VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT.
Italian cultural heritage has been drifting for some time. Gone was the controversial “deficit-saver” Law that opened the door to an unlimited privatisation process of historic assets in 2002. Today we welcome the initiatives introduced by the new minister of cultural heritage and tourism, Dario Franceschini, aware of the challenges he faces.
Since 2014 the strategic restructuring of the MIBACT (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and activities and tourism) has been mainly focused on solving one of the key issues many other governments in the world are also concerned for: the lack of proper funding to preserve priceless artistic and historic legacies in this transforming society. That is why among the measures taken by the Italian Minister we see a 37% increase in their budget (exceeding 2.000 million euros) and the launch of the ART BONUS, a tax incentive that has allowed them to multiply by 5 the number of donors and get 170 million euros in private donations.
This plan is a good start but in my opinion it lacks a previous thoughtful consideration that affects the main players involved: politicians, business leaders and cultural heritage managers.
What does a legacy that, captained by Rome, accounts for about 3.000 museums, more than 2.000 archaeological sites, 20.000 historic centres, 45.000 parks and gardens, 30.000 villas and palaces, churches, monasteries and castles really need? and, what qualities should anyone who wants to responsibly contribute to its custody, management, transformation and use have?.
For the moment we know what hurts cultural heritage the most: abuse, ego, oblivion, victimhood and pure economic interest. Politicians, business leaders and cultural managers all claim good intentions but they block its future because they are involved in what looks more like a tedious and inefficient three-way battle of irreversible consequences, happening before the distant and complacent look of the sexy ring girl: the UNESCO.
Politicians are usually overwhelmed when it comes to assuming the responsibility of a patrimony for which they will be judged and that in fact does not belong to them. Focused on other priorities, they tend to implement generic and short-term strategies.
Cultural heritage managers mostly reject the unconscionable capitalism of the private sector. Necessary prophets of a cultural apocalypse who should remember that alliances between art, culture and money are as old as human civilization itself.
Today the new rulers of the world, the business and economic leaders, are the ones who want to go down in history. And those belonging to the luxury industry are opening their wallets to contribute to the restoration of the Italian cultural heritage. Whether it is because of tax reasons or because of the fact that their own clients are already demanding more honest and socially committed brands, finally cultural heritage has captured their attention. Although for the moment their contributions (which in cases like Tods, Bulgari or Fendi would be representing between 0,10%-0,20% of their annual income) reveal bargain marketing strategies if we consider the valuable impact on their corporate reputation.
An example of this is the worldwide communication campaign Fendi hosted at the Trevi Fountain after giving 2,1 million euros to sponsor its restoration. An iconic landmark where the Italian luxury fashion house celebrated its 90th anniversary staging a magical fashion show in front of an audience of celebrities, VIPs and top models who arrived to the eternal city in private jets hired by the company. One could wonder if the lowest-paid model was not the Trevi Fountain itself…
Politicians, cultural heritage managers and business leaders forget what really matters, how do we design innovative solutions to manage the valuable Italian legacy that we are all benefiting from?
The Trevi Fountain, a universal symbol of a beautiful, consistent and lasting balance that facilitates life in community, gives us an important key. The problem of cultural heritage in Italy is not the money. If we want to be an example towards society and to those who will inherit these treasures, it is necessary to build alliances based on harmony, balance and common good.
Politicians can be more courageous: they have the ability to make cultural heritage a new priority in the public agenda. Cultural heritage managers can be more flexible: they have the knowledge to improve its conservation by defining the red line yet understanding that cultural heritage is alive and transforms as mankind evolves. Companies can be more generous: they have the financial resources and the opportunity to become voices that send more meaningful, honest and fulfilling messages to markets and society.
Courage, flexibility, generosity, out-of-style qualities but necessary for those want to consider themselves worthy of this precious legacy. Rome was not built in a day but for now, let’s start taking baby steps demonstrating integrity, sensitivity and willingness to serve.