Culture is increasingly prominent on the international agenda. But the discussion about whether and how culture contributes to combating poverty and sustainable development has far to go. Part seven in a series about culture and development policy by donor countries.
Italian cultural policy revolves around the preservation of the ‘beni culturali’, the cultural heritage. This is not so surprising, as Italy is an expert in this field: it is a country that houses the legacy of its rich artistic past. The extensive involvement of private organisations in the arts is typically Italian too.
Italy does not have a general ministry of culture. Instead, cultural policy is divided between the ministries for cultural heritage, education and communication and the prime minister’s office, whose Direzionale Generale per lo Spettacolo is responsible for the performing arts. International cultural policy is the responsibility of the Direzione Generale delle Relazioni Culturali, which is part of the ministry of foreign affairs.
The directorate is responsible for contacts with international organisations such as Unesco, the Council of Europe and the EU. Italy is a passionate advocate of getting European policy to focus more on culture, and works in Unesco for the preservation of cultural heritage too. Furthermore, in bilateral relations - the direct assistance provided by one government to another - cultural heritage is the chief focus of its collaborative activities. Italy also makes great efforts to pass on its ‘in-house’ expertise to museums and universities in other countries, including in Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan.
Furthermore, the directorate maintains a global network of 93 Italian Cultural Institutes. It is the job of these Instituti Italiani di Cultura to promote Italian culture and language abroad and to encourage Italian involvement in international cultural events, In 1990, an inter-ministerial consultative body set out the new priorities, which include a greater bringing together of cultural and economic activities, in particular in the fields of fashion, design and gastronomy.
At a national level, this has already been implemented: Italy has a long tradition of art sponsorship by academies and privately owned centres, such as the Centro Italiano di Iniziativa Musicale (CIDIM). In Italy itself, the business world invests an estimated 300 million euros in the arts each year, which makes Italy one of the European leaders in this field. At the end of 2003, the famous Venice Biennale was converted into a foundation, allowing it to solicit private sector funds too. Italy’s first international cultural collaborative project with the business world was Italia-Giappone, a series of art events staged in Japan in 2001 and 2002.