Italy: Would You like Fries with Your Art History?

Article excerpt

Ex-McDonald's executive aims to bring corporate savvy to Italy's financially troubled museums and monuments.

They are among the world's most prized treasures, repositories of art and archaeology dating to before the Romans. But a bold initiative to put Italy's museums and monuments under the stewardship of a former McDonald's director has heritage guardians spluttering, fearing a "McDonaldization" of culture.

Mario Resca's appointment as "supermanager" of Italy's hundreds of state museums and archaeological sites has pitched the dusty realms of curatorship against a hard-edged business environment. Even his title - he is tasked with the valorizzazione, or value- adding, of Italy's heritage - rattles some museum directors.

Mr. Resca is now fine-tuning a master plan that, he hopes, will achieve double-digit growth in visitors and revenue. He dismisses fears that his appointment heralds the beginning of an era of tawdry commercialization.

He will not, he assures, offer fries with visits to the Uffizi in Florence, raise the Golden Arches over art galleries, or rebrand Donatello as McDonatello. But he will bring the language of the boardroom to the byzantine world of museum administration. "I see visitors as customers, clients. When you come to one of my museums, you are a guest, and your needs should be satisfied," he says.

He wants clearer explanations of what visitors see, better catering (not necessarily McDonald's, he stresses), and welcoming staff. Changing the funding of museums and monuments is a top priority. "Until now, the revenue from ticket sales went into a big central government pot instead of to the Culture Ministry," he says.

"If a light bulb broke at the Colos-seum, they'd have to apply for funds to buy a new one," Resca says. "By the time they got the money, another 10 would have broken. People told me, 'but it's always been like that.' But it lacks all common sense."

With the Culture Ministry's budget facing cuts of $1. …