Here in the United States, our cultural heritage is something we care about, but funding it is another story. For that we rely heavily on large companies and rich people, whom we entice to pay for things like museums with naming rights and special access and events. In Italy, it’s long been the
case idea that the government mostly pays to maintain cultural heritage, but as the state continues to struggle financially, officials are turning more and more to private funding — “to some dismay,” the New York Times reports.
That dismay seems to stem from the benefits accrued to the donors, although it’s not entirely clear what those are, beyond a new tax deduction. People feared that luxury goods company Tod’s, when it agreed to finance the restoration of the Colosseum, would use the historic structure for an advertising campaign. It didn’t. Fendi is paying $4 million to restore the Trevi Fountain, but as far as we and the New York Times can tell, the Baroque sculpture isn’t being renamed the Fendi Trevi Fountain.
In fact, the entities causing the dismay seem to be government officials, some of whom have taken to renting out historic structures as a means of raising money. The Times notes that the Rolling Stones were allowed to rent the Circus Maximus for an outdoor concert last month, and offers this amusing anecdote as well:
Indignation ran high in Florence after it was discovered that city officials had allowed Morgan Stanley to hold a dinner inside a 14th-century chapel for a rental price of $27,000. Florence’s mayor doubled the rent to $54,000 after the outcry, but some argued that price was not the core issue.
People, a 14th-century Florentine chapel for $54,000 is a steal. (Kanye West and Kim Kardashian paid more than that for the audio system alone for their wedding in a 16th-century Florentine fort.)
If the purpose of renting out these historic spaces is to raise money to restore them — after the events themselves potentially cause further damage to them — well, then finding rich benefactors looks almost rosy by comparison. And Ignazio Marino, mayor of Rome, is on it: the Times reports that he’s working to woo the Saudi royal family. “Look for the money where the money is,” he said. Meanwhile, Dario Franceschini, the Italian culture minister, gave the paper a hard sell:
“Our doors are wide open for all the philanthropists and donors who want to tie their name to an Italian monument. We have a long list, as our heritage offers endless options, from small countryside churches to the Colosseum. … Just pick.”
Small countryside churches in Italy are, honestly, sort of like office supplies in the US: a dime a dozen. But think of all that cultural cachet.