (the Hypogeum). According to the mayor, "the idea is to create a structure for the management of sites that must have a clear and identified cultural vocation, in the sense that each container must be associated with a defined cultural activity so that visitors know that by going to that site they will find that specific cultural offer." Most importantly, he explained there, the foundation model would allow these sites to have an autonomous budget and thus not weigh on the municipal budget, while at the same time guaranteeing them resources for maintenance and care. In the municipality’s intentions, the feasibility study for the establishment of the Foundation is expected to close soon, and the new institution should come into existence by the end of the year. The model, explicitly stated by Manfredi in aninterview with Corriere del Mezzogiorno on Feb. 20, is that of the Fondazione Musei Civici in Venice.

Il Maschio Angioino
The Maschio Angioino
Castel dell'Ovo. Foto di Luca Aless
Castel dell’Ovo. Photo by Luca Aless
PAN - Palazzo delle Arti
PAN - Palace of the Arts.
San Domenico Maggiore. Foto di Giuseppe Guida
San Domenico Maggiore. Photo by Giuseppe Guida

In practical terms then, out of political language, it is a matter of creating a new institution under private law but 100% owned by the City Council, managing (in the beginning) six different sites, which, by imposing an entrance fee (or raising the existing one) and counting on the growth in tourist flows that has been taking place for a decade in Naples (+110% between 2010 and 2019), can largely or totally, in the mayor’s hopes, self-finance itself. The Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia had almost succeeded, in 2019-a year marked by the absence of major restoration projects and the peak in international tourist flows. It had also succeeded because, in previous years, it had reduced the opening hours of sites and museums less central to tourist flows, concentrating resources on the museums in St. Mark’s Square. Then there was the lockdown, the collapse of tourism, and the sequel is well known, at least to those who follow Italian museological affairs: the Foundation delayed reopening, maintained very reduced openings, the most reduced in Italy, throughout 2020 and 2021, declared in December 2020 that it would not reopen museums “in the absence of tourists.” All to keep workers laid off, at state expense, while receiving 8 million euros in state aid in 2020 and 4 in 2021: the salaries of the foundation’s management were meanwhile untouched. Then a few weeks ago two more hefty charges: a court convicted her of illegal labor brokering, while a file was opened on renovation work at Palazzo Fortuny, which apparently took place without permission from the Superintendency.

If the mayor of Naples has a similar model in mind for Naples, it would be important for the citizens of the Campania capital to be informed. Naples’ civic museums reopened virtually immediately after the lockdowns. And, as the mayor has already made clear, the municipality would provide the maintenance and restoration costs, leaving the onus on the newly formed foundation (as in Venice) only to manage, detach tickets and increase visitors. This is a difficult move to justify. As Marco Demarco notes in Corriere della Sera, since the mayor has the ability to manage the city’s entire cultural sector through the department in charge (Manfredi has kept the culture delegation for himself) the creation of a new institute, which, moreover, would manage only those sites that can ticket, not all civic cultural institutes, must necessarily have other purposes, related to a more agile management of assignments and funds.

In this space is the petition launched by the local branch of Mi Riconosci and supported, as first signatories, by the former Opg-Je sò pazzo, L’Asilo, Ecomuseo Urbano Scampia, Legambiente Napoli, Italia Nostra Napoli, Rete SET, Emergenza Cultura, and other Neapolitan and national entities, among others. “The Neapolitan people deserve that the City’s cultural assets remain free and free, or with very affordable tickets: phenomena such as the sudden raising of tickets, the consequent economic inaccessibility, and the further social marginalization from which a city like Naples suffers must be avoided,” the text reads. It may sound rhetorical, but “it is not,” explains Evelina Pasquetti, an activist of Mi Riconosci and one of the promoters of the petition, “because if it is true that in Naples and Campania there has been a sharp increase in visitors to museums, this is mainly linked to the increase in tourist flows. Cultural participation in Campania, on the other hand, is lower than the national average, both in terms of museum attendance and reading books and other things. By raising prices or even adding tickets in places that have always been free, there is a risk of driving Neapolitans even further away from their monuments and spaces of cultural and collective aggregation, precisely in this region and in this city, where it is so much needed.”

There is one fact to add. By now there are several resolutions noting criticalities in the “unreasonable accessions to participatory foundations” that are difficult to make “controllable and justiciable in the public interest” (using the words of the Basilicata Court of Auditors, Dec. 22, 2020). Private foundations with public participation, according to the Corte dei Conti, record “frequent opacities in the management of public resources [...] and, in particular, to the contractual activities put in place by them, including the almost totalizing recourse to private-style negotiation.” And again: “The foundation can be framed in an ”atypical“ model of organization of public administration, certainly more agile and versatile than the traditional paradigms, albeit strongly characterized by the uncertainty of the applicable institutions that discount a legal discipline still to to come for which particularly pressing is the need for the participating entities to put in place all due action for an objective control of the efficiency and legitimacy of the complex of expenses incurred although now consolidated.” Perhaps the mayor of Naples read this resolution before assuming a new foundation to manage the public civic estate in its entirety, but probably the bulk of Neapolitan observers have not yet.

The petition demands in no uncertain terms that Castel dell’Ovo and the Fontanelle Cemetery remain free of charge; that the Pan and Castel Nuovo remain under public management and open to the citizenry, with no surcharge for entrance fees; that no new Participation Foundation be created to manage public assets, nor any other form of privatization of the municipality’s cultural assets be implemented; that the city administration engage in a reflection on how to guarantee the public interest in the management of cultural venues and the dignity of cultural work; and finally, that the city administration engage in a commitment to respect the work of female cultural professionals, favoring stable contracts and avoiding precarious forms of work. After the case, albeit a very different one, of the Mont’e Prama Foundation created in Sardinia by the Ministry of Culture, another proposal to create a private foundation to manage public cultural heritage is making waves. And we will see how the city debate develops.

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