Newspaper article International New York Times

Italy Plans to Shake Up Its Museums ; First Global Search Seeks Directors for Country's 20 Top Art Institutions

Newspaper article International New York Times

Italy Plans to Shake Up Its Museums ; First Global Search Seeks Directors for Country's 20 Top Art Institutions

Article excerpt

The Italian Culture Ministry has begun its first international search for new museum directors, a move intended to make its art institutions more profit-driven.

Wanted: Directors for 20 of Italy's leading museums, including the Uffizi in Florence, the Galleria Borghese in Rome and the Accademia in Venice. Strong art history background, management experience and an interest in improving visitor experience a must. Fluency in Italian a definite plus, but not a requirement.

With an advertisement in the Economist and other publications, Italy this month announced its first-ever international search for museum directors, part of a shake-up at its major art and archaeology institutions. The deadline for applications is Feb. 15.

Under the current system, the Culture Ministry manages Italy's museums and directors have little autonomy. The changes are intended to help bring museums closer in line with counterparts like the Louvre and the Prado. They also seek to give directors more influence over budgets and ease the way for them to raise private funds to help offset drastic cuts in state funding.

The goal is also to allow directors to make Italy's art-rich but often fusty museums easier for tourists to navigate -- with better presentation, labels and organization.

"It's a giant leap ahead," Dario Franceschini, Italy's culture minister, said in a recent interview in his ballroom-size office. "Italian museums should be more dynamic. They should have more bookshops, more restaurants. They should be attractive and have more multimedia."

Mr. Franceschini has championed the changes at the Culture Ministry as part of the can-do spirit of the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who faces the challenging task of rousing Italy from a protracted recession.

But the changes have also raised concerns that the new hiring criteria will favor marketing savvy over conservation and risk putting too much power in the hands of revolving-door culture ministers rather than longtime state culture officials. Others said the changes did not provide museums with enough autonomy, given that museum employees will remain part of the Culture Ministry bureaucracy.

Simply changing directors won't have any effect "if the state doesn't change, if the structures of the museum don't change," said Antonio Natali, director of the Uffizi. He also said that unless the director has control of the museum's crucial technical, administrative, legal and personnel offices, then "not even the descent of a new redeemer" would make Italian museums function at their best.

Last year, the country's museums attracted more than 40 million visitors and took in nearly 135 million euros, or $156 million, the Culture Ministry said. By making the most-visited and highest- earning museums more independent, the ministry hopes they will generate more revenue. Under the current system, the proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the state and directors have little incentive to draw more visitors, raise private funds or set up profit-generating cafeterias and shops.

Beyond the 20 top museums, the changes would reorganize thousands of other Italian museums into regional clusters and offer a combined ticket, encouraging tourists to visit multiple museums.

"A country with 4,000 museums should see this as a formidable economic resource," Mr. Franceschini said. "Italy's challenge is to offer quality tourism. …

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