the italy to come: cultural industry, made in italy

Florens 2012Florens2012 was an International Biennial of Cultural and Landscape Heritage that took place in Florence, Italy, November 3-11, 2012. I was asked to participate as a blogger to report on some of the topics and discussions presented during the conference. For more information on how to attend the multitude of events, the Florens Foundation website.

Last month ago a presentation about The Italy to Come: Cultural Industry, the Made in Italy Brand, and the Regions was given in the Sala dei Duecento of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Symbola Report Cover (Image: Fornasetti, Tema e Variazioni 116)
Symbola Report Cover (Image: Fornasetti, Tema e Variazioni 116)

For the second consecutive year, the Foundazione Symbola e Unioncamere has made the report “Italy to Come. Cultural Industry, the Made in Italy Brand, and the Regions”, a document which reconstructs the geography of the Italian cultural industry and its peculiarities: a qualitative survey supported by an in-depth statistical analysis. The field of observation research, in line with international guidelines, does not stop at the traditional sectors of culture and historical and artistic heritage, but gives an account of the value that culture and creativity contribute to overall Italian economic activity, in research departments of large industries such as in artisan workshops or professional studios.

The study analyzes all the economic activities related to culture: from the film industry to architecture, from communication to the birth of video games, from museums to the performing arts, to the manufacturing industry. The survey provides a snapshot of the system: on the one hand, the quantification of phenomena, and on the other the geographies, stories and actors involved. In order to prepare this report on culture, Symbola e Unioncamere have established an authoritative scientific committee, supported by a research group of experts, stakeholders and advisors. The Foundation Florens and Symbola Foundation have developed a specific focus on Tuscany, presented on this occasion.

Made in ItalyThe conference has ended, but the discussion for the future of Made in Italy needs to continue. How does Italy maintain its italianism and its cultural identity in a global market, based on the past, but growing toward a brighter future, in the midst of an economic crisis? And how does this image trickle down from Made in Italy to Made in Tuscany, and ultimately even, Made in Florence? Here is a summary of what was discussed.

Fabio Renzi, from the General of Symbola introduced the study. The research conducted and the publications produced carefully analyzed and reported their findings with almost 300 pages full of data, statistics and graphs. Tuscany in particular is a territory rich in artisan specialization: Arezzo for gold work, Prato for textiles, Carrara for marble, and Lucca for paper, just to make a few examples. In fact, according to Symbola, Arezzo is the top province in the country exporting its “culture” even while most of the successful manufactures of Italian culture exporters tend to be from the northern part of the Peninsula. Tuscany is oozing with tradition and culture, and has cleverly understood how to transform these vocations into excellent products, manufactured locally and renown world-wide.

Symbola's graph of cultural exportation from the regions of Italy in 2011
Symbola’s graph of cultural exportation from the regions of Italy in 2011

Marco De Guzzis, CEO of Editalia, stresses that Italy has such a rich patrimony of art and culture giving it a great advantage in the world market of such “products” as well as the related tourism they create. But this capacity can be maintained in the present and future only if it is re-invested in an innovative way, avoiding a boomerang effect of stagnancy. Tuscany boasts many creative art forms and artisan handicrafts such as jewelry, paper making and bookbinding, fine art prints, leather crafts, gastronomic specialties, etc. But there are obstacles that can present themselves in maintaining these types of fields. One is that you can’t “eat” culture and if we are not careful about having too many preconceived notions in the, at times, “snobbish” cultural world, we will lose touch with the common mass, that which supports culture on a grand scale. We need new ways of communication and outreach in order to bring culture off of its pedestal and into real life in the streets.

Paolo Marcesini, director of Memo Grandi Magazzini Culturali, asks what is Italy useful in? Certainly, it is not savvy in public investments of its patrimony. Yes, there are numerous museums and cultural sites around the country, many of them UNESCO World Heritage sites that hardly need to be advertised. In fact, Italy is the country with the most UNESCO sites in the world. There are 430 State museums in Italy, but statistics show that the MoMA in New York sees more tickets sold to visitors annually than all of the State museums in Italy combined! The world has an idea, an image of Italy as a land full of cultural resources, and it is, but we are not taking full advantage of them. Instead, there is an absence of effort to promote the country’s patrimonial assets.

Symbola's chart of percentage cultural production of the provinces of Italy in 2011
Symbola’s chart of percentage cultural production of the provinces of Italy in 2011

Giampiero Maracchi, President of the Osservatorio dei Mestieri d’Arte (OMA) in Florence, states that we need to know our past in order to know the future — that classic idea of studying history to understand what comes next. From 1900-2010, the world has changed drastically and quickly. As far as commerce, manufacturing jobs are in decline, so what shall we do next? We should be concentrating on artisan skills and specializations, which should be a positive goal for Italy. In a digital and mass-produced era, we are slowly turning back to wanting what is unique and locally created. Man has a need for creativity. Globalization, which has perhaps caused us to lose touch with place and home-made, needs to be scaled back down to a local level, concentrating on economic, social, and ambient issues.

Florence has a history of knowledge and know-how to be creative in both arts and sciences. Look at Brunelleschi’s dome. An architectural feat in its day, the knowledge was present to construct such a dazzling monument, stunning even over 500 years later, and probably could not be recreated in the present. We cannot erase this capacity, so well proven by the past. It should be a consistent guarantee of quality, creativity, and information. But the current global market is causing Florence to become too expensive for craft artisans in which to live and produce. Here is where we risk losing this patrimony, and something needs to change.

Maria Paoletti Masini, President of Fondazione Teseco per l’Arte, has a concept of what industrial culture may be — a lot of academics and researches who seem to be creating an Art vs. Artisan premise. We need a revolutionary approach and give each their own identity based on history. Fine arts and artisan crafts, as they are separated, actually come from the same root word: art. Both are manual labor historically appreciated by nobility. In today’s society, global businesses such as Ikea came to our cities and created jobs, but actually robbed work from artisan producers, creating a much less expensive and easily accessible product.

Culture should be a marriage between information and formation which needs to be continually renewed so that the core does not die out. Perhaps the future of hand-made needs to be in part maintained by commercial business interventions of economic investments to support local trades — something that benefits everyone. Investments need to be made not just for tourism as it is frequently done in Italy, but also for cultural events and exhibitions that attract more visitors. And what remains from ticket sales in these occasions needs to be evaluated. As a society, we need to invest in the people, in the cultural growth of young people and their participation within the society itself.

Francesca Molteni, Administrator of MUSE and Curator of QallaMMolteni & C, gives the example of  QallaM’s project as a way to look toward the future with creative commercial experiments. In the Province of Monza, where many furniture manufacturers a present, Molteni & C has created a local multimedia project based on a book about their products which helps maintain their identity. QallaM is a dedication to the local business of the furniture trade as well as a historical showcase of Molteni’s classic pieces, produced since 1934. It is an archive, travelling exhibition, and event house all-in-one, based on a local tradition. She notes, however, as a company that makes high-end products, they are at risk against companies such as Ikea because long-lasting products may only be ordered once every 20 years, while more temporary products are purchased every 5 years. This is not always the best business model, unless of course the profit margin is reflected in the price.

Symbola's graph of creative occupations in the cultural system of Tuscany
Symbola’s graph of creative occupations in the cultural system of Tuscany

Ermete Realacci, President of Symbola, concluded the discussion. Tuscany represents Italy in many ways, known for its artisan products of high quality. Looking at the past and future of the county, Italy must continue to do what it does best — be itself. But what is our idea of the future? Italy cannot have an abstract image of itself. And how do we get out of the current financial crisis? Realacci uses the Roman phrase, “non c’è trippa per i gatti“, in this case meaning there is no more excess, and not even the minimum remaining to support the Italian artisan trade. But the future is always rooted to the past, and Italy gains highly on many ways with its image of beauty and the bella vita.

Italy had an economic boom after the war in many fields, namely science, engineering, and industrial competence. But now, like other countries, Italy struggles against economic in industrial competitors such as China. In some way, the Peninsula needs to renovate itself while maintaining its identity. We must look at the traditions of Italy and recuperate its strengths: its beauty, honor of tradition, and cultural prosperity.

• • •

What do you think the future of Italy’s cultural identity should be? How can a country, or a territory within it, maintain its valuable cultural identity while surviving in today’s economic and industrial global market? How can we as artisans retain our craft on a local hand-made level and not lose our traditional connections to the past in this modern world? How can we market this prestige without commercially branding it incorrectly to the mass market, causing it to lose its core value? These are questions to continue discussing and new solutions need to be considered. And Florence, in particular, needs not to be stuck in the Renaissance. We should use our creativity to be one step ahead of renovation and innovation, balancing the fine lines between past, present, and future.

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