7.1 Cultural infrastructure: tendencies & strategies
Most of the Italian cultural infrastructure is still, directly or indirectly, in the public domain.
Since the mid-1990s, innovative legislation brought about substantial changes in the administration system of cultural goods and activities, the main trend being "désétatisation". That is, a gradual moving away of public authorities from direct operation of cultural institutions, by transforming them into private organisations with a more autonomous status, albeit mostly still financed by the public purse.
The number of these organisations – notably of foundations - has grown exponentially in recent times. The main reason for this success lies in a tendency to consider foundations as flexible tools, particularly fit for privately pursuing public aims; hence the growing propensity on the part of state and local authorities to use them as new agents of public policies, as well as to foster public-private partnership. The main fields of activity of these foundations are the organisation of exhibitions and events, the management of theatres, museums and sites and the protection of cultural goods.
The process was started in the 1990s at the national level, and the first of the most relevant state owned institutions to be transformed were:
The logic behind these measures was twofold: a) to pursue a more efficient management of these institutions, traditionally paralysed by red tape; b) to ease the burden they represent for the public purse by facilitating fundraising from the private sector. The latter aim has, however, only been partially achieved, most of their running costs still being covered by the state budget.
Compared with the relative degree of autonomy that the above mentioned institutions had already enjoyed, the situation was far more critical for museums and archaeological sites, still so heavily embedded in the Ministry's administrative structure that they did not even have a separate budget, making it impossible to single out their costs. The first experimental reform attempt, undertaken in 1998, was to grant an autonomous status and budget to the major archaeological site of Pompei, albeit keeping it in the state administrative framework. This experiment was subsequently extended to the four national museum poles ("poli museali nazionali"): the national art galleries and museum systems in Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples. A further, more innovative, step - in line with Decree 368/1998, allowing the Ministry to associate with other public authorities or private entities in the operation of state institutions - was the transformation of the National Egyptian Museum in Turin into a public-private foundation, with the participation of the Piemonte Region, the Turin Province and Municipality, on one hand, and the foundations Banco S. Paolo and Cassa di risparmio di Torino, on the other.
If "desetatisation" experiments accomplished at the state level are still - for the time being – relatively few, many more changes of this type have been already carried out at the local level, as stated, in 2009, by the Federculture Report, which assessed as many as 400 so called "gestioni autonome" (autonomous entities) active in the cultural sector.
This process was initiated by Law 142/1990 on Local Autonomies and has been further spread out and encouraged by Decree 267/2000, singling out different innovative models for the operation of "public non-economic local services". Among these models, the most frequently adopted for cultural organisations (theatres, auditoriums, exhibitions centres, museums, etc…) have been the following: foundations, institutions, associations - totalling a share of 59% - followed by companies, consortia, etc... Modernisation in managerial procedures and in promotion and communication techniques, increased capacity building, the fostering of innovative forms of public private partnership, are some of the ingredients of the growing success of these new type of cultural organisations, which can be symbolised by the extraordinary achievements of the Fondazione Musica per Roma, the operating arm of the new three hall auditorium in the capital city.
There are also, of course, in Italy, privately owned cultural infrastructure as well: museums and galleries and, even more frequently, theatres. Both categories can apply for government funding – state and local - under certain conditions.
Only a minority of private cultural infrastructure is actually totally self-supported through the market, and / or through generous donors (the latter case is more frequent for family art collections turned into museums).