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The governance of cultural heritage in Italy

Nick Dines points out major transformations and current debates with regards to the governance of cultural heritage in Italy.
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Traditionally, the management of Italian cultural heritage in Italy has been highly centralised, very much under the control of the state. It was the state that selected the experts that would then go out and very much be part of the whole process of conserving and defining the regulations of the use of cultural heritage, be they monuments, archaeological sites and so forth. Over the last quarter of decade, as a result of a number of changes, both at political level, but also with regards cultural heritage, this perceived sense that there was a deterioration of a lot of Italy’s monuments. A shift also in consumption, models of consumption among Italians. And also very much a withdrawal of public subsidies.
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There has been a shift towards attempts to actually outsource the management of cultural heritage. So for instance, in the case of museums, bringing in private actors in managing bookshops. The old cliche that up until the early 1990s, you’d go into a museum and it was like going into a post office. From the late 1990s onwards, you’d actually be able to buy books. Where often in the case, there were no book shops. The tourists would turn up to museums and look for the bookshop and it wasn’t there. You’ve also had attempts, and so quite contested attempts, of devolving museum management and culture heritage management to regional, provincial and local level, but also more significantly, actually privatising the management.
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Or attempts at privatising the management of some aspects of cultural heritage, which has led to enormous debates, particularly in the early 2000s. An attempt by the Berlusconi government at the time to actually sell off some assets, as that term is used in Italian. And so what you have today is very much within the sort of rarefied debate around the management of cultural heritage to extreme positions. On the one hand, those that emphasise the economic potential of cultural heritage. And on the other hand, you have those very much enlightened intellectuals who emphasise the role, the importance of heritage remaining in the hands of the state in order to cultivate citizenship and democracy.

We now move on to Italy:

Nick Dines points out the main features and current trends with regards to the governance of cultural heritage in Italy.

  • The decline of a state-led model in the governance of cultural heritage

  • A more business-oriented approach to cultural heritage management emerging in the last decades

  • Decentralization

  • Privatization

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