Cultural rights and duties are enshrined in several articles of the Italian Constitution (1948), most notably:
- Art. 9: «The Republic promotes the development of culture and of scientific and technical research. It safeguards the natural landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation».
- Art. 4: «Every citizen has the duty, according to personal potential and individual choice, to perform an activity or a function that contributes to the material or spiritual progress of society».
- Art. 6: «The Republic safeguards linguistic minorities by means of appropriate measures».
- Art. 21: «Anyone has the right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, or any other form of communication».
- Art. 33: «The Republic guarantees the freedom of the arts and sciences, which may be freely taught».
In an international framework, Italy ratified key documents such as the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1978, the Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2007, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, and (albeit belatedly) the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society in 2020.
Over the past twenty years, cultural access for all citizens, including under-represented and marginalised individuals/groups, has increasingly become a focus of cultural policy and cultural strategy documents of the Ministry of Culture, starting in 2001, when the Official Guidelines for scientific criteria and management standards in museums stated that «every museum has a duty to make sure that all visitors have access to its services, by removing architectural barriers and any other obstacle preventing or limiting attendance».
These Guidelines paved the way for Leg. Decree n. 42/2004 – where the public enjoyment of Italian cultural heritage was recognized as the institutional goal of safeguarding and valorization activities, and the need to guarantee accessibility «also for persons with disabilities» was specifically mentioned – as well as the 2008 Guidelines for the removal of architectural barriers in cultural sites.
In this framework, the creation of a DG for the Valorization of Cultural Heritage in 2009, and in 2014 of a DG Museums which took over most of its responsibilities, was meant to enhance the governmental action aimed at promoting access to heritage sites to as wide a range of citizens as possible. In 2018, new Guidelines were issued to draw up an Action Plan for the Removal of architectural barriers in museums, monuments and archaeological sites (where “architectural barriers” are also intended as cultural, cognitive and psycho-sensory ones) and a National Museum System (see chapter 3.1) created to ensure better cooperation between the different levels of government and private institutions, also with a view to promoting shared accessibility standards and «codes of conduct». The 2018 Guidelines also introduced a new professional figure for national heritage institutions: Accessibility Officer.
In terms of active participation, however, the normative framework is far more lacking, as the overdue ratification of the Faro Convention – with its emphasis on human rights, democracy, sustainable development, active citizenship and cultural diversity – clearly shows.
Although “participation” is mentioned, alongside “access” and “communication”, as a key principle in the annual National Plans for Heritage Education, published since 2019 by the DG Education, Research and Cultural Institutes, perhaps the most concrete effort at ministerial level so far was made in 2012, when the then DG for Valorization launched a call for proposals addressed to national museums and archaeological/historical sites, aimed at supporting them in the development of innovative forms of participation for a diverse range of audiences.
 The 2020 report on Accessibility and cultural heritage is a useful overview of the measures taken over the years at ministerial level, as well as of good practices developed by national and non-national museums / heritage sites.