Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Italian Mismanagement of Cultural Patrimony

The Art Newspaper reports that Italian auditors have concluded that the Italian cultural establishment has mismanaged the country's archaeological sites. See

One suspects that given Italy's ongoing financial crisis (even worse than our own) there will be no more money any time soon to help fix the problem. And even if money were plentiful, one wonders whether the Italian bureaucracy would ever allow real reform. The Art Newspaper has certainly chronicled elsewhere bureaucratic resistance to any reforms at all.

All this again underscores the utter foolishness of the State Department's recent extension of the MOU with Italy and its expansion to include certain coins.

Archaeologists claim that import restrictions are necessary to encourage the preservation of archaeological sites and encourage research. But how is this possible if the Italian state mismanages even major sites like Pompeii so badly and there is no money to help conduct this research?

Meanwhile, import restrictions make it far more difficult for American collectors and institutions to continue their own private efforts to study and preserve ancient artifacts and coinage. Thus, they have the perverse effect of actually working against the goals they supposedly were put in place to help foster.

It's high time for the U.S. Government to conduct a real cost-benefit analysis of these MOU's. Is throwing a bone to cultural bureaucrats and archaeological fanatics really worth the cost to collectors, museums and the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trade? And do such restrictions advance or detract from the advancement of knowledge and the preservation of artifacts from the past? And finally, in this time of financial austerity should the U.S. taxpayer foot the bill for enforcing regulations against importing artifacts of "Italian type" when the inept and corrupt Italian cultural bureaucracy cannot even adequately take care of what it has?

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