“Culture is the ‘ace up System Italy’s sleeve’”, as Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini asserted when describing the foundations for a new strategy in promoting Italian language and culture abroad. Commenting on this statement is Gherardo La Francesca, Director General for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who points out the main aspects of this new approach: multimedia capability and new communications technologies, synergies between public and private sectors and the role of the Italian Cultural Institute. An initial major step forward was taken on 31 July 2008 when Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini and Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities Sandro Bondi signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding, which La Francesca deems important for two reasons: on the one hand, because it shows a desire to generate a system between the two ministries that involves other ministries and other public and private sector institutions that could make a significant contribution to mapping out the best strategy for promoting Italian culture abroad; on the other, because the agreement is based on the two ministries’ perfect complementarity. The Ministry of Cultural Assets is a producer of culture, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates a highly articulated network that includes not only the Italian Cultural Institutes, but also embassies, consulates, Italian schools abroad and the Committees of the Dante Alighieri Society.
“This network”, La Francesca points out, “has an enormous potential that has not yet been entirely tapped. This agreement with the Ministry of Cultural Assets lays the groundwork for improving and streamlining that network as it allows us to more easily draw upon our nation’s immense cultural patrimony.
It is also necessary to study new means for disseminating that cultural content using the most modern of communication technologies. This is the route that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has undertaken and intends to pursue in unison with the Ministry of Cultural Assets”.
Q - The memorandum signed by the two ministries calls for fund-raising policies capable of involving the world of private enterprise and stimulating the best energies and opportunities for collaboration between public and privates sectors. What is being planned in this regard?
A –Relations with the business world, as a potential partner in the economic support of cultural initiatives, needs to be revised and improved according to a three-pronged approach:
a) First of all, priority needs to be placed on large-scale high-quality projects. The business world could easily be involved in initiatives that foreground the levels of excellence that Italy has achieved.
b) Projects corresponding to precise strategies need to be launched, and it is necessary to set priorities in order not to waste what are limited financial as well as operational/managerial energies.
c) An effective communications plan has to be mapped out. It is not enough to launch large-scale projects within the framework of precise strategies directly or indirectly aimed at underpinning System Italy and, as Minister Frattini says, at playing that “ace up our sleeve”. It is also necessary to let the public know what we are doing; the Italian Cultural Institutes need to step outside their four walls and work in synergy with the media and the world wide web.
Q - On September 17th of this year a joint meeting of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Cultural Assets was held at the foreign ministry in Rome as an initial operational follow-up to the Memorandum of Understanding. Among the priorities that emerged was a solid common commitment to the enhancement and internationalisation of Italian museums, foregrounding of Italian excellence in the field of restoration, the rediscovery of minor itineraries and destinations and the promotion of quality in contemporary architecture. What initiatives are on the agenda for each of these priorities?
A – Emerging from the September 17th meeting was an understanding on a basic strategy that consists of showcasing the most recent forms of Italian creativity—particularly those associated with industrial production—underscoring how these are the product of an ancient and enormously far-flung cultural patrimony. The formula could be expressed as “more attention to the new seedlings sprouting from a species endowed with very deep and ramified roots”. This means attention both to the present and the past.
Speaking about our ancient roots, a project that was discussed on September 17th was a major exhibition dedicated to Giotto; on the other hand, speaking of recently sprouted seedlings we might make reference to the “Collection of the Foreign Ministry”, from which an important itinerant exhibition was extracted and which is at the end of a tour of 11 Eastern European and Latin American cities.
Another approach that was decided was to pursue the enhancement of some internationally lesser known aspects of our cultural heritage. A major exhibition on the Macchiaioli has been mounted in response to a lively interest we became aware of in Japan. We were able to mount it with the collaboration of the Ministry of Cultural Assets and found the financial resources thanks to active synergies with Italian banking and business concerns. A new project on the agenda will focus on Futurism, whose Manifesto celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2009, and which is a movement that retains various topical aspects that still merit attention.
Q – There is a network of 90 Italian Cultural Institutes around the world; how will these be involved in this “new strategy”?
A - We are in the process of drafting an innovative methodology that corresponds to a need to obtain high level results with limited resources. This initiative is the fruit of a collaborative effort with the Ministry of Cultural Assets that we have named “Officine internazionali” (international laboratories): monothematic treatments of themes important to Italian culture, in electronic format, intended for distribution to cultural institutes both for teaching purposes as well as for the promotion of Italy’s rich cultural heritage.
The “Officine internazionali” will be made up of rigorously designed didactic modules, accessible also to a non-specialised audience, containing high-definition images in a format that can be reproduced and disseminated throughout the network at a low cost and which can be used for the production of multimedia exhibitions. The possibility is being examined of holding videoconferences in Italy with high-profile experts that would be broadcast simultaneously over the cultural institute network and attended interactively by audiences in a variety of locations. Alternatively we are studying the possibility of promoting the creation of television broadcasts on the subject matters treated in the notebooks.
The topics will be chosen keeping in mind important cultural events going on in the world, such as major exhibitions: shortly, in fact, in coincidence with the Metropolitan Museum’s large exhibition on Giorgio Morandi, the first edition of “Officine internazionali” will focus on the work of that great Italian master.