A regional court has called into question a new system created to pump fresh life into Italy's flagging museum network. The scheme has been credited with reviving visitor numbers and revenue across the country.
Italy's culture minister promised on Thursday to appeal a court decision that removed directors of five museums appointed under a system meant to bring in more foreign expertise and reduce mismanagement within the institutions. The new scheme had been credited with reviving diminished attendance at the country's museums.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini wrote on Twitter that he was "speechless" at the decision.
The Regional Administrative Court (TAR) of Lazio, a central Italian region that includes Rome, has removed the directors of museums in Naples, Taranto, Reggio Calabria, Mantua and Modena. While only one was a foreigner - the Austrian director of the Ducal Palace Place of Mantua - the ruling also calls into question the fitness of foreigners to run Italian museums.
The court had been ruling on a complaint made by several unsuccessful candidates who applied for the directorships. The TAR cited irregular practices such as Skype interviews as the reasoning behind its decision.
"I take note, with great pain, of what this means both practically and for the image of Italy abroad," Franceschini told the press. He also announced his plans to appeal the decision.
Museum practices 'like in 1769'
Foreigners have only been able to head Italian museums since 2015, when a system based on hiring only Italian bureaucrats was nixed by authorities. Italy's network of museums had long been derided for being as much of a relic as what they housed - an unwieldy network of 400 institutions, of which only 4 had some sort of restaurant or cafe and only one fifth had a bookshop.
According to the Ministry of Culture, the new system of hiring has been hugely successful, increasing ticket revenue by 12 percent in a single year. Italy still lags greatly behind its European neighbors, however, despite its rich cultural history. While all Italian museums collectively earned 172 million euros ($193 million) last year, France's Louvre makes 100 million euro a year by itself.
The court chose to spare, however, the German director of Florence's renowned Uffizi museum. Eike Schmidt took charge of the gallery in 2015 amidst complaints of two-hour waits to enter and flagging attendance. In an interview with the arts magazine Apollo, Schmidt described the ticketing system as "virtually the same way of people purchasing tickets as they did when the Uffizi first opened to the public in 1769."
If upheld, the ruling could prove a deadly blow to Franceschini's scheme to modernize Italy's museums, seven of the 20 directorships handed out under the new rules were given to foreigners.
es/sms (dpa, Reuters)