Italy/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Carla Bodo, Simona Bodo, Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe

Italy is a comparatively young state, whose unification dates back only to 1860. The first laws pertaining to cultural matters were adopted by the Parliament in 1902 and 1909, focusing mainly on safeguarding the heritage. In fact, given the unparalleled wealth of the multi-layered Italian historic and artistic assets and the considerable burden of its maintenance on the public purse, heritage has always represented the prevailing domain of public policy in the cultural sector.

A noteworthy parenthesis to this longstanding trend was to be witnessedRome during the 1920s and 1930s under fascist rule, when Italy was one of the first countries to create a ministry specifically in charge of the cultural sector: the Ministry for Popular Culture, which actually soon became quite unpopular. Despite the negative implications of such a Ministry being created under a dictatorship – censorship, ideological propaganda, and the like – the farsightedness and the anticipatory view of the role of the state in the policies for culture of the fascist regime, as well as its understandingof the cultural institutional engineering, are by nowgenerally acknowledged. A large part of Italian cultural legislation – not only on the protection of the heritage and landscape (Laws 1089 and 1497 of 1939), but also in support of artists and artisticcreativity, such as the comprehensive Copyright Law, or the Law on"2% for the arts in public buildings" – date back to the late 1930s and early 1940s. The same is true for many of the surviving major cultural institutions, such as the Institute for Restoration (for movable andimmovable cultural goods), the national broadcasting company (EIAR, later RAI), Cinecittà and Istituto Luce (the state owned film companies).

As in Germany, our Ministry for Popular Culture was immediately abolished after the war: yet, whereas cultural competencies were devolved to the Lander in the former case, in Italy they were instead retained by the state and split among several ministries. Along with "protection of heritage and landscape", and "freedom of thought and of artistic expression", the "promotion of cultural development" was also far-sightedly mentioned among the key cultural goals by the Constitution of 1947 (Articles 9, 21 and 33, see chapter 5.1.1). However, only the first two goals were actively pursued from the outset, whereas the "promotion of cultural development" – at that time a quite anticipatory goal – remained for decades in the background. Support for contemporary creativity was no longer a priority, and access to the arts was still for the happy few. Participation in cultural life, however, gradually gathered momentum through the fast-developing cultural industries, through the high level of post-war film production and through the new mass medium: television.

A relevant turning point came in the 1970s, when significant institutional reforms took place. The first move came in 1972, when, according to the 1947 Constitution, the 15 ordinary regions were finally established. This was a start to the decentralisation process, when active cultural policies were undertaken by some of the regions (Lombardy, Toscana, Emilia Romagna…), aware of the potential of culture and the arts to asserting their own identities. The municipalities followed this example and around the mid-1970s regional and municipal ad hoc departments for culture were embedded in most local administrations, and the call for a broader participation in cultural life became a widely debated national issue. The demand for more cultural decentralisation, though, remained unfulfilled, by not enacting the reallocation of competencies on heritage and the performing arts among the state, the regions and local authorities in 1978, foreseen by Leg. Decree 616/1977.

Other relevant institutional changes emerged in the second half of the 1970s, when the long lasting rationalisation process of cultural responsibilities was finally started at the national level. In 1975, a separate Ministry for Heritage was created by regroupingresponsibilities for museums and monuments, libraries, cultural institutions from the Ministry of Education, for archives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and for book publishing from the Prime Minister's Office. The transfer of responsibilities for the performing arts to the new Ministry - albeit foreseen by Pres. Decree 805/1975 - turned out to be premature at the time, as the ghost of the Ministry for Popular Culture was evoked to question the idea of a comprehensive ministry for culture. The prominence of Italy's heritage as the cornerstone of national cultural policy was thus emphasised; "safeguarding" and "restoration" being the key functions absorbing most of the state's activities and financial resources allocated to the cultural field. Support for contemporary creativity and wider access continued to be a low priority for the new ministry: according to foreign cultural policy experts visiting the country in 1994, "the philosophy of the ministry…is historically based" and it "operates against the interests of a lively visual arts sector", whereas, on the other hand, "at the hint of any conflict between tutela (protection)and public access, the public were invariably the loser" (Council of Europe, 1995).

At the turn of the century, the new economic emphasis on the production of immaterial goods and services, and thus the central role acquired by cultural policies in the framework of development policies in Italy as in other industrialised countries, played a significant role in removing the last obstacles to a full rationalisation of the state cultural competencies. In 1998, the centre-left government extended the scope of the Ministry for Heritage to embrace responsibility for the performing arts and cinema, which had been previously entrusted to the Ministry of Tourism. Further responsibilities on copyright were added in 2000, when the Ministry for Heritage and Cultural Activities had finally achieved the full status of a ministry for culture comparable to the ones of most European countries. Only responsibilities for support and regulation of television, radio and the press, as well as arts education, remain out of its reach, unlike in other countries (France, the UK…). Finally, since 2013, mindful of the role in enhancing Italy's tourism attractiveness played by "cultural tourism", the Ministry for Culture was further empowered with responsibilities on tourism, thus being renamed the Ministry for the Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism (Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali/MIBACT).

The unsolved devolution problem, though, remained a source of conflict for quite a long time, leading to appeals to the Constitutional Court (see chapter 5.1.2). If cultural cooperation between the state and the regions has finally gradually improved, what is still missing, and badly needed – for a more sound and rational governance of culture in our country - is the strengthening, at the national level, of the planning, co-ordination, evaluation and monitoring capabilities of the cultural field as a whole. A "different state" would be actually needed for a positive outcome of the decentralisation process (Cammelli, 2003) and to implement policies and actions specifically aimed at overcoming the deeply rooted geographical and social imbalances still affecting Italy's cultural life.

The gap in cultural supply and demand between the rich and developed northern and central regions and an underprivileged southern Italy is in fact a long lasting problem. Notwithstanding the significant thrust set in motion also by means of the European Structural Funds, according to most cultural indicators this gap is growing even wider. In the economically deprived "Mezzogiorno"– so rich in cultural heritage and artistic talent, but with a very high rate of youth unemployment and still partially in the control of criminal organisations (mafia, camorra and the like) – the role of culture and the arts as a means of fostering economic development and social cohesion is still widely undervalued.

It must be underlined, though, that our country's harmonious cultural development has been heavily hindered, since the years 2000s, by the dramatic financial downsizing of public expenditure for culture ( chapter 4.2.1 and chapter 6.2). Financial restrictions have caused a progressive downgrading of our artistic and historic assets (Pompeii's collapses are only the most well known case), as well as of our artistic creativity, our cultural institutions, our cultural industries, and, consequently, a downsizing of cultural employment. The great potential for strengthening competitiveness in a globalised world using our unique heritage and tradition in artistic talents has not yet been fully acknowledged by our ruling class.

In recent times, however, there have been positive signs of a growing awareness on the part of civil society as a whole: associations, non profit organisations, corporations. A relevant initiative of the latter has been the publication, in 2012, in Italy's main economic newspaper, Il Sole24ore (owned by the Confederation of Italian Industry), of an appeal for "a constituent assembly for culture" calling for "a Copernican revolution in the relationship between culture and development", and for an in-depth change in our governance of culture (see chapter 4.3). This has led to widely participated debates and articles on the issue. At the "General States for Culture" subsequently organised by the newspaper, the protracted delay of Italy's ruling class in the implementation of the cultural goals as defined by the Italian Constitution was unprecedentedly criticised at the highest level by the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, by denouncing the "outrageous under-evaluation of cultural issues and of the related public policies by government, both at the national and the local level" in Italy in the last decades. The President warned that heritage protection and cultural development should rank much higher in the scale of government priorities and in the allocation of public funds, in spite of the present financial constraints.

Positive signs of a new awareness of the potential role of culture in boosting Italy's civic, economic and social development have been shown recently by the two centre-left coalition governments subsequently formed after the 2013 political elections (see chapter 4.2.1). New emphasis has been placed by the minister for Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism, Massimo Bray, not only on heritage protection, but also on "culture as a common good" and, for the first time, on the promotion of the "cultural rights" of all citizens, "including those with an immigrant background". On the other hand his successor since February 2014, Minister Dario Franceschini, was the first to give full emphasis to the potential role of his ministry as "the country's most relevant economic ministry", and to reverse the downward trend in state cultural expenditure.

Last but not least, the need to promote and safeguard – besides the basic social and civic rights - the cultural rights of all those living in Italy, including the now over 5 million immigrants who arrived and are still arriving in our country from the politically and socially troubled and less economically developed areas of the world, has started to be finally taken into account by the two ministers: some first steps in this direction have actually been recently accomplished (see chapter 4.2.4 and chapter 4.2.7). To guarantee equality of access to cultural participation and to cultural expression for all citizens should by now be considered an utmost priority for integration and social inclusion, calling for an urgent and well-focused effort by our national community as a whole.

More recently, the deaths due to terrorism in Paris and Brussels in 2015-2016 have actually boosted such awareness at the highest levels of our political class. The need to fight the existing pockets of deep segregation in our cities through fostering better access to education and culture has been repeatedly summoned both by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and by the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. On 25 November 2015 the latter declared that "any additional Euro spent in security needs to be counterbalanced by an additional Euro spent in education and culture" As a first, quite symbolic, step he also announced that one billion EUR was to be allocated additionally for cyber security and police forces and one billion for the requalification and socialisation of run down urban suburbs and for boosting the cultural consumption of 18 year olds in the 2016 state provisional budget. This is a welcome advance of an imminent turnabout in the dramatic decline in public expenditure for culture (see figure 4, chapter 6.2.2) since the economic downturn... but still, a long way to go.

Chapter published: 05-07-2016