6.1 Short overview
As in most industrialised countries, the economics of culture in Italy follows a mixed economy model (see chapter 2.1), in which both the public and the private sectors share responsibility for the financing of cultural goods and activities. However, the public / private mix of financial resources significantly changed over the years.
Public expenditure - allocated by four levels of government: the state, the regions, the provinces, the municipalities - has traditionally been the primary source of support for heritage, archives and libraries, and an important one for the live performing arts (music, theatre, etc.). On the other hand, the cultural industries - book publishing, the press, cinema and the audiovisuals - are mainly supported by the private sector through the marketplace: that is household expenditure for cultural goods and services, and advertising for radio television and the press. However, the boundaries between what the public and private sectors fund have become more porous: cinema, and notably the press, have been heavily subsidised by the public sector, due to problems of "market failure", whereas, since the 1980s, sponsorship and donations have become a more and more relevant source of support for heritage and museums.
The lack of comprehensive and exhaustive data on public and private expenditure for culture collected on a regular basis has always represented a "black hole" in our cultural information system, hampering the establishing of better synergies among different funding sources, so badly needed in times of financial constraint. In fact, unlike in other European countries, where ministries for culture (France, Spain…) or national statistical institutes (Germany, Sweden…) are responsible for regularly collecting data at least for public cultural expenditure at all levels of government, in Italy such data is only extemporaneously collected by public or private research organisations. The last comprehensive data was elaborated on final administrative accounts for the year 2000 by AEC (Rapporto sull'economia della cultura in Italia 1990-2000).
It should be added that, even among countries which regularly collect statistics on public cultural financing, for the time being comparability cannot be achieved, mainly for lack of a common and agreed upon definition of culture. This was clearly stated in 2004 by the Task Force on Cultural Financing, in the survey carried out at the end of the first mandate of the Eurostat Working Group on Cultural Statistics. Nor did the following Essnet Task Force on Financing and Expenditure, which further deepened the methodological aspects, make significant progress in the collection of comparable data. As in Italy, several countries, (including Spain) do not provide regular information about state cultural expenditure by ministries other than the ministry for culture, whereas other countries have scant information about expenditure at the lower levels of government. No wonder if statistics on public cultural expenditure are still lacking in Eurostat's latest handbook Culture in Europe 2011. Real progress on international comparison of such statistics would probably need the adoption of a common nomenclature, like the UN classifications NACE and ISCO.
In theory, a common UN classification already exists also in the field of public expenditure: the COFOG (Classification of the Functions of Government). The problem with this classification is that data are compulsorily collected by all EU countries at one digit level, and only from 2014 onwards will they have to be collected at a two digit level, thus allowing a separation of culture from entertainment. A further three digit level classification, hopefully allowing a ventilation of data by domain, is presently being experimentally elaborated by an ad hoc T.F. within the Eurostat W.G. Quality of public expenditure.
Whereas most countries are still sticking to the one digit classification, since 2008 Istat collects COFOG data at two digits level, thus being able to single out – within digit 8: Recreation, culture and religion – overall expenditure for 8.2 Cultural services and 8.3 Broadcasting and publishing services (a small residual group 8.5 R&D Recreation, culture and religion, mostly dealing with research in the heritage field, has also been provisionally added). This is a welcome step forward, allowing us to define on a yearly basis the amount of consolidated public expenditure for culture at the state and the local level since 2000.
Istat-COFOG data will thus be given in chapter 6.2.1 and chapter 6.2.2. Before showing the data, though, a caveat is necessary. At first glance, and even more so if compared with previous surveys on cultural expenditure based on the analysis of all line items of the state final accounts (see Table 5) and other semi-official sources (see e.g. the XIII Report by the Istituto per l'Economia dei Media), expenditure for culture seems to be under-evaluated in Istat data, especially as far as broadcasting and publishing services are concerned. Istat itself acknowledges that the two digit classification is still a work in progress: so much so that the provided series of data 2000-2010 is changing over the years, along with a more and more precise appreciation of all cultural line items in the accounts of ministries different from MiBAC – the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry for Economic Development and for Foreign Affairs (see chapter 3.2) – as well as in the local budgets.
Furthermore, the last existing functional breakdown of state cultural expenditure in Italy, although limited to MiBAC's final accounts for 2000 and 2008, and quite aggregated, will be shown in chapter 6.2.3, Table 6. Comprehensive data on expenditure for culture by the other ministries are not available.