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 the press have been heavily subsidised by government, due to problems of "market failure", whereas, since the 1980s, sponsorship and donations have become a 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 government expenditure at all levels, in Italy, until recent times, such data have been only extemporaneously collected by public or private research organisations. The last comprehensive data were elaborated for the year 2000 by AEC's Rapporto sull'economia della cultura in Italia 1990-2000, whereas more recent data mainly focused on government financing of the cultural industries can be found in Fondazione Rosselli's XIII Rapporto sull'economia dei media.
It should be added that, for the time being, comparability even among countries regularly collecting statistics on public cultural financing cannot be reliably achieved, as stated in 2004 by the Task Force on Cultural Financing and subsequently confirmed by the Essnet Task Force on Financing and Expenditure. Comparability is hindered first and foremost by a lack of a common and sufficiently detailed definition of culture; furthermore, as it happens in Italy also, other countries do not provide regular information on cultural expenditure either by ministries other than the ministry of culture, or by the lower levels of government. No wonder statistics on public cultural expenditure are still lacking in Eurostat's latest handbook Culture in Europe 2011.
Real progress in the international comparison of such statistics would probably require the adoption of a common taxonomy, like the UN classifications NACE (for economic activities) and ISCO (for professions). The good news is that, from 2014 onwards, the only existing UN classification on public expenditure – the COFOG (Classification of the Functions of Government), already collected by all EU countries at one digit level (8. Recreation, culture and religion) – will have to be compulsorily collected at a two digit level. This will finally allow a step forward in international comparisons, at least as far as consolidated (net) overallgovernmentexpenditure for culture and the cultural industries is concerned, by summing up – within digit 8 – 8.2 Cultural services and 8.3 Broadcasting and publishing services.
Whereas most countries are still sticking to the one digit classification, since 2008 Istat has been collecting COFOG data at four digits level, thereby allowing us to define on a yearly basis at least the amount of consolidated state and local public expenditure for culture starting from 2000 (see the following chapter 6.2.1 and chapter 6.2.2).