Italy/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.1 Cultural infrastructure: tendencies & strategies

Most of the Italian cultural infrastructure is still, directly or indirectly, in the public domain.

Since the end of the 1990s, though, innovative legislation brought about substantial changes in the administration system of cultural goods and activities. The main trend was- and still is - "désétatisation": i.e. gradually entrusting "third sector" status to public cultural institutions, albeit still mainly financed by the public purse, in view of granting them more autonomy, and encouraging them towards public/private partnership.

The number of these organisations – notably in the form of foundations - has grownexponentially in recent times. The main reason for this success lies in a tendency to consider foundations as flexible tools, particularly fit for privately pursuing public aims; hence the growing propensity on the part of state and local authorities to use them as new agents of public policies, as well as to foster public-private partnership. The main fields of activity of these foundations are the organisation of exhibitions and events, the management of theatres, museums and sites and the protection of cultural goods.

The process started towards the end of the 1990s at the national level, and the first of the most relevant state-owned institutions concerned have been the following, mostly active in the performing arts domain:

  • the fourteen main opera houses ("Enti autonomi lirici"), transformed, by Leg Decree 367/1996, into "Fondazioni liriche"(see also chapter 7.3);
  • the Biennale di Venezia, the Triennale di Milano and the Quadriennale di Roma: public bodies organising prestigious exhibitions and events in the domain of the visual and / or performing arts, all transformed into foundations participated by the public sector; and
  • the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia, composed of two separate entities: the Cineteca nazionale (the national film archive), and the Scuola nazionale di cinema, the main training institute for film-making.

The logic behind these measures was: a) to pursue a more efficient management of these institutions, traditionally paralysed by red tape; b) to ease the burden they represent for the public purse by facilitating fundraising from the private sector. The latter aim has, however, only been partially achieved, most of their running costs still being covered by the state budget.

Compared with the relative degree of autonomy that the above mentioned performing arts institutions had already enjoyed, the situation was far more critical for museums and archaeological sites, still so heavily embedded in the Ministry's administrative structure that they did not even have a separate budget, making it impossible to single out their costs. The first experimental reform attempt, undertaken in 1998, was to grant an autonomous status and budget to the major archaeological site of Pompei, albeit keeping it in the state administrative framework (see chapter 4.2.2). This experiment was subsequently extended to the four national museum poles ("poli museali nazionali"): the national art galleries and museum systems in Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples. A more innovative, step - in line with Decree 368/1998, allowing the Ministry to associate with other public authorities or private entities in the operation of state institutions - was the transformation of the National Egyptian Museum in Turin into a public-private foundation, with the participation of the Piemonte Region, the Turin Province and Municipality, on one hand, and the foundations Banco S. Paolo and Cassa di risparmio di Torino, on the other.

A further transformation into foundation status of the new state museum for contemporary art, MAXXI, followed in 2009, and in 2015 ENEL/Ente Nazionale Energia Elettrica became its "founding partner"(see chapter 8.1.1).

A sudden, strong acceleration of such processes has been brought about since 2014 by the Renzi Government, by granting in 2014 a peculiar special autonomy to twenty of the main Italian museums, monuments and archaeological sites (from the Uffizi Gallery to the Royal Palace of Caserta, from the Villa Borghese to the Coliseum …) which will be soon followed in 2016 by another 10 museums, monuments or archaeological sites (see also chapter 3.2).

If most of the more important "desetatisation" experiments accomplished at the state level are still underway, many more changes of this type have been already carried out at the local level, as stated by subsequent yearly Federculture Reports, which assessed as many as 400 so called "gestioni autonome" (autonomous entities) active in the culturalsector.

This process was initiated by Law 142/1990 on Local Autonomies and has been further spread out and encouraged by Decree 267/2000, singling out different innovative models for the operation of "public non-economic local services". Among these models, the most frequently adopted for cultural organisations (theatres, auditoriums, exhibitions centres, museums, etc…) have been the following: foundations, institutions, associations - totalling a share of 59% - followed by companies, consortia, etc... Modernisation in managerial procedures and in promotion and communication techniques, increased capacity building, the fostering of innovative forms of public private partnership, are some of the ingredients of the growing success of these new type of cultural organisations, which can be symbolised by the extraordinary achievements of the Fondazione Musica per Roma, the operating arm of the new three hall auditorium in the capital city.

Privately owned cultural infrastructure as well: museums and galleries and, even more, theatres, are also quite usual in Italy. Both categories can apply for government funding – state and local - under certain conditions.

Only a minority of private cultural infrastructure is actually totally self-supported through the market, and / or through generous donors (the latter case is more frequent for family art collections turned into museums).


Chapter published: 15-07-2016


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