Italy/ 6. Financing of culture  

6.3 Trends and indicators for private cultural financing

By far the most relevant source of private financing for culture in Italy – according to the broader definition of culture adopted by the Compendium – is the marketplace: that is, household expenditure for the purchase of cultural goods and services (obviously not including the purchase of hardware – TV appliances, hi-fi, etc. – which does not represent a direct source for cultural funding). Reliable comprehensive data on household expenditure, not including the purchase of hardware, though are not regularly available in Italy.

Advertising ranks as the second source, although limited to the financial support of the media (radio TV, the press, cinema…). Advertising income has also been badly affected by the economic and financial crisis, as its earnings went down from 9.8 billion in 2010 to 7.4 billion EUR in 2014: a decrease of around -15% (AGCOM data).

Private giving in the form of donations and sponsorship only ranks in third place, and is by far the more limited source of cultural financing.

Funding from lotteries will not be considered in this chapter to avoid double counting, the financial resources flowing from the Lotto to the cultural sector being fully incorporated in MiBACT's budget. For more information about the financial amount stemming from lotteries for culture, utterly diminished in recent years, see chapter 5.1.3.

The analysis in this chapter will thus be limited, as far as possible in the light of the available data, to private giving.

Partial, official data on private giving to the cultural sector is regularly available only for banking foundations, corporate donors and individual donors. They are shown here (Table 6) in relation to their trends (2008-2014) in order to highlight how badly the impact of the financial crisis has affected private funding for culture and the arts as well.

It is necessary to bear in mind, though, that while the data available for banking foundations (stemming from ACRI / Associazione Casse di Risparmio Italiane) are exhaustive, those related to corporate and individual donations, (stemming from MiBACT) are substantially under-evaluated, while only dealing with donations formally endorsed by the Ministry for tax relief purposes. Due to lack of information, in fact, they do not include donations by all the many other grant-making foundations to the cultural sector (corporate foundations, family foundations etc., often supporting culture) not mediated by the ministry, as well as the quite substantial – if probably declining – amount of corporate sponsorship, often included in advertising budgets.

Table 6:    Selected private giving in support of the cultural sector, in million EUR, 2008 and 2013




% Var.


Banking foundations




Donations by companies




Donations by individuals








Source:    Elaborations on Istat, Statistiche culturali 2014.

In comparison with 2008 – when total private giving reached the highest peak of 574 million EUR – Table 6 shows how substantial the negative effects of the economic downturn have been, as private giving nearly halved in a five year time lapse: -47% by 2013. Whereas donations by companies have remained quite stagnant, financial constraints have caused a dramatic collapse of individual donations (-79%). Donations by banking foundations have about halved, as well: -48% between 2008 and 2012, with a strong acceleration in the most recent years. This is bad news for the cultural sector, as banking foundationsrepresent, by far, the core of private giving to culture and the arts in Italy, as the following paragraphs explain in more detail.

In Italy there has always been a tradition of supporting the arts and culture by the local savings banks, which have been privatised through subsequent laws since the 1990s. The first step towards reform (Law 218/1990) was to separate the non-profit mission of grant-giving from core banking activities. A subsequent step (Law 451/1998) was to create independent private foundations endowed with the sale of banking assets, devoted exclusively to the public sector goals precisely indicated by the law itself: scientific research, arts and heritage, health and welfare.

Throughout the years, these 88 newly endowed foundations substantially increased their grant-making to "arts and cultural goods and activities": from 183 million EUR in 2000 to 513 million in 2008. However, due to the protracted economic downturn and to the consequent, strong decline in the foundation's financial assets, support to the arts and culture has been substantially slowing down, to reach only 269 million EUR in 2014. Nevertheless, this represents the biggest sectoral share (34%) of the banking foundations' total giving, notwithstanding their high exposure to the competitive pressure exercised by health and welfare organisations, in times of social emergency and unrest.

The XX Rapporto Fondazioni Bancarie, anno 2014 ( actually confirms the unchanging attention towards the domain "arts and cultural goods and activities" as "a key factor for innovation and development". A change of strategies and a switch in priorities in recent years is also stated by the same report, with less attention for "safeguarding heritage" and an increased effort to support artistic activities and creativity in the territories, particularly with a view to fostering the strongly faltering youth employment. One of the latest flagship projects, started in 2010 by 10 foundations, has been "Funder 35", aimed at fostering competition among young people for the creation of "non-profit cultural enterprises". Several other foundations have since joined this successful project, which has been protracted beyond 2014.

Although the prevailing approach of the banking foundations has so far been one of grant-giving, they are showing a growing interest in developing their own long-term strategies and programmes, as well as in enhancing their role as catalysts in the cultural sector (see Leg. Decree 368/98 in chapter 4.2.2). As a follow up to these strategies, several partnership agreements are being signed between the Ministry for Heritage, some regional authorities and the banking foundations, aiming at rationalising their cooperation in support of cultural development at the regional level.

For the banking foundation system to become a more and more efficient cultural policy partner for the state, a key issue to address is the strong territorial divide between the North-Centre and the South of Italy. In fact, only 13% of the total number of such foundations operates in the South and the islands: the risk of their relevant role in the financing of culture in our country is thus to foster further geographical imbalances in cultural supply and demand. In order to fill this huge gap, banking foundations, in agreement with voluntary organisations, created in 2006 a Foundation for the South, initially endowing it with 300 million EUR.

Official and reliable data about corporate sponsorship do not exist, in Italy. According to the only available data published by IPSOS, though, no wonder if the trend in the amount of sponsorship for culture and the performing arts seems to be, once again, downward in the recent difficult years: falling, in fact, from 269 to 159 million EUR between 2008 and 2013 (-41%). There have been, though, some notable exceptions, especially in the fancy "made in Italy" fashion world: among which the Rome Fontana di Trevi sponsored by the Fendi sisters, and, even more, the mega-sponsorship of Diego Della Valle (the corporate owner of Tod's fashion shoes), who in 2011 agreed to contribute as much as 25 million EUR for the restoration of the Coliseum in Rome, which is presently underway: the highest amount ever allocated for cultural sponsorship in Italy.

Finally, activities autonomously carried out more and more frequently by the private sector in support of culture and the arts within the framework of corporate social responsibility should also be mentioned, even if the related financial burden is not easily quantifiable. In this respect, it should be noted that the main actor is, once again, a bank. In fact, the most relevant example is the Progetto cultura, directlyrun by one of the main Italianbanking groups, Intesa Sanpaolo, with the aim of contributing "not only to economic growth, but also to cultural and civic growth". Its foremost action – carried out under the brand Gallerie d'Italia – has been the reorganisation and exhibition of the previously inaccessible art collections owned by several banks merged in the group (Banca Commerciale, Cariplo, etc.) for the free enjoyment of the public at large, including educational activities. Three galleries, housed in important historic buildings belonging to the group, have been inaugurated in Milan (among which the Cantieri del '900, opened in 2012 in Piazza Scala), in Naples and in Vicenza; others will follow. Another goal of Progetto Cultura – contributing to the protection of Italian cultural heritage – is carried out under the brand Restituzioni,where more than 1 000 artworks have already been restored, in close cooperation with MIBACT's "soprintendenze".

The most relevant latest example of corporate social responsibility can be found, once more, in the high fashion world: the Prada Foundation, financed by the famous Prada fashion house. The Prada Foundation is not a single building, but rather an entire huge villagedevoted to the arts, which opened in May 2015 in Milan, thus rejuvenating part of its former industrial outskirts. In the bright courtyard of an old, abandoned liquor distillery refurbished by Rem Koolhaus, the archistar has already built two magnificent buildings - an exhibition hall and a cinema hall - and is about to build a third building: a ten floor tower for art exhibitions and events.

Chapter published: 15-07-2016