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STAMPA ESTERA - Outrage in Venice as giant ads smother cultural jewels
John Hooper
The Guardian 22/11/2008

Francesco da Mosto was spitting with fury. "Venice," he said, "has put its dignity up for sale." The architect-turned-presenter of a string of popular TV series was commenting on the giant hoardings put up in some of the most aesthetically sensitive parts of his native city.

Since the end of August, a vast Lancia car has been parked on the front of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. A giant Rolex watch has been draped over the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, also in St Mark's Square. And, by the Grand Canal, the facade of the Ca' Rezzonico palazzo has been smothered with an advert for jeans. "We have reached the point at which there is a naked woman - covered only by a bag - on the front of a church," raged Da Mosto.

What makes him especially irate is that 10 years ago he asked officials if money could be raised for one restoration project by giving a sponsor a small amount of space on a discreet depiction of the building used to mask scaffolding. "The sponsor would not have had more than 2% of the surface of the hoarding, but they said no," he recalled.

What has changed since is that cash has been bled from the management of Italy's arts and heritage as politicians have struggled to keep public spending within the limits imposed by membership of the euro. Disputes over lucre have poisoned the atmosphere in some of the most refined settings, including La Scala in Milan.

The latest cuts were ordered after Silvio Berlusconi returned to office in April - 922m (766m) off the culture budget over three years. Cultural administrators have been ravenous for funding, and less choosy about how to get it.

Renata Codello, the central government's heritage administrator in Venice, said her budget was down by a quarter. "If the geniuses who criticise us give me the money for the restorations, I'll do away with [the giant ads] at once," she said. "Otherwise, they should keep quiet. We don't have alternatives."

Just one of the hoardings in St Mark's Square will yield a reported 3.6m.

Fears of even more jarring initiatives were this week rife after Italy's culture minister, Sandro Bondi, unveiled his own response to the crisis - the appointment of the former head of McDonald's in Italy to be overall chief of museums and archaeological sites.

Bondi's predecessor, Francesco Rutelli, said 63-year-old Mario Resca was "wholly unqualified" and the government's top advisory body, the National Heritage Council, appealed for his appointment to be suspended. Resca himself dismissed warnings of the "burgerisation" of Italy's rich heritage, telling Corriere della Sera this week that it needed to be "valued and certainly not ruined".

He noted that not one Italian museum was among the world's 10 most visited; even the Galleria degli Uffizi, in Florence, packed with Renaissance treasures, draws barely 60% of the figure for the Prado in Madrid. Resca said he intended negotiating with the unions for seven-day opening, so creating "thousands of new jobs".

Some of his other ideas, though, will do nothing to quell the controversy surrounding him. He said he would be happy to see the Colosseum used as a film set, arguing it would make "the cultural message more popular".

Among those who welcomed his appointment was Michele Trimarchi, professor of cultural economics at Bologna University. He said Resca could administer an "injection of new perspectives and visions".

As it was, museums and other cultural institutions in Italy were not autonomous bodies but government departments, so directors lacked "incentives to carry out projects of any sort". Funding was "unconnected to any sort of performance criteria". And there was no overall national strategy that could provide guidelines in cases such as the Venice hoardings. "We love our culture," said Trimarchi. "But we don't know why we manage it the way we do."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/22/venice-advertisments-restoration-funding-berlusconi


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