Culture, a welfare for the new millennium

Article by Giovanna Barni for "Il Giornale delle Fondazioni", September 2017.

Cultural heritage as a right and resource.

In her article recently published on these pages “Museums, sustainability report and surroundings”, Irene Sanesi has rightly highlighted how cultural heritage can be a welfare factor. In the era of the Faro Convention, we can see in the "right to cultural heritage" understood as the right, individual or collective and therefore also as a resource, to benefit from heritage, a real social right that contributes to the fulfillment of people through public use of common resources.

This vision clears the field of subordination to mere economic logic, which subjects the enhancement of cultural heritage to available public financial resources or to the goal of increasing revenues from the increase in visitors. Furthermore, it pushes towards two further consequences: what makes the patrimony public are no longer ownership and form of management of the assets, but the plurality of recipients and the collectivity of its use in the present and in the future; the one that ensures the right to cultural enjoyment, is not a single managing state as owner of the assets in the face of passive citizenship, but a collective dynamic commitment in a social process of production of values ​​and satisfaction of rights, regulated and directed by the state in the general interest.
Therefore, the need to measure the various impacts in terms of sustainability, including economic, but, above all, social and cultural, is becoming increasingly important.

The role of museums

Looking concretely at what is happening in Italy as well as abroad, it is clear that in-house museums open if there are resources available, they close if there are none. Many of the foreign museums, often taken as a model, base their survival on continuous fund raising activities, with the consequence that if a campaign goes badly they are forced to close their doors or, at best, to painful cuts to the detriment of quality. and the dignity of work. Paradoxically, this same consequence also derives from the antipodical solution, that is, that of the in-house public museum, since the objective only of conservation or passive use makes the museum a mere cost center.
The step to be taken is then to think of the museum not as an entity in itself, but as one of the elements that together with others can become the propeller of different possible values, able to satisfy a multiplicity of rights, from that of citizenship to that of education, to that of the economic enterprise that produces work and feeds a supply chain. In fact, if around a museum an integrated territorial offer is born that is directed to the users and involves other cultural realities, economic actors, associations and private citizens, that museum will have been the activator of a much longer and more significant value chain than the museum that remains closed in on itself, generating at most good revenues. Moving from the income statement to the strategic sustainability plan therefore means transforming revenues into results and costs into investments or jobs to create common identities, opportunities for healthy and qualified employment, growth of the production system, coherent educational and training paths, dynamics of social inclusion .
This, in my opinion, is the meaning to be given to the challenges posed by the European Year of Heritage: heritage as a strategic factor for sustainable development, with its 17 objectives as per Agenda 2030, and Europe as a laboratory for innovation in matter of cultural heritage.

Sustainability as a criterion of balance between rights and responsibilities

In this scenario, the concept of accountability cannot simply refer to compliance with internal quality standards in cultural institutions, but must be linked to compliance with sustainability indicators: the old logic of standards defines the quality of structures and services and direct relationships that the institution puts in place, regardless of the effects on the recipients and on the community as a whole. But this is no longer enough because it refers to a museum closed in on itself and not to the system of value relations that can be produced by cultural heritage. Sustainability indicators, on the other hand, measure the extent of direct and indirect effects that can be multiplied along chains that widen vertically and horizontally. The difference is not a small one.
More specifically, our experience has allowed us to record an irrefutable fact: the cultural enterprise typically produces, with respect to the various stakeholders, not only an economic impact but also social and cultural impacts.
Now, while with respect to the economic impact that pertains to the value of production and related activities, much has been done and continues to be done - the work carried out in recent years by the Fondazione Symbola amply demonstrates this - on social and cultural evaluation, the process is still in progress. CoopCulture is trying to focus on the parameters useful for reporting on sustainability (see Sustainability Report 2016). Even in the absence of a sectoral definition of the quality levels of enhancement - which although provided for by art. 114 of the Code of Cultural Heritage has not yet been followed up - I believe it is essential to refer to the European legislation on sustainability (Directive 95/2014) which from 1 January 2017 forces large companies to reflect on the quality and ethics of their own production chain.
Each of the three impacts mentioned has, with respect to communities and territories, both direct and immediately perceptible and indirect effects that are produced in the medium and long term.

Below is a very simplified scheme but useful for a quick visualization of the proposed reading.

Where the direct economic impact therefore relates to the ability of a company to increase its level of economic and financial autonomy, the indirect one relates to the ability to expand, outside of itself, widespread benefits, involving other actors in the supply chain (tourism, food and wine, crafts, typical products, etc.) in increasingly long and "restorative" value chains with respect to the territory. The most interesting data in this regard today is the multiplier effect of the cultural and creative production system compared to the rest of the economy, which records a coefficient of 1.8.

The social impact - the evaluation of which is made particularly necessary today by the transition from a state welfare system to a welfare society - is not easy to measure as it can be difficult to demonstrate the existence of a link between the activity carried out by business and the change generated. All the more so if by impact we appropriately mean the long-term sustainable change in the conditions of people and the environment that the intervention carried out by the company involved. In this case, therefore, an initial possible assessment must be made on the employment generated, both directly and indirectly, as it immediately refers to the advantage obtained by people in terms of equity and prosperity and will produce important socio-economic effects on the entire community. And if it is about cooperative employment, the social impact is even more powerful as the members of a cooperative "naturally" practice democracy and work in a fair and inclusive environment.

The most evident cultural impact is the growth and diversification of art and culture audiences, placing the accent on the concept of audience development (what Pierluigi Sacco defines as "empowerment") measured not only through the numerical growth of audiences but also looking at their diversification and involvement. Ideally, involvement produces a multiplier effect: participatory cultural fruition generates in the long term stimuli for the community of reference for the production of new thinking and for the construction of partnerships useful for circulating new creative planning blood. 


Cultural enterprise and solidarity governance

It is obviously worthwhile to start reporting processes for these effects as their "measurability" can directly affect the acquisition / conservation of the status of a cultural enterprise: the more a company operating in the sector produces the impacts seen, the more definable it is cultural enterprise and, over time, the maintenance / increase of the impacts and their correct monitoring could allow access to a favorable regime.
For all that has been said so far, it is clear that the measurement should not be done from a museocentric perspective. This, in fact, generates an oppositional vision between museum and territory, between public and private subjects, between cultural institution and community, between culture and tourism, between managers and conservators, and so on. It also separates museums from the development cycle and ensures that culture does not positively influence democratic development, aiming only to maximize that contemplative aesthetic function, which was once the prerogative of the elite but today is, in a different way, typical of a “disposable” tourism. Lastly, this approach pushes us to maximize the revenues directly produced, making museums merely centers of revenues and costs.
To leave this approach behind, the isolated work of a director manager is not enough, and today the Reform of Museums also goes in this direction ("state museums were able to exist, but with some exceptions they could hardly play active roles in the relationship with the cities, with visitors and the general public "Baia Curioni recently stated on these columns). And here is the turning point: if there is a need for a responsible administrator, who has an active role in planning the contribution that the its own museum can give sustainable growth, it is equally necessary that it is not alone to govern this plan, and that the many subjects who insist on a territory also take on an active role, as a result of participatory planning.

The method for the future, I believe, can only be the Partnership Table at which the institutional actors of the territory will certainly have to sit, but together with the representatives of the associations and specialized companies, bodies and local communities as a whole, in a relationship of subsidiarity and responsibility for a new territorial planning, as also foreseen by the reform of the third sector. This with competing and supportive roles: the role of governance and control implies a responsibility that the private individual cannot and must not have, just as there are many commercial and service functions that it is improper to assume in the head of the public organization, under penalty of mixing. between controller and controlled which generates serious distortions to democratic development.

It is from this approach that the best discipline for the cultural enterprise will probably arise, especially if it is not for profit, the one that will help to remove the hindering factors (fragmentation of contexts and planning, complexity of procedures, absence of ad hoc work policies, difficulties in accessing credit, tax burden) and will finally lead to the creation of enabling factors (common territorial infrastructures, simplification of procedures, incentive work policies, contributions to system investments, access to subsidized credit) for the development of businesses, sector, of the country.

© Riproduzione riservata

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