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Italy/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.1 Visual and applied arts

After the considerable attention towards contemporary arts brought about by the fascist minister Giuseppe Bottai (see chapter 1), there has been a long gap in government consideration during the entire second half of the past century.

The only legislative measure directly supporting contemporary creation in the visual arts at the national level was Law 717/1949, a modification of a 1942 Law providing for the allocation of 2% of the costs of capital investment in public buildings to "embellish" the buildings by works of contemporary artists to be chosen by public competition (see chapter 8.1). The law, though subsequently again modified in 1960 and in 1997, was rarely implemented, and the selection criteria have been much questioned. The last of several attempts to reform Law 717 has been accomplished by Minister Bondi in the frame of his Draft Law on Architectural Quality adopted by the Cabinet in September 2008 and still at the Parliamentary stage (see chapter 5.3.5). The highlights of this proposed reform was the replacement of the obsolete concept of ex post "embellishment" of buildings by the concept of a full integration of the artistic and architectural aspects since the building's planning procedure. Moreover the 2% requirement has been at last made compulsory, by preventing the building plan to be adopted in its absence.

On the other hand, to make up for the endemic lack of financial resources in support of contemporary arts, Law 29/2001 (art. 3) called for the institution of a plan for contemporary art, then endowed with 5 million EUR, aimed at fostering the public asset of contemporary artworks in national museums and galleries. Tested in 2001, the law has since then been quite effective in pursuing its aim (see chapter 8.1.1), albeit with progressively diminished resources: only 1.6 million EUR for 2013, half of which is allocated to the financial support of MAXXI.

Another legacy of the 1940s attention to the visual arts had been the introduction of droit de suite on further sales of works of art, as a part of the Copyright Law 633/1941 (see chapter 5.1.7).Italian artists, though, had to wait for the initiative of the European Union to see it finally implemented after about three quarters of a century. The law came into force thanks to Leg. Decree 118/2006 –a follow up of the European Directive 84/200 – whereas the related implementing regulation was adopted at the end of 2007 (see chapter 5.1.7).

As far as the governance of state promotion and support of the contemporary visual arts is concerned, an organic overall legislative measure had been adopted in 2001 by Decree 449 on the reorganisation of the Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities (MiBAC), through which an ad hoc DG for Contemporary Arts and Architecture (DARC) was created, thus separating the related competencies from the DG for Historic and Artistic Goods, where they had been previously confined to a marginal role. This had been considered a much needed turning point for a country which had been "remarkably silent on visual arts policy", also because of "the long shadow cast by heritage", and where "the marketplace apart, the main public contribution to the contemporary visual arts comes from the local authorities" (Council of Europe, 1995). In this respect, though, an institutional drawback was accomplished in 2009, through Decree 91/2009, providing for a new reorganisation of the Ministry. In fact, compelled by the need to meet a government's general directive to the ministries to cut down the number of DGs on one hand, and by the urgency which was felt, on the other hand, to improve and to modernise the management side of Italy's huge heritage, the DG for Contemporary Arts has been returned to the responsibility of the DG of Historic and Artistic Goods - transformed in DG for Landscape, Fine Arts, Architecture and Contemporary Arts - to give way to the newly created DG for the Valorisation of Cultural Heritage (see chapter 3.1 and chapter 3.2).

The same Decree provided for the transformation of the Museum of Architecture and Contemporary art MAXXI – to be opened in Rome in 2010 – into the new Foundation MAXXI Museum for Architecture and the Arts of the XXI Century, relatively autonomous from the Ministry, albeit, for the time being, still to date entirely depending on its financing.

Under the new organisational structure established by Decree 91, responsibilities for contemporary visual arts are thus shared between:

  • the new Unit for Architecture and Contemporary Art, created in the frame of the DG for Landscape, Fine arts, Architecture and Contemporary Art. Although impoverished by a recent, heavy loss in dedicated professionals, drawn by Foundation MAXXI, the Unit is responsible for carrying on previous DARC's commitment to supporting and promoting contemporary creativity, in collaboration with the other existing national institutions, like GNAM, the Venice Biennale, etc…(see chapter 8.1); and
  • the Foundation MAXXI-Museum for Architecture and the Arts of the XXI Century: not only a museum for a permanent collection and exhibition spaces, but also a laboratory considered to be of strategic importance for research and experimentation in artistic creativity (see chapter 8.1).

Whether or not "the long shadow cast by heritage" (Council of Europe, 1995) will again overcome efforts to boost actions in support of contemporary creativity in the visual arts and the architectural field will thus depend on the capability of the newly created Unit for Contemporary Arts and Architecture to relaunch and further develop activities started by the Ministry since 2001, as well as on the emphasis of Foundation MAXXI on innovation and experimentation.


Chapter published: 18-09-2013

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              Council of Europe/ERICarts, "Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 15th edition", 2014 | ISSN 2222-7334