Italy/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

In Italy, four levels of government – state, regions, provinces and municipalities – share responsibilities in the cultural field (see chapter 3.1). Although important changes in the governance structure of culture are under way, for the time being in the ordinary regions the most important administrative and legislative functions still lie with the state, which until recently has also beenresponsible for half, or more, of the total public expenditure for culture (see chapter 6.2.2).

The state

-       Administrative functions

At the national level, responsibilities for the cultural sector lie presently with 4 ministries (see Chart 1), and notably with:

The Ministry of the Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism

After a long-lasting separation of functions between cultural heritage and the performing arts (see chapter 1), at the end of the past century (1999) the Ministry (MiBAC, since 2013 MiBACT) has been entrusted with the full range of core cultural functions: heritage, museums, libraries and archives, visual arts, performing arts and cinema, cultural institutions, copyright, with the only exception being communications (radio television and the press). Tourism has been added to the Ministry's traditional functions in April 2013.

For the fifth time in fifteen years, the Ministry's organisational structure – which had already been substantially modified by the Decrees 233/2007 and 91/2009 –underwent extensive and significant changes once again by means of Decree 29 August 2014 n. 171. The aim of this reorganisation (http://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/export/MiBAC/sito-MiBAC/MenuPrincipale/Ministero/La-struttura-organizzativa/index.html) was synthesised as follows:

  • the need to comply with the integration of culture and the newly transferred responsibilities on tourism;
  • an effort towards simplification and better coordination between central and territorial functions;
  • the need to boost the autonomy of state museums, so that they can modernise;
  • the enhancement of the ministry's attention towards contemporary art and creativity; and
  • overcoming the ministry's delay in innovation, research and educational policies.

At the central level, while the coordination of ministerial functions is still entrusted to a Secretary General, in 2014 the General Directions have been increased from eight to eleven, while abolishing the DG for Valorisation - to give way, once again, to the DG for Contemporary Art and Architecture (to which the regeneration of Urban Suburbs have been added) – whereas the DG for Museums has been separated from the DG for Fine Arts and Landscape (see chapter 5.3.3), the previous DG for Organisation and Budget has been split into two DGs, and, along with the DG for Tourism, aDG has been introduced: the DG for Education and Research. The other previous DGs – the DG for Antiquities, for Libraries and Archives, for Performing Arts, and for Cinema - have been maintained.

In exercising its functions, the Ministry is assisted by four central, widely representative advisory bodies: the High Council for Heritage and Landscape, the "Consulta" for the Performing Arts, the Permanent Committee for Copyright, and the newly added Permanent Committee for the Promotion of Tourism.

The DGs are technically supported by other central, high-level, relatively autonomous scientific bodies, among which are the Istituti centrali for Heritage protection and restoration, for Heritage cataloguing, for Books restoration and cataloguing, for Archives, for Demo-ethno-anthropological goods, for Graphic arts, for Audiovisual Goods,and the Opificio per le Pietre Dure (dealing with the restoration of inlaid semi-precious stones artefacts)….

Besides the existing, relatively autonomous bodies like the National Archives, two National Libraries and the Centre for Books and Reading, Decree 29 August 2014 has alsoprovided for twenty other national heritage organisations of notable relevance, to be endowed with special autonomy, and whose directors are not appointed through the usual, internal selection, but rather through an external, international competition. Among these, besides 13 museums (Uffizi, Galleria Borghese, Brera, Venice Academy, etc.) also the two Soprintendenze for Antiquities of Rome/Coliseum and of Pompeii/Ercolanum and some heritage sites (the palaces of Caserta, Mantua, etc.) http://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/export/MiBAC/sito-MiBAC/Contenuti/visualizza_asset.html_1656248911.html)have also been included.

At the peripheral level, MiBACT is split between administrative bodies – the Regional Secretariats – and techno-scientific territorial structures especially endowed with the mission of safeguarding heritage: the Soprintendenze, respectively related to the already mentioned DGs for Fine Arts and Landscape and for Antiquities. Furthermore, two other newly created decentralised bodies should also be mentioned: the Regional Museum Coordinators, whose main task will be the promotion of regional museum systems, also open to local and private museums, and the Regional Commissions for Heritage –composed of MIBACT's managers active in the region of reference. They should have the final say in all matters and decisions related to heritage and landscape safeguard and valorisation, planning restrictions, the granting of permits etc..., within the region itself (see also chapter 5.3.3).

Shortly after these far reaching changes in the ministry's organisational structure, though, further changes have been again introduced by Ministerial Decree 19 January 2016, whichmodified the present MiBACT's organigram once more (see Chart 2): in fact, the DG for Antiquities has been modified and melded with the DG for Fine Arts and Landscape, the related Sovrintendenze will be unified as well, and their number increased, while a new autonomous scientific institute has been created: the Institute for Antiquities. It should also be mentioned that the Decree has been heatedly opposed by well known archaeologists (Settis, La Regina, etc…) and even by former Minister for Heritage Paolucci, who deem it as excessively downgrading archaeological matters, whereas other famous archaeologists (Carandini, Manacorda…) welcome it as a step forward towards a more unified and contextual territorial vision of fine arts, architecture and archaeology.

Furthermore, according to the same Decree, special autonomy will be granted to an additional 10 museums and archaeological sites, most of which are located in the Rome territory (Ostia Antica, the Appian Way, the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, the Villa Adriana and Villa d'Este in Tivoli, etc…). Not surprisingly, the upgrading of such a significant number of the main state museums and sites – which is deemed to imply a separation from their original territorial context, as well as from the related Soprintendenze - is also causing much controversy among heritage professionals, notably as far as the further fragmentation of the former, wide reaching Rome soprintendenza for antiquities into so many autonomous – thus independent and among them disconnected - museums and archaeological sites is concerned.

Besides MiBACT, the other ministries also involved in cultural matters are the following:

The Prime Minister's Office

The responsibilities for the allocation of financial support to the press, and for the conventions related to RAI (the state agency for radio and television) for providing additional public services - broadcasting abroad, etc…- are exercised by the Department for Information and Publishing of the Prime Minister's Office, headed by an Undersecretary of State for Information, and Publishing.

The Ministry of Economic Development

After the abolition in 2008 of the Ministry for Communications – responsible for media and ICT regulatory functions as well as for financial support to local radios and television networks – responsibility for communications has been entrusted to an Under Secretary for Communications, attached to the Ministry for Economic Development. Its regulatory functions are carried out jointly with AGCOM (Authority for Guarantees in Communications: see chapter 5.3.7).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

The Ministry's responsibilities for international cultural cooperation (exercised in cooperation with the Ministry of Heritage) are mostly entrusted to the Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language, although other DGs, and in particular the DG for Cooperation and Development, very active in heritage matters, are also involved (see chapter 3.4.1).

The Ministry of Education, University and Research

Through its DG for Higher Arts, Music and Dance Education, the Ministry is responsible for higher arts education, which is provided in its national Fine Art Academies, in the National Drama Academy and the National Dance Academy, and in the music conservatories (see chapter 8.3.1). It also runs several other educational institutes providing diplomas in artistic and musical training.

-       Legislative functions

State legislative functions in the cultural field lie presently with the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and are notably exercised through their Cultural Commissions. It should actually be mentioned that, at the end of 2015, the Senate has undergone a wide reaching reform process, which will not be enacted – though - until confirmed by a referendum to be held in autumn 2016.

Besides the specific legislation in cultural matters, the yearly adoption of the Budget Law presently allows both Chambers to play a relevant role in the funding system, as the Parliamentary debates on this law often produce heated discussions on the pros and cons of public financing of culture. These debates can lead, on one hand, to the integration of statutory cultural budgets with additional funding from other sources (see chapter 5.1.3) - e.g. with lottery money (Budget Law for 1997), or with the 3% of capital investment in infrastructure (Budget Law for 2004) - on the other hand, more and more often in recent times, to cuts in budget line items and / or to austerity measures. This has been the case with the most recent budget laws – now called Financial Stability Laws – and in particular with the one for 2011 (see chapter 4.2.1 and chapter 4.3).

The local authorities

The Regions

The twenty Italian Regions – all endowed with legislative powers and ad hoc administrative structures in the cultural sector (regional departments for culture / "assessorati regionali alla cultura", in some cases associated with other domains like education and tourism) – are split into two groups (see chapter 3.1, chart 3):

  • five autonomous regions, created in the post-war period and endowed with more extended competencies in the cultural field. It is important to note that, out of these five autonomous regions, according to their statutory laws, three – Valle d'Aosta, Sicily, and Trentino Alto Adige – also exercise, through their decentralised Soprintendenze, exclusive and direct legislative and administrative responsibility for their own heritage assets, including the previous "national", now "regional", museums and sites (the devolution of functions by the state took place in the late 1970s). Therefore, in these three regions there are no state Regional Directions for Cultural Goods and Landscape;
  • fifteen ordinary regions, established in 1972, whose cultural competencies were initially limited by the Constitution (Article 117) to the supervision and financial support of local museums and libraries. The subsequent devolution of responsibilities for "cultural promotion of local interest" (Law 616, 1977), although falling short to meet their demand for more cultural decentralisation, came as a partial acknowledgement of their active commitment in the field, the formula beingvague enough to eventually allow the Regions to legislate on a fairly wide range of cultural disciplines. According to the subsequent so-called "Devolution Laws" adopted in the late 1990s, and to Constitutional Law 3/2001, ordinary regions have now "concurrent legislative powers" with the state as far as managing and enhancing the heritage and cultural activities are concerned (see chapter 5.1.2).

Unfortunately, for the time being, Istat is not able to collect comprehensive data on their cultural expenditure, as regional budgets are only now being standardised. In 2000 – the last year for which an ad hoc survey on the actual regional expenditure for culture based on their final accounts was carried out (see Rapporto sull'Economia della Cultura in Italia 1990-2000) – such expenditure amounted to 780 million EUR, about half way between the expenditure of the provinces and the municipalities (see further). It should also be noted that the biggest share of such expenditure (57%) was made available by the five autonomous regions.

Official representation of regional interests – in cultural, as in any other matter – is entrusted to the State-Regions Conference.Within this framework, the heads of the regional departments for culture regularly meet to discuss issues of common interest in the framework of two special coordination committees, the Interregional committee for cultural goods and the Interregional committee for the performing arts,also acting as lobbying organisations, pursuing institutional reforms towards a full implementation of a more federal governance structure in the cultural field (see  chapter 5.1.2).

The Provinces

The 107 Italian Provinces have always been the level of government least involved in cultural policy: their total expenditure for culture in 2013 of 131 million EUR, mainly allocated to archives and libraries, nearly halved since the 2008 financial crisis, and was fifteen times less than the amount of municipal expenditure in the same year (see further).

The only exception to the rule are the two rich Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, which Regione Trentino-Alto Adige (see chart 3) has entrusted with its own cultural competencies devolved by the state (including direct responsibility for heritage), as well as with the connected very substantial financial resources, which are therefore taken into account under the regional expenditure for culture.

As far as the ordinary provinces are concerned, it should be mentioned that according to Law 1429B amending our Constitution – adopted by both parliaments, and awaiting submission to referendum in autumn 2016 - the provinces should be abolished. Their functions may be reallocated to the other three levels of government, in line with the so called "spending review", aimed at the downgrading of our public expenditure to reduce Italy's huge deficit.

What will happen with the provincial culture related functions – mainly concerning archives and libraries as well as their role of intermediating bodies between the regions and the municipalities for the allocation of funds to cultural activities - has not yet been finally established.

The Municipalities

Along with the state, the 8 101 municipalities are by now undoubtedly the most prominent public actors and funding source in Italy's cultural scene, so much so that, notwithstanding the cuts undergone since 2008 (-19%), the total amount of their expenditure for culture in 2013 – 1 990 million EUR (ISTAT data).– was still substantially higher than the expenditure by MIBACT itself for the same year: 1 609 million EUR.

Through their municipal departments for culture / "assessorati comunali alla cultura", they play a paramount role in the direct and indirect (see chapter 7.3) management of municipal cultural institutions: museums and sites, archives, libraries, theatres, multifunctional cultural centres, etc.

Italian municipalities are also investing highly in the restoration and maintenance of their historic assets, albeit under the supervision of the Ministry, and in building cultural premises, with special attention given, in the early 2000s, to capital investment in modern and contemporary art museums and in performing arts centres (see for instance the new MACRO - Museo Arte Contemporanea in Rome, the GAM in Turin, the GAMEC in Bergamo, the MART in Rovereto, the Museo del Novecento in Milan, and the Three Halls Auditorium by Renzo Piano in Rome.).

Municipalities also promote and support a wide range of cultural activities, actively contributing to the rich national supply ofart exhibitions, performing arts festivals, literature festivals, street events, White Nights (Notti Bianche), cultural minorities' celebrations, etc.


Chapter published: 06-04-2017


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