A quite relevant phenomenon in Italy in the last decades has been the growing contribution of voluntary services – by associations as well as by individual citizens – to the public cause. In response, Law 226 on Volunteering, adopted in 1991, represented official endorsement by the national Parliament, of the relevant value for civil society of voluntary associations in every field of social and economic activity. It also provided them with fiscal benefits and financial support. It is no wonder that, according to Istat surveys, the number of voluntary organisations increased by 152% in 2003, compared with 1995.
Cultural activities carried out in the field of archaeology, museums and sites, as well as the performing arts, by associations active both at the national (e.g. Italia nostra, FAI, Amici dei Musei),or at the local level, have been at the core of this movement from the start, subsequently followed by other, like the Associazione Bianchi Bandinelli. At the end of 1991, a first “protocol of agreement” between the Ministry of the Heritage and the National Centre for Volunteerism was finally signed, to allow the utilisation of volunteers in museums, and, subsequently, in public libraries and archives: prior to 1991 their access to these premises, in fact, had not been possible, because volunteers were considered a threat to paid employment by the public servants. A second agreement with four of the main voluntary associations active in the cultural and environmental field (Archeoclub, Arci, Lega Ambiente, Auser)was signed by the MIBACT in 1999.
Law 226/91, and the subsequent “agreements”, strongly boosted the fostering of cultural volunteerism. In 2003, according to Istat, out of the 260 000 voluntary associations surveyed, 6 391 were operating in the cultural domain, with culture being the main field of activity for 1 057.
Cultural volunteerism should be singled out, indeed, as a relevant component of Italy’s thriving “third sector” active in the cultural and heritage field.