Italian cultural institutions demand national rescue fund


8 April 2020

Italy, the first European country to be severely hit by the novel coronavirus, has been in lockdown since 9 March. So far, approximately 132,000 people have been infected by the virus in Italy, and at least 16,000 have died.

In addition to the human cost, the lockdown has had a devastating impact on a key part of Italy's economy: the culture and tourism sector. Writing in the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on March 26, the art critic Pierluigi Battista has called for a “national cultural salvation plan” to protect museums, theatres, orchestras, bookstores, and archaeological sites.

The plan should include “substantial and generous” measures, Battista argued, suggesting tax exemptions and federal relief emergency funding as examples. Together, he wrote, individual donors and the government must prevent the “asphyxiation” of Italy’s cultural heritage.

Following Battista's appeal, the cultural advocacy group Federculture launched an online petition to establish such a national fund, under the hashtag #unfondoperlacultura. It currently has almost 2,500 signatories, and is backed by, among others, Venice Biennale president Roberto Cicutto and Hou Hanru, artistic director of the MAXXI Museum in Rome. The petition is addressed to Dario Franceschini, the Italian minister of cultural heritage and activities and tourism.

The Italian government, led by Giuseppe Conte, unveiled a €25bn rescue plan last month. But the culture and tourism sectors, which account for 13 per cent of the country's GDP (the second highest among G20 nations), should perhaps qualify for a special package?