Feature: Italy's museums saying "Ciao" to foreign directors, sparking controversy

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-08 06:37:53|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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ROME, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Many of the world's best art and historical museums are located within Italy's borders. But after a change in government policy, these worldwide icons of culture may soon be directed exclusively by Italians.

Back in 2015, Italy became one of the last countries in Europe to allow foreigner to apply for the directorship of major museums. Dozens applied and several were selected. Today, seven of the country's top ten museums are headed by non-Italians.

But a year from now, according to interviews and media reports, all seven will be working elsewhere.


"I've enjoyed my job and I think things have improved while I've been here," Peter Assmann, an Austrian and director of the Museum Complex at the Ducale Palace in Mantova, told Xinhua.

"My term is up at the end of October and about a year before that I went to the Ministry of Culture to apply for a new term. In the end, I contacted them and applied several times and they never responded. They didn't say 'yes,' they didn't say 'no,' they just ignored me."

By all measures, Assmann's tenure has been a positive one in Mantova, a city between Bologna and Milan. The museum has organized more special events and attracted new private sponsors. Attendance has risen, and, most importantly, Assmann said, "the museum more a part of the community than it was before."

The last special exhibit Assmann will have organized -- focused on the works of Renaissance painter and architect Giulio Romano -- will start just before Assmann's term ends. "I'll be there for the inauguration but by the time it finishes I'll be at my new job," he said.

Assmann's story is not unusual. Media reports indicate that James Bradburne from Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera; Peter Aufreiter from the National Gallery of The Marches in Urbino; and Eike Schmidt from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence will all be employed outside Italy by the end of this year.

Schmidt's situation is particularly poignant: he led a high-profile campaign to have a painting stolen by Nazi looters returned to the Uffizi from Schmidt's native Germany, and he instituted a system of time entries that at once eliminated lines outside the museum while increasing attendance, creating nearly 100 new jobs. Revenue for the museum nearly doubled under his leadership.


Analysts said Italy still has plenty of growth potential, noting that attendance at the Uffizi, Italy's most visited museum, was less than a fourth that of the Louvre in Paris.

Alberto Bonisoli, Italy's minister of culture, told Italian reporters last month that the government would decide if they want to keep the foreign directors by April 21.

When it was pointed out to him that most of the directors have already decided to move on, Bonisoli brushed that aside by saying hiring foreign directors made more sense in 2015 than it does today, though he did not say why that was true.

According to Giuliano Volpe, a professor of archeology in the Department of Humanistic Studies at the University of Foggia, the law allowing non-Italian museum directors remains on the books. But government official can still make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

"I can already tell you that fewer foreigners are applying for museum jobs in Italy because of the perception that they won't be given a fair chance and that they won't have job security," Volpe told Xinhua. Volpe said he knew of no other major country with such a policy in place.

Assmann said he did not believe that any particular nationality produced better museum directors, but he said the provincial attitude of not giving museums a chance to select the best person for the job was "a big mistake."

Volpe agreed: "Even if a new government comes into power and reverses the policy, it's going to take many years for potential directors to see Italy differently," he said.