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Italy/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

The Italian response to the recent public policy awareness of the multidimensional and interdependent nature of social exclusion – which has lead, 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. Likewise, until recently there has hardly been any explicit policy on the part of MiBACT to promote social cohesion; this clearly emerged in the early 2000s – a time when "social cohesion" had become a buzz-word in many national contexts also as far as cultural policies were concerned – from a transnational, in-depth study carried out by the University of Northumbria on behalf of the DG for Employment and Social Affairs (Gordon et al., 2004), and still largely remained the case throughout the decade although with a few exceptions (see below the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2006 with the Ministry of Justice). This is hardly surprising, as Italian cultural policies have long seen heritage protection as their main purpose, and have traditionally paid very scant attention to issues of access, participation and cultural diversity.

This trend is now being partly reversed by initiatives such as the Ministry's project "#MigraArti", launched in December 2015 (, see chapter 4.2.7), or the conference jointly promoted by MiBACT and the Fitzcarraldo Foundation in 2014 on the theme "Measuring Impacts of the Valorisation of Cultural Heritage. Tools for evidence-based policies" ( In its first year of activity, the recently established DG for Contemporary Art, Architecture and Urban Suburbs, entrusted with cultural policies aimed at fostering the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods (, see also chapter 5.3.5), promoted, organised or supported a number of multidisciplinary programmes and projects, including: the "LIMES Atlas of Urban Suburbs", the workshops of the "Art and Light" series (a partnership with Save the Children), the "Experimenting Art! Museums and Artists in Schools" (a partnership with the MIUR and AMACI – Association of Italian Contemporary Art Museums) and "Biennale 2016: Workshop of social architecture".

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; the President of Regione Lazio, Nicola Zingaretti, launched a "Manifesto for arts and culture as a vehicle of social cohesion" in 2013 (

More in general, 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 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), the former Ente Teatrale Italiano (ETI et al., 2003), and Fondazione Cariplo (S. Bodo, Da Milano, Mascheroni, 2009; see below). More recently, research was carried out on both the Italian situation as a whole (e.g. ECCOM survey on migrants' cultural participation, 2015,, and specific case studies (e.g. Fitzcarraldo Foundation's study on the socio-cultural and economic impact of Operaestate Festival Veneto, 2012,

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. Some examples:

  • the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2000 by the Ministry of Justice, Regione Toscana, the provincial administration of Pisa, the City of Volterra and ETI, which led to the establishment of the National Centre for Theatre in Prisons;
  • the Memorandum of Understanding signed by MiBACT (Department of Performing Arts) 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;
  • the establishment, following Tuscany's example, of the second regional networking project on theatre in prisons in 2011: Coordinamento Teatro Carcere Emilia Romagna);
  • the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 by the Coordinamento Nazionale dei Teatri in Carcere e l'Istituto Superiore di Studi Penitenziari/ISSP (Ministry of Justice).

Theatre is in fact – with 112 theatre groups registered by the Ministry of Justice in 2012 – the most widespread cultural activity in Italian prisons. So much so that a specific art form, Prison Theatre, has gradually gained notoriety and prestige over the past twenty years, thanks to the work carried out by theatre directors such as Armando Punzo at the Carcere di Volterra or Fabio Cavalli at the Carcere di Rebibbia in Rome, which gave life to outstanding productions and initiatives, drawing the attention of important movie directors (e.g. the Taviani brothers, whose film "Caesar must die" was awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012); in several cases, Italian jails have indeed become places of groundbreaking cultural production and experimentation. A themed issue of "Economia della Cultura" (the journal of the Italian Association for Cultural Economics) recently devoted to "Culture in prison in Italy and Europe", however, shows how culture is being increasingly acknowledged as a vehicle for the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates also in other cultural domains, such as libraries (see the Memorandum of understanding signed in 2013 by the Ministry of Justice and the Association of Prison Libraries for the "promotion and management of library services in Italian prisons", and museums (see the groundbreaking work carried out by the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bergamo since 2006,

On the whole, it is possible to identify a number of consolidated best practices, and this shows how, notwithstanding 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.

An interesting recent trend in combining cultural and social inclusion goals is exemplified by the Fondazione Cariplo, a major banking foundation based in Milan. Taking the cue from a study commissioned in 2008-2009 (see above) with a view to developing a new grant programme specifically devoted to promoting the inclusive potential of cultural policies in deprived neighbourhoods, Fondazione Cariplo launched two new calls for proposals, respectively devoted to "Promoting social cohesion through public libraries" and "Creating new audiences for culture" (still running on a yearly basis); more recently, a new call has been devoted to the "Cultural protagonism of citizens" (2014). This may point to 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 3-4 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.

On a similar note, Fondazione Unipolis (connected with the Unipol banking and insurance group) launched the "Culturability" call for proposals in 2014, with the aim to reinforce the connection between culture and social cohesion in "problematic" territorial contexts, (

Finally, and quite interestingly, another award specifically devoted to cultural projects with "high social impacts" has been promoted since 2014 by a network of private actors – see the "cheFare" call for proposals (

Chapter published: 17-07-2018

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