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Cultural consumption recovered last year after slump

by Antonello Cherchi

After years of free-falling consumption, even culture is showing its first, albeit fluctuating, signs of recovery, according to the eleventh yearly report conducted by Federculture, which will be presented on Wednesday, July 8.

Cultural consumption recovered in 2014, with visitors to exhibitions and museums growing 7.7% compared to 2013 (which shown a drop of 12.8% from 2012). Visits to monuments and archaeological sites rose 5.8%, sporting events rose 3.3%, and 2.2% more people attended plays and concert. The theater and musical sectors had dropped by 15% in 2013 from the year before. Cinema attendance rose 1.7%.

Discos and dance halls, on the other hand, continue to attract diminishing crowds – falling 1% – and book sales persist in striking a sour note.

In 2014, Italy’s small coterie of readers further thinned out: 56.5% of Italians deserted libraries and bookshops that year (versus 55.2% in 2013).

“In spite of the recession culture is proving to be a vital sector that can generate wealth and well-being,” said Federculture Chairman Roberto Grossi. “It's all down to following up on what's so far been mostly a mere slogan.”

Over the past few years “several important reforms were finalized and in other cases, the foundations for future growth have been laid. These are all signs that things are changing and that it’s possible to recover from the stagnation and inertia that characterized the recent past.”

The changes in question are the latest legislative reforms – the earliest introduced in 2013 by Massimo Bray, Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities at the time, the second approved last year by present Minister Dario Franceschini, who also launched an in-depth structural revision of the Department itself, giving twenty museums complete autonomy (in fact, an international selection of the respective directors is under way as we write).

“We have finally started on a path of sound management and autonomy, of a synergic relationship between State authorities and local ones,” said Grossi. “There’s still a long way to go, however. In the first place, we need to resume producing culture if we don't want Italy to become an enormous, lovely display case lacking a soul or the capacity to innovate.” 

This also means involving consumers more, and enticing the one-fifth of the population who say they have not benefited from any cultural entertainment, read a book or a paper in one whole year – a percentage as high as 30% in the regions of Basilicata and Puglia.

It is also a matter of resources. If, unlike what happened in the past, the Ministry’s funds do not decrease – going from this year’s €1.5 billion to €1.6 billion next year (which, at any rate, is only 0.13% of the GDP), there will no longer be any contribution from the Chambers of Commerce.

According to the Federculture report, the reduction will cause cultural activities to be downsized for the equivalent of €52.7 million this year, which in turn will cause a domino effect on contiguous sectors so the decline will reach €93.8 million and ultimately €139.4 million in 2017.

The cutback goes hand in hand with the decrease in private contributions: financial support from private individuals and non-commercial bodies in 2013 (latest data available) dropped by 65% compared to 2012, only minimally compensated by an 8.7% growth in funding from corporations and commercial bodies: €28.5 million in 2012 and almost €31 million the following year.