In Italy, the Performing Arts sector is primarily supported by the Ministry of Culture. For reasons of space, we limit our analysis to the period which began in the sixties with the enactment of Law 800 of 1967, New regulations for opera houses and musical activities. Law 800 outlines the framework of the live music sector, identifying its categories, primarily for the Enti Lirici (Opera Houses), which were then transformed into Fondazioni Lirico-Sinfoniche (Opera-Symphonic Foundations) following a legislative decree of 1996.
Law 163, New regulations of State Interventions in favor of performing arts, dates back to 1985 and embraces performing arts and film. The central element of this provision is the creation of the FUS – Fondo Unico per lo Spettacolo (Unified Fund for Performing Arts), which is further strengthened by an increase in the funds earmarked for this sector, which were previously allocated through circulars, also known as “leggine” (minor laws) issued annually. Law 163 was also defined as the “mother law” as it should have given rise to a series of sector-specific laws. However, this did not happen, with the sole exception of the film sector which would later be governed by the separate Law 220 of 2016 Discipline for the film and audiovisual sector, with Law 800 maintaining its overarching scope.
The years following 1985 were marked by numerous attempts to design a new specific law governing the performing arts, with many announcements and missed opportunities, due to a series of contributing causes, mainly linked to the difficulty in finding agreements between decision makers. At last the long-awaited law came about at the end of the 17th Legislature of the Republic of Italy with the enactment of Law 175 of 2017, Provisions on the matter of performing arts and delegations to the Government for the reorganization of the sector (often referred to as the Performing Arts Codex as it was expected to provide for a single comprehensive regulatory measure for all the performing arts). The Law established that the Government would issue – within twelve months after the provision had come into effect – one or more legislative decrees «for the coordination and reorganization of the legislative and regulatory provisions (…) regarding activities, organization and management» of the opera-symphonic foundations, as well as «for the reform, revision and reorganization of the current discipline» of the other sectors contemplated in the new law pertaining to the performing arts. The provision did obviously generate many expectations.
In reality, also due to a subsequent change of government, the deadline was not met, and only measures not included in the Delegations to the Government were adopted. Among the more wide-ranging innovations introduced there are the establishment of the Higher Council of Performing Arts – aimed at guaranteeing «the best and most effective» implementation of the law – and the enlargement of the scope of the activities promoted and supported by the State, in favor of “contemporary popular musical activities” and “carnivals and historical re-enactments”.
The law was enacted after two ministerial decrees, the first called Criteria and methods for the allocation, advance and settlement of grants to the performing arts sector from the Unified Fund for Performing Arts (FUS) issued in 2014 for the three-year period 2014-2017. The second decree referred to the three-year period 2018-2020, issued in 2017, made only non-relevant changes to the previous one, and was extended for one year due to the Pandemic. The two decrees have in fact redesigned (the first, to a much greater extent) the geography of the performing arts sector and introduced (not without generating conflicting reactions) new evaluation systems, at qualitative and quantitative level, with algorithms used to define grants. The first decree comprises the following areas, still valid today: Theatre, Music, Dance, Circus and Traveling Shows, Multidisciplinary Projects and Transversal Actions, each subdivided into specific sectors. It has also redesigned the categories of sectors (here we refer mainly to theatre) – for example, the National Theatres have in many ways replaced Teatri Stabili (public Permanent Theatres). It should also be emphasized that these decrees did not include opera, subject to ad hoc regulations, also designed to reduce budget deficits.
The picture is completed with the enactment, in July 2021, of the Bill, Delegation to the Government and other provisions on performing arts, which assigns a new role to the Government «for the reorganization of the legal provisions on performing arts and for the reorganization and review of the support tools in favor of workers in the sector». A third decree was issued in December 2021, Criteria and methods … referring to the three-year period 2022 – 2024, which makes further changes to the overall system of the performing arts sector, first of all by introducing new categories, such as the National Choreographic Centres, Centres of Relevant Interest in the field of dance, Music Production Centres and Regional Orchestras.
In 2021, the state awarded a total of approximately 408 million euros to the sector of performing arts and over 1,600 grants were awarded.
In general, it should be noted that, as a result of the pandemic, the urgency of identifying and implementing strategies aimed at ensuring a full restart of the performing arts sector was felt and shared at the various levels of government. State and regional funding from previous years was largely maintained, although in the absence of the same activity standards, and extraordinary funds were also allocated to help companies to overcome the critical phase and reactivate their connections with audiences, in order to recover and further enhance the social importance of culture.