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The budget for the Italian Cultural Institutes Abroad reduced by 30% since  2007 and cultural promotion staff decreased from 193 to 130.

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Italy/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.2 Public actors and cultural diplomacy

The subsequent stages of the multiplication of institutional actors responsible for international cultural cooperation can be synthesised as follows:

  • The first of the new actors was MAE's new DG for Cooperation and Development, created by Law 49/1987 on Italian "aid for economic development and peace reinforcement". Providing support for the safeguard and valorisation of cultural heritage is among the priority aims assigned to the DG by Article 1, par.2 of the Law. After years of occasional restoration and archaeological campaigns, acceleration of the DG's activities in the heritage field was fostered by the adoption, from 1999 on, of bilateral agreements with Syria, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Albania, for the reorganisation of these countries' departments for antiquities. It was actually the starting point of a strong and expanding impetus for the DG's support and technical assistance – in collaboration with the Ministry for Heritage – for the safeguard of the artistic and historic assets of the developing countries (see chapter 3.4.5). It should be addedthat heritage programmes of this DG have been developed in addition to similar programmes still carried out by the DG for Cultural Cooperation, albeit with a much lower availability of financial resources (Ago, Santagata, Rapporto sull'Economia della Cultura in Italia, 2004). More recently, the governance of the international cooperation system has been redefined by Law 25/2014, which reconverted the DG for Cooperation into the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development, separated from MAE, but still supervised by it, supported by an "Inter-ministerial Committee for Cooperation and Development" where all the other ministries involved are represented. The Agency has been implemented since January 2016.
  • Other Directorates General were established following the adoption of two subsequent extensive reforms of MAE's organisational structure, adopted in the years 2000 and 2010, respectively. The first reform changed the Ministry's focus of the DGs from a sectorial basis to a territorial one. Consequently, the DG for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation lost responsibility for the monitoring and financially support of various, including culturally relevant, international and national organisations (the EU, the Council of Europe, the Istituto Latino Americano, the Istituto per l'Africa e l'Oriente, etc…), which were assigned to other DGs responsible for geographical areas. With the most recent reform brought about by Presidential Decree 95/2010 on the reorganisation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs – which downgraded the DG for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation to a Central Directorate for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language (see further) - fragmentation of cultural competences among the Ministry's administrative units appears to be even more complicated.
  • The relative loss of responsibilities of the DG for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation in Italy's international cultural cooperation policies was paralleled, since early 2000, by a simultaneous upgrading of the role of the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities, which had extended its responsibilities to the whole framework of national cultural policies, including the performing arts (see chapter 1) and the related promotion abroad. MiBACT's strengthened international role should be also ascribed to the growing relevance in cultural cooperation matters of the Council of the Cultural Ministers of the Union, as well as to the enhancement of Italy's leadership in advising and technically and financially supporting the developing countries' heritage policies. However, unlike in other countries, MiBACT has no specific DG in charge of foreign relations, which are shared instead among the cabinet's Diplomatic Advisor and a Unit for International Relations supervised by the Secretary General.
  • Furthermore, the adoption of Constitutional Law 3/2001 –opening up Italy to a more federally oriented institutional system (see chapter 5.1.2) and thus enhancing the role of the 20 Italian regions in cultural cooperation abroad – also accounted for the multiplication of Italian institutional actors in the international cultural arena. In fact, having obtained (through the reformulated art. 117 of the Constitution) concurrent competencies with the state in the field of the enhancement of cultural goods and the promotion of cultural activities, the regions - already quite efficient in the international promotion of their own cultural image abroad – have now full legal responsibility. The organisation of artistic events, the exchanges of artists, art exhibitions and performances, are actively pursued at the regional level, in collaboration with MAE, but also autonomously. Furthermore, most of the main cities have also become quite important actors for international cultural exchanges, often in the framework of "twinning cities" bilateral agreements (Rome-Paris, etc.). Moreover, Culture 2000 and otherEU cultural programmes like ECOC/European capitals of culture – along with programmes by the Council of Europe, such as the Cultural Routes, etc. – have acted as effective catalysts for regional and local international cultural cooperation.

Further information in this chapter is thus mainly focused on the cultural cooperation activities carried out by MAE's main institutional actor: the Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language.

The Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language

One of the outcomes of the MAE's 2010 reorganisation was a rationalisation of the Ministry's DGs through their reduction from 12 to 8, also in view of cost saving, and of establishing a closer connection between culture and the economy. Thus the DG for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation changedto the Directorate Central for the Promotion of the Italian Culture and Language, placed - along with a Directorate Central for Internationalisation (aimed at the promotion of economic and business activities abroad) - under the DG for the Country's Promotion (Economy, Culture and Science).

This time the administrative reorganisation of the eight new DGs followed a mix of geographical and functional criteria (the latter being: political affairs and security, globalisation, promotion, European Union, etc.). Whereas UNESCO is still in the responsibility of the Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture, the competencies for monitoring and financial supporting international organisations also active in the cultural field like the UN and the Council of Europe – as well as other national organisations in North America, Russia, the Mediterranean, Eastern non EU countries and the Middle East – have been assigned to the DG for Political Affairs and Security. EU cultural affairs are dealt with by the DG for the European Union, whereas institutions active in South America, Sub Saharan Africa, Eastern Asia, fall under the competence of the DG for Globalisation.

The main areas of activity in the cultural field of the new Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language – also responsible for cooperation in educational and scientific matters – lies in bilateral cultural co-operation, carried out through the Italian Cultural Institutes Abroad, through bilateral cultural agreements, and through the joint organisation of full-scale yearly cultural events.

The network of Italian Cultural Institutes Abroad – whose mission is the promotion of Italian culture and language in foreign countries – has been in operation since fascist times (1926), and has gradually become more extensive: it presently operates in 63 countries with 83 institutes, of which 54 are still located in Europe, 10 in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, 21 in the Americas, and the rest scattered in other continents. Notwithstanding their rationalisation, more than two decades ago, by Law 401/1990, it is generally felt that this precious asset for international cultural cooperation and dialogue does not keep up with its great potential, and that a new legislative reform would be needed. Several draft laws precisely aimed at reorganising the institutes, though, have been lost over the years.

Some of the weakest points of the Institutes are considered:

  • the lack of autonomy as, unlike some foreign counterparts such as the Goethe Institute, they are informally submissive to the Ministry's control – and subject to the changing moods of swinging political majorities; and
  • their endemic shortages in financial resources, often barely sufficient to carry out ordinary activities (libraries, Italian language teaching, small scale events), leaving little left to wide-ranging outreach programmes.

Budget shortages have actually become progressively more severe, as an aftermath of the financial crisis: yearly allowances for the institutes' activities went down from 18.4 million EUR in 2007 to only 12.5 million in 2014 (a loss of about 30%), whereas the number of "cultural promotion" staff employed in the institutes decreased from 193 to 130 in the same years... Even if the loss in financial resources has been partly compensated by an increase in earned income - mainly achieved through the increased organisation of the (quite sought for) Italian language courses - a further downsizing of the institute's worldwide network is probably foreseen in the near future.

Bilateral cooperation is also carried out by means of bilateral cultural agreements with other countries, dealing with a whole range of activities: exchanges of scholars, artists, performances, archaeological missions, and, in particular, cinema (out of the about 70 existing bilateral agreements, in fact, half are dealing with cinema co-production). Among the most recently established cultural bilateral agreements are those with Brazil, China, Iraq, Uruguay and Vietnam.

The latest MAE's bilateral endeavour is the joint organisation of full-scale yearly cultural events in given countries, selected according to foreign policy priority criteria (see chapter 3.4.6).

An enhanced promotion of the Italian language abroad – with a particular focus on the Americas, and on countries with huge Italian diasporas - has also been pursued with success. An encouraging increase in the number of students learning our language in the Italian Cultural Institutes (+38% between 1995 and 2000) was highlighted in a survey carried out in 2003 by the Ministry (De Mauro, 2003). As the interest towards the Italian language continues to be on the rise, it is by now taken for granted that the supply of its teaching is not able to satisfy a much increased demand and that more efforts should be made in this direction.

Regarding multilateral cultural co-operation, since the loss of competency for cultural activities related to the EU and the Council of Europe after the 2000 reform, the Directorate Central main competency dealing with international organisations presently relates to UNESCO, where the focus of Italian activities has mostly been on heritage (support to the World Heritage Centre, archaeological missions, etc...: see also chapter 3.4.3).

Is should be noted, finally, that the main problem MAE's several administrative units in charge of the promotion of Italian culture abroad have to face deals with the progressive decrease in their already inadequate financial resources. Financial data only dealing with its cultural activities are not made available by the Ministry: they are not to be singled out even as far as the Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language isconcerned, whose main competences are rather in the educational domain. It is well known, however, that the impact of the present financial crisis has been particularly heavy for our cultural diplomacy, in a country whose willingness to fund it had already been lagging behind other major European countries, like France and Germany. For the time being, though, because of the lack in Italian data, reliable comparisons with state expenditure for international cultural cooperation by other countries are in no way possible.

Chapter published: 13-07-2016

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