Recovery Fund, now is the time to make structural investments in culture

The Recovery Fund provides Italy with an incredible opportunity for a season of investment. One that hopefully can exist for culture as well.

If it is true, as many are at pains to repeat, that every crisis is an opportunity, this time the cultural sector can be glad to have received a golden one: the Recovery Fund is not only a historic achievement, the first fund in history that the European Union will finance with common debt securities, a victory of solidity and unity of purpose, and so on with rhetoric this time appropriate to highlight the scope of what European decision makers were able to achieve last night. For Italy, it is also an extraordinary opportunity for cultural revitalization: we have the chance to ensure adequate structural investment in one of our country’s strategic sectors.

Yet, there was someone who had the idea to propose to invest part of the Recovery Fund resources in culture. In these hours we talk, very rightly, about investing in education, in health, in infrastructure, in energy, in digital. Culture, on the contrary, has not yet entered common talk, despite its significant social and economic effects: and if we really don’t want to talk about the former, let’s at least focus on the latter, and scroll through the reports of the Symbola Foundation, according to which the production system of culture and creativity alone generates about 90 billion euros, activating a total of more than 250 if we also take into account the allied industries, and employing about 6 percent of Italian workers (in absolute terms, that’s a figure that is around 1.5 million people employed in culture and creativity). Or, we can scroll through the report that, last year, the Ministry of Culture commissioned from the Boston Consulting Group, according to which state museums alone (358 of those considered by the analysis) have an impact, between direct and induced, of 27 billion euros on GDP, generating 117 thousand jobs.

We do not discover today that the sector is in crisis, and this has been happening since before the coronavirus. Yesterday, the editorial staff of Fanpage, among the very rare newspapers to have delved into some of the implications that the Recovery Fund entails for culture (having, moreover, pointed out that, for the sector, there has already been a setback, since the European Commission has cut by 5.4 billion euros the resources of the culture framework programs, which already have funds that are far from huge: rather, culture, unfortunately, gets the crumbs of the common budget), cited the study by the KEA European Affairs research center, expressly prepared for the European Council, and aimed at assessing the impacts of Covid-19 on the culture and creativity sectors. And it is estimated that, at the European level, the loss will be 21 billion euros, with a contraction in the contraction of spending on culture that, for Italy, will be 5% (it must be said that, according to KEA, it will be better for us than in the United Kingdom, where spending capacity will decrease by 10%, in Germany, where the decrease is estimated at 7%, and in France, for which the estimates stand at -6%).

The KEA study suggests a number of measures to the European Union, pointing out that the crisis is “a formidable accelerator of trends that are already taking place, especially the growth of digital networks, the domination of the market by large players, and the emergence of new behaviors, both collectively and individually,” and that it “emphasizes the need to call on artists and creative professionals to contribute to the revitalization process and the future.” here, then, in the report’s conclusion, we read that European countries should focus on culture as a means of social inclusion capable of fighting inequality, invest in digital, close the historical lags of the culture sector (starting with technological ones), involve arts and culture professionals in decision-making processes and incorporate culture within social policies, and encourage collaboration between different countries.

As for Italy, not much would be needed: culture probably does not need very strong cash injections. If anything, it needs investment: in the midst of the crisis, with the relaunch decree, we were able to respond with immediate and direct measures, supporting the most troubled areas, and which, one imagines, will serve to get us through the moment in the smoothest way possible. Now, however, it is time to think about the areas to focus on, and for a modern country, welfarism is not enough. It is necessary, in the meantime, to encourage cultural spending, to push Italians to read, to go to museums, theaters, cinemas, and places of culture. Then we need investments to modernize our museums, especially the smaller and peripheral ones, which, in comparison with the autonomous museums, still suffer from a strong delay, which has grown with the passage of time after the ministerial reform of 2014. But they are strategic sites both for their target communities and for those coming from outside, as a reason for strong attraction. Again, investments in education cannot but go hand in hand with those in libraries and archives, institutions too often forgotten in recent years, and forced into closures, reductions and inefficiencies. The epidemic has then shown how digital is a fundamental means, but on its own it is not enough (I refer to museologist Sandro Debono’s column that we host in our masthead): here, too, the desirable investments to digitize our heritage will have to be accompanied by expenditures to train staff. New museums need new ideas.

Pinacoteca di Palazzo Mansi, Lucca
Hall of the Pinacoteca in Palazzo Mansi, Lucca.

We also need to re-launch contemporary art, with a true cultural New Deal, as suggested by the Forum for Contemporary Art: programming capable of looking ahead in time and that passes from the recognition of the professional category of the visual arts, from the commitment to support projects capable of having spill-over effects on the territories, from the necessary reforms to incentivize the market and patronage. Finally, it would be interesting to concretize the dream of a public art plan like the one proposed by Hans Ulrich Obrist, who mentioned the New Deal projects of Franklin D. Roosevelt as exemplars capable of supporting artists and the whole system that gravitates around them, while at the same time reviving the country’s image and its role in the sphere of international culture and art, which has been somewhat tarnished lately.

A new Europe, as the appeal of more than forty artists and creatives to European leaders reminded us last week, cannot but pass through culture. And Italy is called upon not to shy away from a serious, public discussion on how to invest in culture in order to focus, really and finally, on a sector that is vital for the country’s future: now is the time to do so. Will our politics be able to rise to the challenge?