Once upon a time in Sicily there were Superintendencies...

Sicily effectively abolished the specialized units of the superintendencies in a measure that did not come ex abrupto, however, but has historical roots. Now going back is difficult. And since Sicily has often been a laboratory, will it happen to the ministry as well?

“For some, pharmacological action is necessary, while for others deep surgery is needed.” It was in these terms that the president of the Sicilian Region, Nello Musumeci, spoke about the superintendencies in a conference at Palazzo d’Orleans, seat of the regional government, in September 2018, almost a year after taking office. In the final throes of this legislature, we can say that in the end, a scalpel was drastically opted for. True, the patient is sick, the Sicilian superintendencies lack everything, tools, staff, funds, so the timelines for issuing opinions are dilated, putting the realization of works at the stake as well. But it is not because of further subtraction that should have been "operated." The remedy risks dealing the death blow precisely to a “model” of superintendence that the Ministerial Reform was inspired by a few years ago.

In the beginning, in fact, there were the single Sicilian superintendencies. Then in 2016 Minister Dario Franceschini mutated them to the state level, sending those themes to the attic. Across the country, after the initial shakeup, the new single superintendencies have more or less settled down, however, again discounting severe staffing shortages. In Sicily, however, we are already “beyond.” We are at a genetic mutation that, behind the goad of the need to save spending, would seem to have the absurd aim of getting rid of that primacy and instead pursues the lucid goal of ensuring political control over the activity carried out by these institutions. Or rather, over what remains of the principals protecting cultural heritage, conceived in Sicily in the late 1970s. Emblematic of the effectiveness of the “old” organizational model remains the action of contrasting the strong speculative interests in the territory opposed by the Superintendence of Syracuse in the years of the directorates of Concetta Ciurcina and then Bice Basile, flanked by the trio of officials “not tame” Rosa Lanteri (Archaeological unit), Alessandra Trigilia (Landscape) and Aldo Spadaro (Architectural), about whom Gian Antonio Stella also wrote in the "Corriere della Sera."

Those “technicians” so annoying

Water under the bridge. In fact, a resolution of the Musumeci government’s Council of March 10 cancelled the specialized units of the superintendencies, supplanted by only two hybrid sections: one for the architectural and historical-artistic, landscape and demo-ethno-anthropological heritage, and the other for the archaeological, bibliographical and archival heritage. A cauldron in which all competencies are mixed, governed by a generic manager who may have a totally eccentric profile to cultural heritage. After all, we are in a Sicily where geologists, engineers or agronomists are in charge of museums or archaeological parks. And which from now will also have a superintendent who “ratifies” the opinions of two super-executives controlled by politics through the longa manus on the appointments of positions. In fact, it has always been the managers of the different specialized units who have been instructing the files and signing the measures, by virtue of their “technical” qualification. Take the case of monumental restoration: in the past, the architectural unit had to express its opinion, but also the historical-artistic unit in the case of mural paintings, and the archaeological unit for preventive archaeological excavations. If the opinion of the landscape unit was also needed, it was four heads who each had to have their say. A small pool more difficult to reduce to the best judgment of one individual. Or at least that is what should have happened in theory, but even before today’s Sicilian-sauce “reform” was not at all the rule.

To this point we will return shortly, first let us see the reactions. The uprising over the March “coup” was not long in coming. From the rejection of the oppositions, led by PD Sicily secretary Antony Barbagallo, to associations, from Legambiente to Italia Nostra, from Ana, National Association of Archaeologists, to Icom. Gianfranco Zanna, president of Legambiente Sicilia points out the coincidence of the signing of the measure precisely on March 10, Sicilian Cultural Heritage Day, established a few years ago in memory of the unfortunate councilor Sebastiano Tusa. “A way to celebrate not his memory, but the current, very topical contribution that Sebastiano made to culture,” stressed Cultural Assessor Alberto Samonà. Let’s say, as well, a rather singular way to honor the archaeologist alderman, who came from precisely those “technical” ranks of the Sicilian Cultural Heritage that today he wanted to mortify.

And if Zanna also announces legal action “to block this umpteenth reorganization that demonstrates, once again, the short-sighted vision of the regional government towards the management, protection and enhancement of our cultural heritage,” Ana hopes that the resolution will be withdrawn, not sparing harsh tones, in the belief that “a regional administration that disqualifies itself by delegitimizing and flattening the skills of its employees sided obliquely with speculation and destruction of the territory, rather than decisively fulfilling its constitutional duty of custody and defense of heritage and landscape.” Adele Maresca Compagna, president of Icom Italy, in an open letter addressed to Governor Nello Musumeci and Samona? in which it is recalled that Icom “with the Regional Department of Cultural Vebu and Sicilian Identity has renewed in 2021 a Memorandum of Understanding for the preservation and promotion of cultural institutes and the professional skills that work there,” expresses “strong concern about the suppression of a conspicuous number of units? technical operational units not only of the Superintendencies, but also of the Parks and Museums with the consequent depowering of protection and enhancement activities.” And he proposes a “wide-ranging moment of confrontation.” Solicitations that have all remained unheeded to date.

In one fell swoop, regional (Nos. 116/1980 and 17/1991) and state regulations have been torn up. While it is true that in Sicily with primary legislative competence, Law 110 of July 22, 2014 (on cultural heritage professionals and the establishment of national lists of said professionals), which introduced the recognition of cultural professions, does not apply, the issue is not debated: the law was transposed by the Cultural Heritage Code (Art. 9 bis), which in the Region applies, and how. Barring sudden amnesia on the part of the Government Junta.

La Soprintendenza di Siracusa. Foto di Francesco Bini
The Superintendency of Syracuse. Photo by Francesco Bini

In the beginning was the Crocetta government.

Yet this dismantling did not come ex abrupto a few weeks ago. Another coincidence. In that very same 2016 in which, we said, Franceschini “exported” to the Ministry the “unique” superintendencies, maintaining within the institutes the necessary articulation in specialized offices (“functional areas”: archaeological heritage, architectural, historical-artistic, etc.), Crocetta’s Sicily paved the way for the current scenario of drastic internal mergers. It was then that architectural heritage was made to pair up with historical-artistic heritage and landscape heritage with demo-ethno-anthropological heritage. On the altar of the need to contract spending it was then that specific skills and professionalism for each area began to be sacrificed. Not to mention that that first reduction of managerial positions in the superintendencies did not result in any appreciable effect in this regard. Just one example: with the amalgamation of the historical-artistic and architectural operational units, 90,000 euros were saved. That is, the annual allowances of the managers in charge, which each amount to 10,000 euros for the nine provinces. Nonetheless, the superintendencies continue to be lacking in everything from paper for printers to light bulbs to gasoline for field missions. Can this be considered saving 10,000 euros on the one hand and making a big waste of community funds or forking out for projects of little value on the other?

It is not only a misplaced issue of spending-review, but of historical misrepresentation of the model of the Sicilian superintendency: unique on a territorial basis, organized in a team with multidisciplinary skills, it cannot effectively ensure, compared to the old thematic superintendencies, the performance of its institutional tasks, if not by keeping the sectorial areas distinct and ensuring that each operational unit has the appropriate specialist. And here we return to the point left unanswered earlier. For even if the regional government were to “come to its senses” and reinstate the specialist sections this would not be sufficient in Sicily to guarantee the specialist competence of those who would head them. They would only work if, instead of curricula drugged by decades of appointments obtained by guaranteeing allegiance to the politician of the day rather than to Article 9 of the Constitution, at the head of an art-historical unit there would be appointed an art historian, of an archaeological one an archaeologist, of an ethnoanthropological one an ethnoanthropologist, and so on. The medical metaphor, also used by President Musumeci, is always the most effective to make everyone understand why such a system designed in this way only risks doing damage: as if in a dental office to extract a tooth was a rheumatologist or to read an echocardiogram was an orthopedist. But how can one take “care” of heritage with such a “medical staff”? Superintendents are not agents with a license to block development, however, they need to be put in a position to “operate” (to use the Governor’s own words, of some “medication to be administered” to superintendencies we wrote in "Windows on Art"). Or if you prefer the football metaphor, you have to give them a team with forwards, full-backs, defenders, a goalkeeper, and not where they all play half-backs.

La Soprintendenza di Enna
The Superintendence of Enna

Blame the laws or those who apply them?

But before the “cures,” are we sure, meanwhile, that the diagnosis is correct? Museum directors, library directors, superintendents, they all agree: the fault lies upstream with this or that government, it is Law 10 of 2000! Adele Maresca Compagna also reiterated this in her Icom letter: the mergers within superintendencies risk “causing a further weakening of the entire regional cultural heritage structure already undermined by the abolition of the technical roles for management and the sector resulting from Regional Law 10 of 2000.”

The law is the one that designed the organizational structure of the offices of the regional administration. For the past twenty-two years, like a mantra, insiders have been repeating the regulatory inequity that has made everyone interchangeable regardless of their respective technical qualification. An architect in charge of an archaeological park: it is the law that allows it. Politics thanks. The fact, however, is that of that “infamous” law, before hastily pointing to it as the cause of the disregard with which specialized skills are held in the assignment of tasks, the full implementation should have been demanded, on the contrary.

Above all, we forget that the “single role” is not a Sicilian “specialty.” The special statute has nothing to do with it. It should, in fact, be remembered that the “single role” was also established in the state administration. Exactly the following year, in 2001: “It is established, at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the single role of managers of the State administrations (...)”(Legislative Decree 165/2001, art. 23, c.1). And again, “By regulation issued pursuant to Article 17, paragraph 2, of Law No. 400 of August 23, 1988, the procedures for the establishment and maintenance of the single role are regulated, articulated in such a way as to ensure the necessary technical specificity (...)” (Art. 23, c.3).

Although it seems that even those directly involved do not remember this, the regional law also provides for a “regulation to be issued” to ensure "the necessary technical and/or professional specificity for the purposes of the allocation of positions in relation to the peculiarities of the structures“ (L.R. 10/2000, (art. 6, c.2). Ensuring the necessary technical and professional specificity: quite the opposite of what has been done so far. With the law just passed, the Legislative and Legal Office of the Presidency also stressed the need for the ”definition of the functional structure of management" (Opinion 218/2000).

This is what was done the following year with a decree of the President of the Region, which, among other things, states “for the purposes of the conferment of positions, in relation to the peculiarities of the structures, the single role within it is divided into distinct sections for managers already belonging to technical roles or recruited because of their specific technical professionalism.” Sections then formed by a decree of the Director General of the Regional Department of Civil Service and Personnel.

But let us return again to the “infamous” Law 10/2000. It also says there that “The Presidency of the Region shall maintain a computer database containing the curricular and professional data of each executive for the purposes of granting appointments (Art. 6, c. 6); and also that ”For the granting of each managerial position and for the transfer to different managerial positions, account shall be taken of the nature and characteristics of the programs to be carried out, the aptitude and professional ability of the individual manager, and the activity carried out, normally applying the criterion of rotation of positions" (Art. 9, c. 1).

By what criteria are managers chosen?

Yep, “the criterion of rotation of assignments.” Then what? In the face of this legislation and the administrative acts that derive from it, which are valid for all sectors of the regional public administration, if one goes to see how in practice appointments are assigned, a general arbitrariness and lack of uniformity of criteria, of objective and transparent mechanisms, among individual Departments, but also within the same Department over time, with unchanged legislation, becomes evident.

Over time, acts of interpellation have become increasingly generic. Unclear is the basis on which the comparison insists in arriving at the appointment of managers. Although every administrative measure, including those concerning administrative organization, must be reasoned. And so it ended up that all the directors of archaeological parks (with two exceptions) are architects, that a geologist directs the Bellomo Regional Gallery in Syracuse, that at the head of archaeological museums we still find architects, agronomists and even an economics graduate. And if it was “red-hot” the controversy over the appointment of the director of the Central State Archives, guilty of being “more” librarian than archivist, what should we call that of a lawyer heading a Library, as happened in the Sicilian Region? Not to mention the superintendent who is a forester.

In the end, with these assumptions, the tangled knot of cultural heritage would not unravel even if the single superintendency were “restored” by returning it to its articulation into specialized units. In a Sicily “unfaithful” to the Cultural Heritage Code, even Paul of Tarsus loses sense when in the First Letter to the Corinthians he writes that “God formed the body in such a way (...) that the members had the same care for one another” ( I Cor.12:21-26).

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