Until the 1980s, music was the only performing arts discipline regulated by law in Italy. However, Law 800/1967, besides establishing general principles for the promotion of music, defined new general criteria for the state financial allocations only for the 13 – now 14 – main opera theatres (Enti Lirici, now Fondazioni Liriche): by far the privileged backbone of Italian musical life (see chapter 1.3.3).
The first comprehensive law dealing with the performing arts as a whole – music, dance, theatre and cinema – was actually Law 163/1985, which, by creating the Unified Fund for the Performing Arts (FUS – Fondo Unico per lo Spettacolo), rationalised and substantially increased the amount of financial resources for the performing arts. In exchange for this increase, more transparency was required, both through a yearly detailed report on the allocation of the Fund to be submitted by the Ministry to the Parliament (the latter concerning 2014 (http://www.spettacolodalvivo.beniculturali.it/index.php/osservatorio-dello-spettacolo/relazioni-parlamento-fus/603-relazione-sullutilizzo-del-fondo-unico-per-lo-spettacolo-2014)and through the establishment of an Observatory for the Performing Arts within the Ministry.
The definition of new, general criteria for the allocation of FUS, though, was left from Law 800 to new sector-specific legislation to be adopted for the single artistic disciplines. As such laws never saw light in spite of countless draft laws on music and theatre postponed from one piece of legislation to another during the following decades, criteria for the financial support of all the performing arts organisations besides the “Fondazioni liriche” – that is: the remaining opera houses, orchestras, dramatic theatres, dance companies, etc… – continued to be established by annual ministerial regulations.
It should also be mentioned that, until 2010, theatre, despite the lack of a specific sectorial law has been the only live performing arts discipline endowed with a national arm’s length agency, ETI / Ente Teatrale Italiano, established under fascist rule by Law 365/1942. The scope of the agency was extended, in 2005, from the promotion of drama to the promotion of dance and music as well, with a particular focus on experimentation. Its activities have ranged from fostering artistic cooperation and networking with other similar European institutions – e.g. French ONDA, the Netherlands Theatre Institute, etc. – at the international level, to the exploration, at the national level, of innovative uses of theatre art (in underprivileged neighbourhoods, in prisons, etc…) to foster social inclusion (see chapter 1.4.3). The agency was abolished in the wake of austerity measures adopted by the Financial Stability Law 220/2010 (see chapter 2.9), and its staff was transferred to MiBACT’s DG for Performing Arts.
Coming back to the criteria for allocating state money to the performing arts, they were based on regulations establishing that funding of such activities should be allocated according to a mix of:
- quantitative criteria (decisions based on the size of audiences, number of productions, number of employees, etc., checked by ministerial staff.); and
- qualitative criteria (discretionary judgments dealing with artistic quality, made by 4 consultative panels of experts appointed by the Minister: the Commissioni Musica, Teatro, Danza, Circhi).
Traditionally mainly based on “historical precedents” – the average of past contributions – rather than on artistic productivity and audience outreach standards, these quite conservative criteria have been under scrutiny for years. It was generally felt that they acted as a barrier to access for new, less established organisations, and thus as a hindrance to a renovation of the Italian scene.
Establishing more rational and meritocratic criteria was all the more necessary due to the heavy financial constraints that the Italian musical and theatrical life has been experiencing, following the cuts to the FUS/Fondo Unico per lo Spettacolo – from 471 to 403 million between 2008 and 2014 (-14.5%) – as well as the more or less harsh reductions in regional and municipal funding.
Starting from 2015, deeply innovative changes in the funding system – no more annual, but transformed into triennial – have been finally brought about, for the first time in decades, by Ministerial Decree 1 July 2014, based on a mandate received by Law 122/2013 Valore cultura.
The declared aims of the new criteria for state support of the four performing arts domains – theatre, music, dance and circus (with the usual exception of the lyric foundations: see chapter 1.3.3) – may be summed up as follows (art. 2 of the Decree):
- excellence and pluralism in supply;
- generation turnover;
- geographical rebalancing;
- better coordination among the levels of government; and
The criteria for evaluating funding applications are based on 30% for artistic quality – to be assessed by the traditional four thematic commissions for music, theatre, dance and circus, but mostly, as much as 70%, for quantitative parameters – like numbers of performances, audience participation, co-productions, inter-disciplinarity, planning capacity, plurality in funding sources, co-funding by local governments, etc…- to be automatically evaluated by means of complicated mathematic algorithms.
In 2015 – the first year of implementation of the law – such predominance of the quantitative versus the qualitative elements in the application’s assessment, there were extremely controversial results. It led not only, as foreseen, to the reduction of the plethoric number of FUS financed organisations, but also, in some cases, to the exclusion of valuable organisations and, conversely, to the admission of artistically less valuable although commercially more solid ones. A revision of the funding criteria – with more emphasis on quality, and less on the mathematically assessed characteristics – is being sought unanimously. But no changes are likely within three years, during which several performing arts organisations will have to endure a hard life to survive…
Besides the modification of the funding system, a rationalisation of the present “jungle” of the organisations’ typologies taken into account for each of the four disciplinary domains was also envisaged by the Decree. The most notable, and controversial, has been the one dealing with the theatre domain, in particular with the former three categories of the Teatri Stabili (Public, Private and Experimental), which have been downsized to two categories: Teatri nazionali – of national and international relevance, and co-financed by the local government at 100% of the state subsidy – and Teatri di rilevanza culturale/TRIC, co-financed by local governments at 40% of the state subsidy.
Seven Teatri nazionali have been endorsed at the end of 2015: including the most established ones of Milan, Rome, Turin, as well as Naples (the only one located in Southern Italy) and three others in Toscana, Veneto and Emilia Romagna – resulting from the melding of previous smaller organisations, in order to meet the requirements established by the Decree have been added…too many for the scant financial allocation made available, and not all are equally deserving some argue. Admissions and exclusions from the TRIC category have been criticised, as well.
Changes in these quite controversial measures in the not too distant future are in the air, though, given the fact that a Decree of 28 January 2016 on cinema (see chapter 4.2.6) also delegates the government to rationalise legislation on the live performing arts in the long awaited, comprehensive reform which has been named by the law the new Codex for the Performing Arts.