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Europe

Italian museum director seeks refuge in Germany

Tired of mafia threats and government spending cuts, Antonio Manfredi, the director of an Italian art gallery, has written to Angela Merkel asking to give him and his art collection a home.

Exhibtion in Venice

Manfredi says Italy isn't doing enough to protect its culture

An Italian museum director is asking for asylum in Germany, saying he is fed up with mafia threats and a government that is failing to protect Italy's rich cultural heritage.

"I wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel," said Antonio Manfredi, director of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Casoria, an impoverished and crime-heavy town close to Naples in southern Italy. He wants the chancellor to save his collection from ruin.

"I'm serious - it's not some kind of performance art," said Manfredi, who is also a sculptor. "If she gives me asylum, I'm going to pack up my bags and move to Germany with my staff and the museum's entire collection of 1,000 works.

"Germany has been one of the few countries that hasn't cut its culture budget. It gives a lot of money to research unlike here," added Manfredi, who has even planted a German flag outside the museum to show his support.

But Manfredi may be disappointed. A study by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in 2010 claimed that every 10th museum or cultural institution in Germany may be forced to close by 2020 due to lack of funds.

Dark forces

Manfredi set up the CAM in 2005 in Casoria and since then it has collected over 1000 works of art from 60 countries to form an international collection.

But since Manfredi started doing exhibitions on the local Camorra crime syndicate, on the problems of integration of immigrants, and on pedophilia, Manfredi said he has received death threats and his museum has been vandalized.

"There are dark forces at work here that want things to remain static," he said. "It's not necessarily a mafia guy turning up with a gun, it's more subtle than that but if you're from around here you get the message loud and clear."

Manfredi said apart from some initial start-up money he has also received no funds from the state and has given up hope of getting any after some recent highly publicized accidents at the ancient site of Pompeii.

"If a government allows Pompeii to fall then what hope does my museum have... There's an enormous problem with culture in Italy," Manfredi said.

Most of the museum's funds are his own money and from private sponsors, while artists who come and visit sometimes donate their works.

Italy's government has slashed culture budgets in recent months, provoking a wave of protests and strikes and forcing museums to the brink of bankruptcy.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (dpa, AFP)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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