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«The Methodological Challenge of Cross-National Research: comparing cultural policy in Britain and Italy Eleonora Belfiore Research Fellow Centre for ...»

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The stress on the need for broadening access for the ‘fine arts exclusively’, that is for high cultural activities, betrays the reliance on what has been defined as a Liberal Humanist notion of culture (Jordan and Weedon, 1995, chapters 1 and 2). Indeed, in Britain and throughout Europe, cultural policies were originally structured - and to a certain extent still are – around this intellectual discourse, which identifies Culture (here rigorously with a capital C) with the ‘great’ European cultural tradition. A central point in this Liberal Humanist view was the belief in the right and potential of all individuals to benefit from culture. The principle of the democratisation of culture originated from this conviction, only to become the main guiding rationale for most of post-war British, and indeed European, cultural policies. However, such a restrictive view of culture came to be strongly questioned from many directions, to the extent that battles over the definition of the word culture have been a fundamental feature of the British post-war critical debate (Hewison, 1995, 34). 13 Significantly, notions of culture upheld by the Arts Council’s Charter (which influenced the notion of the type of culture that the State ought to promote) were largely consistent with those of other important British cultural institutions of the time, such as the BBC - within which debates over “culture” have had similar developments. In the words of John Reith, its first director-general, the BBC was meant to be “a drawn sword parting the darkness of ignorance”, and its mission “to offer the public something better than now it thinks it likes” (quoted in Bennett 1995, 208). However,, “If the BBC began with a self-assured, straightforwardly ‘civilizing’ discourse, in which culture was dispensed by upper-middle class, non-regional male voices in ways that were imagined as improving to the less formally educated masses, the fragility of the assumption that this represented either the public or their interests was inevitably exposed” (Lewis 2003, 46) In particular, the need arose for a new elaboration of the notion of culture that would allow for it to be seen as a ‘lived experience’ and for a reclamation of the ‘popular’ element of culture from its denigration on the part of the cultural establishment. This view was expressed by the new multidisciplinary field of ‘cultural studies’, which affirmed itself in Britain during the late 1960s and early 1970s in association with its institutional site in the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham. The aim of the new discipline was (and still is) a model of cultural analysis that questions, deconstructs and challenges the distinctions between ‘high’ or ‘elite’ culture and ‘mass’ or ‘popular’ culture, and gives prominence to the investigation of the relationship between cultural practices and power (Barański, 2001, 8-9; Forgacs and Lumley 1996, 1-8). The values promoted by this new approach to cultural analysis were those of pluralism and diversity, together with a distinctly postmodern sensitivity for the ‘Other’, and the emphasis on those subordinate discourses and groups that had been traditionally marginalized by the cultural establishment and academia.

These new radical developments in cultural theory put increasingly under pressure the old arts funding system and its elitist definition of culture that many felt to be now obsolete and irrelevant to the life of many British citizens14.

Indeed, the very Arts Council of Great Britain, in 1991, launched the largest consultation exercise ever undertaken in the arts in the UK, encompassing forty-four discussion-papers and more than sixty seminars investigating a number of aspects of British cultural life at the time (Sinclair, 1995, 365-366). The exercise resulted in the publication of a policy document entitled Towards a National Arts & Media Strategy.

The document proposed a much revised and broader definition of the arts and culture as ‘an integrated whole’: “Distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, This was hardly a phenomenon limited to the UK. In fact, similar challenges to LiberalHumanist conceptions that identified “Culture” with the great Western artistic tradition were also occurring in many other European countries, in many cases anticipating British developments. See for instance Looseley (1997) on France and Vestheim (1994) on Scandinavian countries.

between ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’ arts, between professional and amateur, do not reflect the way that most people experience the arts: high quality and cultural significance are what matter, and they can be achieved in a whole range of forms from opera to television drama, from sculpture to folk song” (ACGB, 1992, 5).

The permanence of such an all embracing notion within the official cultural policy discourse in Britain is attested by the Mapping Document of the creative industries published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the first time in 1998. It covered, together with more traditional cultural forms (such as the performing and visual arts, architecture and film), also advertising, designer fashion, interactive leisure software, design, and software and computer services. This is indeed the cultural sector as defined, today, by the very government department that is in charge of drawing the policies for the sector itself in the UK.

The problems inherent in a comparative research between Britain and Italy will be clear once we have looked at the characteristics of state involvement in the cultural field in Italy. First of all, it needs be mentioned that if cultural policy is a discipline that has not fully established itself in the world of international academia, it is even less so in Italy. Here, debates on cultural policy have been pretty much limited to insiders and often confined to reports produced by government departments, to the extent that the most obvious sources for the researcher who wants to reconstruct the evolution of cultural policies in Italy are the texts of the laws that regulate the cultural policy sphere (Bianchini, 1996, 291). An explanation for this is that – as was mentioned earlier - cultural policy, in Italy, is effectively one of the many branches of Administrative Law. The cultural sphere is thus administrated through various different types of legislative acts, which, altogether, make up Italian cultural policy (Gordon 1995, 10). Further complications arise because of the ad hoc nature of much of this legislation, which is frequently of an emergency financial nature and therefore largely inconsistent when not openly contradictory (Feist et al., 1998, 90).

Important legislative changes have taken place in Italy since 1998 and have brought about dramatic changes in the Italian cultural policy system. I refer here principally to the d.lg. 368/1998 which introduced the first unified Ministry of Culture since the Fascist era, and the Testo Unico (d.lg. 490/1999) which has reorganised into a single legal act all the existing legislation that had until then regulated the cultural sphere and which dated as far back as 1939. Indeed, the latter is most important in the context of this discussion. The Testo Unico provides a definition of what is to be considered within the scope of State intervention in the cultural sector, as it offers the most recent definition of beni culturali, that is ‘cultural assets’, on which Italian cultural policy is largely based. It is interesting to note that the notion of cultural assets worthy of public subsidy has not substantially changed since the fascist law n.

1089 of 1939 (which has been guiding Italian cultural policy until the elaboration of the Testo Unico in 1999).

A closer look at the articles that define the concept of ‘cultural asset’ reveals that the eligible cultural items must in fact be physical assets. The factor that characterises them as ‘cultural asset’ is indeed their very physical nature in conjunction with their cultural value (Cammelli, 2000). Interestingly, works of art that are not at least 50 years old or whose creator is still living do not qualify as cultural assets (Zerboni, 2001, 117). The new regulations also define the State’s role as one of preservation, management and promotion of cultural assets (Chiti, 1998). This is in fact a partial move away from Italy’s traditional focus on the preservation of the existing heritage.

In financial terms, though, the upkeep of such an incredibly rich archaeological heritage still absorbs the largest share of available funds: over 40 per cent of UNESCO’s world cultural heritage sites are located in Italy alone (Feist et al., 1998, 89).

Italian cultural policy thus can be essentially defined as a series of measures for the protection of cultural heritage and the support of ‘high’ cultural forms such as ballet, classical music, opera theatre, and the visual arts. Interestingly, whilst cultural industries have become, in the UK, an increasingly important area of cultural policymaking and one of the current government’s priorities, the cultural industries in Italy (with the exception of the public broadcasting institution, RAI) are mainly left to fend for themselves in the marketplace, and state intervention is limited to some modest subsidies to the film industry and the press to help them survive cases of market failure (Bodo 2002, 8). As Carla Bodo (Ibid., 16) explains, in Italy there is no overall legal framework to promote the cultural industries. A possible explanation for this is the difficulty of establishing such a framework when the relevant legislative responsibilities for the creative industries sector are divided between the Ministry for Communications (which is in charge of radio, TV and the press) and the Ministry for the Heritage and Cultural Activities (who holds responsibilities for film and the performing arts).

This emphasis on heritage is a particularity of Italian cultural policy that could be explained by the undeniable reality that Italy has “the largest ‘open-air’ cultural patrimony in the Western world’, which has turned her into what Sergio Romano has defined as a ‘gigantic cultural warehouse’ (Romano, 1984, 12), fundamentally unmanageable. Suffice it to say that only 5% of the entire Italian artistic heritage is catalogued, and many works of art are kept in storage and are never shown to the public: half of the 4,000 or so paintings owned by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence are permanently in storage (Bianchini, 1996, 300)15. The peculiar focus of Italian cultural This small percentage of artefacts exposed to the public is in fact in line with the European average. However, it feels still rather low for a country – such as Italy - that has made of heritage preservation its number one cultural policy priority. Indeed, since a large proportion of Italy’s public resources are consistently channelled into the preservation and restoration of cultural assets that the public never get access to, is the observer to conclude that Italy funds conservation for conservation’s sake?

policy on ‘cultural assets’ can therefore be at least partially explained by the huge responsibility that the Italian state has in front of its people, and in fact the whole world, of looking after an immense cultural patrimony.

However, a number of British as well as Italian scholars working in the field of Italian studies have demonstrated how the persistence of a very conservative definition of culture in the policy debate, as well as within the Italian universities, is in fact rooted in the Italian intellectual tradition (De Mauro, 1987, 2-5;). The identification of culture with the printed word, traditional education and with the high arts has been explained with the enduring prestige of the intellectual tradition of neo-idealism (associated particularly with the philosophers Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile) which identified culture with intellectuals and cultural history with intellectual history - and therefore made little effort to question accepted notions of culture and the privileges of intellectuals in society (Forgacs and Lumley 1996, 3; Eco, 1983, 225; Dombroski, 1998). According to this view, the persistence of a ‘humanist-intellectualist’ concept of culture was also responsible for the limited influence in Italy of Anglo-American political science and sociology, and – above all – cultural studies. Indeed, the revolution in cultural analysis that took place in Britain (and from there spread to America and most Anglophone academic circles), contributing to a profound reevaluation of accepted notion of arts and culture within the public arts funding system, simply did not have a counterpart in Italy. Therefore, the radical questioning of official cultural values that came with it simply did not take place. In fact, old cultural values survived even after the counter-cultural movements of 1968, which is rather significant, given that these were quite vital in Italy (Forgacs and Lumley 1996, 4).

In the light of these necessarily brief remarks on British and Italian cultural and intellectual history, it is evident that the two countries show marked differences in cultural traditions, as well as administrative and political system16, that cannot be discussed here at length for obvious reasons, but which do affect the cultural policymaking in the two countries On the whole, we can conclude that, on the one hand, recent British cultural policy focuses on the fostering of creativity among the population, on the cultural industries and the relationship between new technologies and the cultural sector. On the other hand, the most recent legislative act which, in 1999, reorganised the pre-existing Italian legislation concerning the administration of culture and cultural assets excluded from public responsibility (and thus an important channel for funding) any form of art or artefact whose creator was still living or that had been produced less than 50 years before the law was enforced. So, for instance, a comparative study of the visual arts sector in Italy and the UK that were mainly based on a comparison of cultural statistics (such as state expenditure for the sector in a given period) - without a discussion of the different delimitation of the state responsibilities for the visual arts sector in the two nations - would leave completely out of the picture the situation of the contemporary visual arts in Italy. Consequently, it would not contribute to a genuine, deeper understanding of the general issues concerning the visual arts in the two countries.

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