Author: Carla Bodo, Simona Bodo
Italy is a comparatively young state, whose unification dates back only to 1860. The first laws pertaining to cultural matters were adopted by the Parliament in 1902 and 1909, focusing mainly on the protection of the heritage ("tutelage"). In fact, given the unparalleled wealth of the multi-layered Italian historic and artistic assets and the considerable burden of its maintenance on the public purse, heritage has always represented the prevailing domain of public policy in the cultural sector.
A noteworthy parenthesis to this longstanding trend was to be witnessed during the 1920s and 1930s under fascist rule, when Italy was one of the first countries to create a ministry specifically in charge of the cultural sector: the Ministry for Popular Culture, which actually soon became quite unpopular. Despite the negative implications of such a Ministry being created under a dictatorship - censorship, ideological propaganda, and the like - the farsightedness and the anticipatory view of the role of the state in the policies for culture of the fascist regime, as well as its understanding of the cultural institutional engineering, are by now generally acknowledged. A large part of Italian cultural legislation - not only on the protection of the heritage and landscape (Laws 1089 and 1497 of 1939), but also in support of artists and artistic creativity, such as the general Copyright Law (also extended to "droit de suite"), or the Law on "2% for the arts in public buildings" - date back to the late 1930s and early 1940s. The same is true for many of the surviving major cultural institutions, such as the Institute for Restoration (for movable and immovable cultural goods), the national broadcasting company (EIAR, later RAI), Cinecittà and Istituto Luce (the state owned film companies), and ENPALS (the social security institute for performing artists).
As in Germany, the Ministry for Popular Culture was immediately abolished after the war: yet, whereas cultural competencies were devolved to the Lander in the former case, in Italy they were instead retained by the state and split among several ministries. The "protection of heritage", "freedom of thought and of artistic expression", and the "promotion of cultural development" were the key cultural goals indicated by our anticipatory Constitution of 1947 (Articles 9, 21 and 33). However, only the first two goals were actively pursued from the outset, whereas the "promotion of cultural development" – at that time an anticipatory goal – remained in the background for more than two decades. Support for contemporary creativity was no longer a priority, and access to the arts was still for the happy few. Widespread participation in cultural life, however, gradually gathered momentum through the fast-developing cultural industries, and notably through the high level of post-war film production and through the new mass medium: television.
A relevant turning point came in the 1970s, when many significant institutional reforms took place, innovating public policies in the cultural field. The first move came in 1972, when, according to the 1947 Constitution, the 15 ordinary regions were finally established, with a start-up of the decentralisation process. In particular, very active policies were undertaken by some of the regions (Lombardy, Toscana, Emilia Romagna…), soon becoming aware of the potential of culture and the arts as a positive assertion of their own identities. The municipalities followed this example and, around the mid-1970s, the promotion of culture and of broader participation in cultural life became widely debated national issues. Nevertheless, the demand for more cultural decentralisation remained unfulfilled, as the reallocation of competencies on heritage and the performing arts among the state, the regions and local authorities - which, according to Leg. Decree 616/1977, should have taken place within 1978 - was not enacted.
Other relevant institutional changes emerged in the second half of the 1970s, when the long lasting rationalisation process of cultural responsibilities at the national level was finally started. The first step was the creation, in 1975, of a separate Ministry for Heritage, by regrouping responsibilities for museums and monuments, libraries, cultural institutions from the Ministry of Education, for archives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and for book publishing from the Prime Minister's Office. The transfer of responsibilities for the performing arts to the new Ministry - albeit foreseen by Pres. Decree 805/1975 - turned out to be premature at the time, as the ghost of the Ministry for Popular Culture was evoked in order to question the idea of a comprehensive ministry for culture. The prominence of Italy's heritage as the cornerstone of national cultural policy was thus emphasised; "safeguarding" and "restoration" being the key functions absorbing most of the state's activities and financial resources allocated to the cultural field. Support for contemporary creativity and for wider access continued to be a low priority for the new ministry: according to foreign cultural policy experts visiting the country in 1994, "the philosophy of the ministry…is historically based" and it "operates against the interests of a lively visual arts sector", whereas, on the other hand, "at the hint of any conflict between tutela and public access, the public were invariably the loser” (Council of Europe, 1995).
At the turn of the century, the new economic emphasis on the production of immaterial goods and services, and thus the central role acquired by cultural policies in the framework of development policies in Italy as in other industrialised countries, played a significant role in removing the last obstacles to a full rationalisation of the state cultural competencies. In 1998, the centre-left government extended the scope of the Ministry for Heritage to embrace responsibility for the performing arts and cinema, previously entrusted to the Prime Minister's Office. Further responsibilities on copyright were added in 2000, when the reformed Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities had finally achieved the full status of a ministry for culture comparable to the ones of most European countries. Only responsibilities for support and regulation of the radio, television and the press, as well as artistic training and arts education, remain out of its reach.
The devolution problem, though, has not yet been solved (see chapter 5.1.2). In fact, further legislation adopted in 1997 and 1998, aiming at decentralising additional cultural responsibilities to the regions and local authorities, subsequently endorsed by Constitutional Law 3/2001, has not been fully enacted, yet, and appeals to the Constitutional Court are quite frequent. Whatever kind of institutional reorganisation will finally be achieved, any devolution should necessarily be linked to the strengthening, at the national level, of the planning, co-ordination, evaluation and monitoring capabilities of the cultural field as a whole. A "different state" is actually needed for a positive outcome of the decentralisation process (Cammelli, 2003) and to implement policies and actions specifically aimed at providing wider participation in art and culture for all Italian citizens, and at overcoming the deeply rooted geographical and social imbalances still affecting Italy's cultural life.
The gap in cultural supply and demand between the rich and developed northern and central regions and southern Italy is a long lasting problem. Notwithstanding the significant thrust set in motion through the years by the European Structural Funds to the Objective 1 regions (see chapter 3.3), according to most cultural indicators on cultural supply and demand and on cultural employment, this gap is growing even wider. In the economically deprived "Mezzogiorno" (Southern Italy) – an area extremely rich in cultural heritage and in artistic talent, but with a very high rate of youth unemployment and with huge areas still in the control of criminal organisations (e.g. the mafia) – the role of culture and the arts as a means of fostering economic development and social cohesion is (with some exceptions, see chapter 4.2.8) still undervalued. Furthermore, the need to promote and safeguard - besides the basic civil rights - also the cultural rights of all those living in Italy, including over 5 million immigrants recently arriving from the less economically developed areas of the world ( chapter 4.2.4 and chapter 4.2.7), has not been fully taken into account yet. To guarantee equality of access to cultural life for all citizens – also as a means to strengthen social cohesion – should by now be considered an utmost priority, calling for an urgent and well-focused effort by the national community as a whole.
Finally, as a fall out of the continuous financial downsizing of state expenditure for culture throughout the present decade ( chapter 4.2.1 and chapter 6), another consequence is the prospect of a progressive general downgrading of our artistic and historic assets (as shown by the paradigmatic case of Pompei's collapses), as well as of our artistic creativity and our cultural industries, and, consequently, of cultural employment and cultural professions. The great potential of our unique heritage and of our strong tradition in artistic talents and craftsmanship in strengthening our competitiveness to overcome the economic crisis in a globalised world has not been fully acknowledged, yet, by our ruling class. In recent times, however, there have been positive signs of a growing awareness on the part of civil society as a whole: associations, non profit organisations, corporations. As far as the latter are concerned, a relevant initiative has been the publication in Italy's main economic newspaper, Il Sole24ore (owned by Confindustria, the Confederation of Italian Industry), of an appeal for "a constituent assembly for culture" calling for "a Copernican revolution in the relationship between culture and development", and for an in-depth change in our governance of culture (see chapter 4.3).