Saturday, November 22, 2008

Italian Government Wants Museums to Generate Income to Fight Neglect

The New York Times has a story about the controversial appointment of a businessman to help manage Italy's decrepit museums and cultural sites:

Not suprisingly, Italy's entrenched cultural bureaucrats and their allies in academia apparently are horrified that the government wants to try to generate income from cultural sites. As the article notes,

"[T]he deepest concern in art circles centers on the government’s apparent shift from a constitutional mandate to protect Italy’s cultural heritage toward an entrepreneurial model that exploits it."

I think this misses the key point. An entrepreneurial model of some sort is necessary to generate income in order that Italy's cultural heritage can be protected from gross underfunding and neglect.

Entrepreneurial models are used successfully in the United States and our museums are better for it. Other museums in Europe like the British Museum and the Vatican Museum use similar models. It is time for the Italian cultural bureaucracy to wake up and accept some commerce at their cultural sites. If done tastefully, the results can be a positive good and not a necessary evil. Long term, allowing museums to develop visitor friendly shops and catering operations can lead to better museums in Italy, more visitors and better care for the nation's unparallelled cultural heritage.

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