Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Florence’s contemporary art museum shuts
Asset rich, policy poor: Florence’s culture should be for the Florentines, not just tourists

By Edek Osser, Tina Lepri and Ermanno Rivetti. Museums, Issue 237, July-August 2012
Published online: 03 July 2012

The city of Florence has long been accused of lacking vision when it comes to contemporary art, a charge that is hard to refute. Ex3 Toscana Contemporanea, the only contemporary art museum in the city to receive public funding, was forced to close in mid-June because it had run out of money. It opened in 2009 and had so far mounted 16 exhibitions. However, its public subsidy of €85,000 in 2011, for example, was not enough to cover its annual operating cost of around €200,000. The director of the museum, Andrea Tanini, pointed out in an open letter that Florence’s €2m cultural budget for 2012 is destined almost entirely for established institutions that are already financially stable.

This blow to the city’s already struggling contemporary art scene is a symptom of the city’s cultural strengths and weaknesses. Florence is by no means a large city but it has 50 cultural institutions, including 25 state museums, seven municipal museums, private collections, churches and oratories, palaces, historical gardens and piazzas. However, the overall consensus is that, despite this treasure trove, Florence lacks any sort of cohesive cultural strategy. This has, in turn, created a situation in which the tourism industry has dominated and alienated the city’s inhabitants from their own cultural heritage. Carlo Sisi, a celebrated art historian and the president of the Marino Marini museum, says: “Florentines look at the Bargello museum, the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi as tourist hotspots rather than as places that belong to their world. This is why we need to rethink our cultural strategy to include them in it.”

Who funds what

It is no exaggeration to say that Florence is dominated by cultural activities, with its 35 universities and academies (more than any single American city), as well as its museums and institutions. The city’s cultural infrastructure is split between four bodies; the Polo Museale, the umbrella organisation that oversees the city’s museums and institutions; the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, the foundation of the Banca CR Firenze, which funds cultural projects, restoration works and exhibition programmes; the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, the public-private foundation that organises historic and contemporary art exhibitions (but does not have its own collection); and the city’s administration, housed in the Palazzo Vecchio, of which the mayor, Matteo Renzi, struck a deal with Italy’s ministry of culture in 2010 to give the city more financial control over its cultural heritage. The most important of the four is probably the Polo Museale, which is run by the superintendent Cristina Acidini. “Our organisation is unique because of the sheer number of museums,” Acidini says. “In 2011 we had around 1.8 million visitors to the Uffizi, around 1.3 million to the Accademia and significantly less to all the other museums. A few are earning huge amounts while others hardly anything.” The Uffizi, of course, remains the most popular (and oversubscribed) destination in town, and the advent of the Nuovi Uffizi project will only exacerbate this trend—ten rooms for foreign artists were opened in December and a further ten dedicated to 16th-century Tuscan artists opened on 19 June. Another 13 rooms are being restored and are due to be completed by February 2013.

While public funding and ticket revenues keep some of the city’s cultural institutions alive (for example, the Nuovi Uffizi receives €4m annually from the Polo’s annual income), others rely on private donations. The American charity, Friends of Florence, has donated around €5m since it was founded in 1998, and has financed the restoration of works such as Giambologna’s statue Il Ratto delle Sabine (the rape of the Sabine women), 1583, and Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, 1425-52.

Meanwhile, the Italian charity Amici degli Uffizi, which counts 7,000 members, has recently donated €140,000 for the restoration of Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, 1481. The Ente Cassa is also active in the field. Jacopo Mazzei, the president of the bank’s cultural foundation, says: “We concentrate on projects that will benefit the whole city.” Every year the foundation donates €65,000 to each of the small and historically underfunded house museums, the Museo Horne and the Museo Stibbert. The financial crisis means the Ente Cassa has halved its annual contribution to the Polo Museale (now down to €470,000), although it is continuing to support the building of a museum dedicated to art from the 20th century: the Museo del ‘900, with a grant of €5.6m. It is due to be housed in a former convent. The new museum is part of a project that started in 2006 and is being delivered in three phases, although its opening date is still to be announced. The Ente Cassa also supports the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, which is now even more important to the city’s contemporary art programme. “Five years ago, we rescued the [Strozzi] foundation from collapse and now it is going strong,” Mazzei says. Every year the Ente Cassa contributes €1m to the Palazzo Strozzi and the Banca CR Firenze gives €400,000. Meanwhile, €2.3m is donated privately and the remaining €2m comes from the city’s coffers. The foundation’s private sponsors, which include Ferragamo and the Bank of America, are a luxury that the Ex3 did not have.

James Bradburne, the director of the foundation, says: “We want tourists to feel like Florentines here, and we want the Florentines to see their city differently,” although he has qualms about a lack of co-ordination in terms of marketing its cultural attractions. “There are events in Florence every day, but there isn’t even a shared online calendar for people to look at,” he says.

Restoration at risk

Cristina Acidini is worried about the future: “This year we saw 18 members of staff go into retirement—we lack qualified replacements and engage in very limited external collaborations.” Marco Ciatti, the new superintendent of the restoration laboratory the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (The Art Newspaper, April, p28), is even more worried: “Five of our 11 departments are run by a single person. We not only risk ceasing our activities, but also losing our knowledge and know-how.”

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