The Franceschini reforms: a review ten years later

When Franceschini's 'reforms' were adopted, the cultural heritage administration had been languishing for at least twenty years due to lack of means and personnel. What is the result ten years later? Adriano La Regina's opinion.

When Franceschini’s ’reforms’ were adopted, the Cultural Heritage Administration had been languishing for at least twenty years due to lack of means and personnel, antiquated organization, complex procedures and functional impairments caused by regulations introduced by the Berlusconi governments. Structural modernization and bureaucratic streamlining were needed with care, however, not to dissipate the heritage of scientific expertise, technical skills, and legal and aesthetic elaborations accumulated over the course of a centuries-old tradition that, in the 20th century, had made Italy a model for the care of cultural heritage. Instead, out of political ineptitude and cultural unawareness, entirely different criteria were adopted, resulting in the current dysfunctions, which are far more serious than the failures that should have been remedied.

The different arrangement of superintendencies, into which the care of landscape, antiquities, historical, artistic and architectural heritage has been merged, has resulted in the abandonment of scientific competence in the ultimate responsibility for protection. However, amalgamation would be useful, and is still always desirable, on the condition that collegial, binding forms of decision-making with simple procedures be established, and that the functions of the head of the office be strictly limited to control and legal representation. This would have been a highly innovative reforming criterion on the cultural level, which would, moreover, have made it possible to free the management of protection from the interference of political power, which is increasingly intrusive in matters whose prerogative the Italian legal system does not recognize.

On the other hand, the creation of ’single’ superintendencies has not lightened the administration, since the overall number of offices has not been reduced, the territorial size of individual districts having been diminished. Rather than proceeding with the further fractionation of offices, it would have been desirable to unite them all in a regional dimension, including structures with incongruous functions (regional directorates of museums, regional secretariats). Overlapping competencies are a source of confusion among offices both at the peripheral level and vis-à-vis the central administration.

Dario Franceschini
Dario Franceschini

The separation of museums from superintendencies has done more harm than good. The much proclaimed development of museums is actually due to the general increase in tourism rather than to the better management of heritage, which, to some extent and not everywhere, there has also been. Conversely, conflicting decisions and guidelines on the same subject, the confusion of archives, the difficulties in managing storerooms, the dismemberment of contexts in archaeological finds, the scattering of equipment, the duplication of services, and so on, have been the result of mere intellectual insipience. The reasonable need to give more autonomy to museums could easily have been achieved without abolishing the organic link with the institutions of territorial protection; this, for most Italian museums, is the natural source of increase in exhibition holdings. Cognitive processes are developed on the territory and in museums and cannot be exercised separately. An arrangement should be established for museums to ensure their management autonomy, as indeed also for conservation offices, within a unified entity of superintendence/museum/archaeological park, whatever you want to call it; it will be useful remember, by the way, that in their formation the superintendencies were nothing more than the projection into the territory of the interest in the discovery of goods to be exhibited in museums, in the historical research that ensued, and in the protection of the soils and monuments from which the goods themselves could also be obtained in the future.

The access of foreign scholars to the directorship of cultural institutions is a sacrosanct principle, already respected in universities, finally adopted in Italy as well. The good intent, however, has been vitiated by unclear procedures, with sometimes good but mostly mediocre results.

While the creation of central institutes with technical-scientific competencies, such as the Central Institute for Archaeology, has been beneficial, the abnormal increase in directorates-general and other offices, also with sometimes poorly distinguished competencies and overlapping tasks, has proved unnecessary and harmful. The reason for this proliferation is to create favorable positions for clientele, with results opposite to the goals of simplification. Bureaucratic overburdening proceeds at a relentless pace through the introduction by new offices of defatiguing regulations for any activity of a scientific or more generically cultural nature. See, for example, the serious conditions in which university research in the archaeological and art-historical fields has found itself after regulations issued in ministerial circulars over the past decade, often in violation of guarantees of freedom for research and study.

The separation of protection from valorization has wiped out with a stroke the concrete application of theoretical conceptions elaborated by 20th-century Italian thought, from Benedetto Croce to Cesare Brandi, laying bare the cultural paucity inherent in recent regulatory and administrative order transformations.

Finally, the pushed commodification of heritage, with increased costs for access to assets and charges for the reproduction of images of works that by their nature are common heritage, has been a serious impairment of the principle of universality of culture and freedom of access, while respecting copyrights, to the assets that represent it.

Italy is by nature and history a world destination for cultural interests. Its heritage requires a knowledgeable and educated administration, streamlined and free from bureaucratic and political interference. Ways to achieve it were carefully studied in the second half of the twentieth century; see, among a very conspicuous documentation, especially the Proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry for the Protection and Enhancement of the Historical, Archaeological, Artistic and Landscape Heritage, established by Law No. 310 of April 26, 1964. 310, published in three volumes entitled Per la salvezza dei beni culturali in Italia (Rome 1967) and the bill Revising the norms of protection and establishing the autonomous administration of cultural and environmental heritage, presented in the Senate on October 5, 1989 (10th Legislature, ddl. no. 1904) signed by, among others, Giulio Carlo Argan, Giuseppe Chiarante, Giorgio Strehler.

This contribution was originally published in No. 21 of our print magazine Finestre Sull’Arte on paper. Click here to subscribe.

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