4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies
The Italian response to the new public policy awareness of the multidimensional and interdependent nature of social exclusion – which is leading, in some member states of the EU, to a growing recognition of the potential impact of culture on the other dimensions of exclusion (economic, social, political) – is somewhat mixed.
Very little in the way of central government social policy focuses on culture as a specific issue which might be important to social inclusion. Since 2001-2003, the Italian National Action Plans for social inclusion (now renamed National Strategy Reports on Social Protection and Social Inclusion) have only vaguely been mentioning the need to guarantee equal opportunities of access to cultural services; more recently, the importance of promoting in "new citizens" a better knowledge of the Italian culture and language with a view to a more cohesive society has been stressed (National Strategy Report 2008-2010).
Likewise, there is hardly any explicit policy on the part of the Ministry for the Heritage and Cultural Activities to promote social cohesion; this clearly emerged from a transnational study carried out by the University of Northumbria on behalf of the DG for Employment and Social Affairs (Gordon et al., 2004), and still remains the case today, with only a few exceptions (e.g. a joint protocol signed in 2006 with the Ministry of Justice, quoted below). This is hardly surprising, as Italian cultural policies have long seen heritage protection as their main and unquestioned purpose, and have traditionally paid very scant attention to issues of access, participation and cultural diversity – a trend now being partly reversed by initiatives such as the Ministry's call for proposals "Promoting innovative forms of cultural participation" (see chapter 8.2.2), although no specific mention is made of "social cohesion" goals.
On the other hand, the local level, where tradition and practice are well-rooted, appears to be the natural arena for co-operation between the social and cultural agendas. Explicit references to the promotion of cultural access and participation as well as to the safeguard of "cultural identity" may be found in many Regional Social Plans; and there is quite an impressive range of successful programmes and activities linking culture with social inclusion being developed on the ground, although they are often isolated and fragmented, as well as undermined by the discontinuity of resources made available at both national and local level.
A growing body of evidence is available on such projects, thanks to a number of research projects carried out throughout the 2000s by Rome-based European Centre for Cultural Organisation and Management (ECCOM, 2003 and 2006), Ente Teatrale Italiano, the national representative body for drama (ETI et al., 2003), and Fondazione Cariplo (2009, see below). Most of the activities documented in these research projects are planned and implemented through more or less structured partnerships between cultural institutions and social, welfare, health and learning agencies; it is worth noting, however, that the tradition of "social theatre" in Italy is by far more established and well-rooted than is the case with heritage institutions, which have only recently started to explore their potential contribution towards combating social exclusion. This different degree of "maturity" is also reflected in inter-institutional agreements such as the joint protocols signed by ETI and the Ministry of Justice for the rehabilitation of young offenders (1996) and the creation of a "National Centre Theatre and Prison" (2000). More recently, a joint protocol has been signed by the Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities (Department of Performing Arts and Sport) and the Ministry of Justice for the rehabilitation of inmates through performing arts programmes and activities (2006); more in particular, the agreement is aimed at providing offenders with professional skills and reemployment opportunities.
Another interesting feature emerging from the above mentioned surveys is the emphasis placed on a few well-established areas of intervention (in particular physical and mental disability and, in the performing arts sector, prisons), while other aspects of social exclusion remain largely unexplored (e.g. the cultural rights of immigrant communities).
On the whole, however, it is possible to identify a number of consolidated best practices, and this shows how, in spite of the lack of an adequate institutional, legislative and policy-making framework, the work jointly carried out at a local level by cultural and social operators to combat exclusion can be both fruitful and creative.
Further "model cases" were more recently highlighted by a study on "Culture and social inclusion" commissioned by Fondazione Cariplo, a major banking foundation based in Milan (S. Bodo, Da Milano, Mascheroni, 2009). The main goal of this study was to provide Fondazione Cariplo with practical suggestions / recommendations to develop a new grant programme specifically devoted to promoting the inclusive potential of cultural policies in deprived neighbourhoods, which may point to interesting future developments in the role of banking as well as corporate foundations as emerging partners of public authorities in support of the cultural sector (see chapter 6.3). In fact, the past 2-3 years have seen a growing convergence between two programme areas which have traditionally been kept separate in the foundations' grant-making lines: arts and culture on the one hand, and social services on the other. Following the above-mentioned study, Fondazione Cariplo launched two new calls for proposals, respectively devoted to "Promoting social cohesion through public libraries" and "Creating new audiences for culture". Also Telecom Italia Foundation and Vodafone Italia Foundation recently launched calls for proposals placing a new emphasis on the cohesive potential of cultural projects and activities.