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MiBACTs financial allocation for 2016 is 27% higher than the previous year, but is still significantly lower than the figure for 15 years earlier: the erosion of the budget started much in advance  of the economic downturn in recent years.

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Italy/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and debates  

4.2.1 Conceptual issues of policies for the arts

In a time of more and more severe budgetary constraints brought about by the economic recession, the debate on cultural policies in Italy continues to be dominated by the concept of non-sustainability of the present shortage in the available financial resources: that is, by what has been called by Umberto Eco a "cultural anorexia". Increasing drastic cuts have been inflicted since the 2000s, and even more so since 2010, on the budget of the Ministry for Heritage as well as of the other ministries involved in cultural financing; furthermore, for the first time, local expenditure for culture and private expenditure are also slowing down (see chapter 6.2).

For several years, the yearly budget law has heralded bad news for the public financing of culture. However "blood and tears" for the cultural sector was never brought about as much as by the Budget Law for 2011, i.e. the very controversial Law 220/2010 on Urgent measures for financial stabilisation and economic competitiveness. After the 2 490 million EUR budget reached by MiBACT in actual expenditure in 2000, and the following ups and downs, the lowest point was attained in 2011, with an initially forecasted expenditure of only 1 425 million EUR. The fall of MiBACT's budget in the total state budget from 0.36% to 0.19% between 2000 and 2011 (as underlined by the Court of Accounts) was further evidence of the neglect of the constitutional goal of "promoting cultural development and safeguarding the nation's landscape and heritage" (art. 9).

Conflicting views were raised within the government itself about the viability of such extensive cuts in a typology of expenditure considered by many, rather than a cost, asan investment in an extraordinary asset which represents the best chance for enhancing Italy's attractiveness and competitiveness in the future, and should thus be safeguarded. It is no wonder that, as a consequence of these devastating cuts in cultural expenditure, two Presidents of the High Council for Cultural Goods –the highly respected archaeologists Salvatore Settis and Andrea Carandini – resigned one after the other.

Even harsher unrest was raised by the proposed fierce cuts within MIBACT's Fund for the Performing Arts (FUS), causing much concern in the artistic community (see also chapter 5.3.2). Such a continuous decrease and ups and downs were notably considered in 2011 as conflicting with article 9 of the Italian Constitution by music directors Daniel Barenboim (from the stage of La Scala) and Riccardo Muti. This sustained campaign by prominent artists against the cuts, combined with a three-day general strike in theatres, finally led to a restoration of the FUS allocation to equal the previous year (406 million EUR), sourced by means of a sudden, unpopular increase in oil taxes.

The switching in November 2011 from the centre-right Berlusconi government to a government of technicians lead by professor Mario Monti, did not change much for the year 2012, when the worsening of financial constraints on the public purse did not spare culture from the budgetary "linear" cuts (i.e. equal for all ministries and for all line items), thus maintaining cultural life in great need, in all its multifaceted aspects.

More and more monuments collapsed, and not only in Pompeii. Some museums (most notably museums of modern art) were threatened to close down. The operation of seven opera theatres on the verge of bankruptcy – in Naples, Florence, Venice, Genoa, Bari, etc. – was entrusted, one after the other, to external commissioners. The survival of glorious newspapers was endangered as well, thus threatening pluralism of information. Due to the protracted semi-hibernation of government action in this field, it was the turn of civil society to take up the challenge to reverse such a situation. The awareness of the invaluable endogenous asset for our country's social and economic development represented by Italy's arts and heritage traditions is, in fact, growing. Surprisingly enough, artists, cultural institutions, art and heritage associations, cultural economists were not alone in this belief any more, having found a quite unexpected ally in Confindustria, the Confederation of Italian Industry.

In 2012, Il Sole 24ORE – Confindustia's daily newspaper – under the motto "Niente cultura, niente sviluppo"(No culture, no development), started a huge and protracted campaign, launching a "manifesto" calling on the following points: 1) the need for a constituent assembly, bringing culture in from the margins of the government's agenda; 2) cultural development based on long-term strategies; 3) closer inter-ministerial cooperation by the Ministry of Heritage; 4) the introduction of art education and scientific culture in all levels of the formal education system; 5) a closer public-private partnership in support of culture and the arts. After thousands of artists, academics, mayors, cultural managers and economists signing the "manifesto", the General States for Culture were organised in Rome, with the participation of the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano (see chapter 1). In his acclaimed address, the President strongly deplored the strong under-evaluation of the investments in culture and the arts by Italian rulers.

Notwithstanding the protracted economic downturn, the challenge, though, seems to have been finally taken up after 2013 by the new centre-left coalition governments. Both Ministers heading MIBACT – Massimo Bray, followed by Dario Franceschini – showed a firm commitment to tackle some of the most evident emergencies badly affecting the cultural sector. Two important, wide-ranging laws encompassing heritage safeguard as well as the re-launch of cultural and tourism development have been adopted by the two ministers: respectively Law 122/2013 - Valore cultura, and Law 106/2014 - Art bonus (see chapter 5.2). In recent years, MiBACT's budget gradually increased, finally overcoming again the ceiling of 2 000 million euro. MiBACT's financial allocation for 2016 of 2 028 million EUR "has reached a 27% increase with respect to the previous year", as proudly announced by Minister Franceschini. A welcome turnabout, indeed, but still significantly lower - even excluding inflation - than the 2 345 million EUR which had been spent fifteen years ago…

Chapter published: 14-07-2016

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