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20 Museum Directorships Open

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Source: Chris Wee/Flickr

Mostafa Heddaya, ’20 Major Museum Directorships Open as Americanization Sweeps Italy’, BLOUIN ARTINFO, 14 January 2015

As part of sweeping culture ministry reforms, 20 major Italian museums, including world-renowned institutions like the Uffizi in Florence and the Borghese in Rome, have announced a search for new directors. A January 8 listing in The Economist describes the search as an “international call for applications,” and follows structural changes announced last year by culture minister Dario Franceschini aimed at reducing bureaucratic overhead and expanding museum directorships to include fundraising responsibilities. Last week’s jobs posting followed a ministerial decree signed by Franceschini on December 23, the Italian wire service ANSA reported.

“This is kind of a revolution in the way these museums are going to be administered,” Dr. Maia Gahtan, director of Marist College’s graduate museum studies program in Florence, told ARTINFO in a telephone conversation. Gahtan describes the reforms as having been “very controversial” in Italy, given the new focus on fundraising capacity. “People are worried that the museums are kind of selling out on the cultural side,” she said. “[But] the museums need to change, there are a lot of problems within the museums and there’s a need to correct.”

The revamped directorships follow cuts passed in 2014 by the government of then-prime minister Enrico Letta aimed at trimming the nation’s cultural bureaucracy, and bring Italian museums closer to models of private fundraising adopted elsewhere around the world, particularly in the United States and, increasingly, Britain. “A lot of these museum directors don’t have training in [financial or managerial] fields, they had been curators, very knowledgeable about objects and display, but didn’t do much fund-raising, if any,” Gahtan said. In addition to the new fundraising responsibilities, incoming directors, who according to a ministry website will serve four-year terms and will assume authorities previously held by regional superintendents, among them the approval of loans and the processing of research requests from scholars.

Extant directors have been invited to re-apply for their positions under the new scheme; Gahtan noted that the Uffizi’s Antonio Natali — whose institution recently underwent renovations funded by a 600,000 euro donation from Salvatore Ferragamo — has said he intends to submit his candidacy. The superintendent of Florence museums, Cristina Acidini, announced her resignation in September in anticipation of the changes, telling ANSA that the new system does not offer “a position that can be compared to my current post, which the ministry gave me in October 2006.” (Acidini was at the time also subject of an unrelated investigation into an alleged insurance impropriety.)

Outgoing directors, all of whom are directly employed by the culture ministry, are not likely to be ousted from the museum system. “They won’t entirely lose their jobs, they’ll be sent elsewhere… they have a guaranteed job within the ministry. Right now the contract is kind of an indeterminate subordinated contract; it’s not very easy to fire someone, the person will have need to have done some very bad things,” Gahtan said. It remains unclear what the timeline will be for management changes within the rest of the Italian museum system beyond the 20 flagship institutions selected in this first round.

The ministry’s bilingual application document specifies that applicants with “specific and proven professional qualifications on the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage” are sought; a number of possible qualifications are offered, including a minimum of five years of management experience in “public or private institutions, or public and private companies, Italy or abroad,” though this qualification is referred to as “public administration” experience later in the document. Also acceptable to the Italian authorities is “proven research and academic experience in Universities in Italy or abroad.”

Italian museum directorships have been subject to larger political forces in the past. A July 2014 investigation by The Art Newspaper found that Italy’s public museums have been the focus of political battles, noting in particular the case of the embattled British-Canadian director of the Palazzo Strozzi, James Bradburne. “Every now and again they appoint a foreigner, such as James Bradburne, in the hope of getting a bit of that magical know-how, and then they get rid of him or her in humiliating, destructive and unprofessional ways that in the UK or US would be inconceivable,” the article’s authors, Anna Somers Cocks and Laura Lombardi, wrote. The Palazzo Strozzi was not among the institutions included in the January 8 listing.

Salaries for the positions offered, according to a culture ministry website, range from 78,000 euros for non-managerial directors to 145,000 euros for directors with “general management status,” with possible bonuses of 15,000 and 40,000 euros, respectively. Even with the bonuses, the salaries are considerably lower than those offered by major American institutions, but are in line with European standards for public museums. The secretary of the Smithsonian Institution earns $795,000, while the directors of the National Gallery of Art and New York’s Metropolitan Museum earn more than $1 million a year (the latter is a private institution on public property). The director of Britain’s National Gallery is paid around 145,000 pounds, while at the Tate, a private institution with heavy public subsidy, director Nicholas Serota’s salary is capped at 164,999 pounds.

The deadline for applications is February 15, 2015.