When rumors spread that Rome's historic Teatro Valle would be privatized, jeopardizing its reputation for pushing boundaries in theater, its employees took matters in their own hands. Everybody — lighting technicians, actors, stagehands, and seamstresses — set up camp in the theater, which has been around since 1727, protesting the potential takeover. The following weekend, another group of protesters occupied Italy's newly-restored contemporary art space, the Macro, which is also suffering financially.
For a country steeped in cultural history — from its ancient Roman ruins to the art of Renaissance masters to being at the forefront of cinema's early years — the protests could be the sign of something bigger to come. Is Italy on the brink of an arts rebellion?
Over the course of eight years, funding to Italy's Cultural Ministry has been cut in half, according to the New York Times. In 2001 it received 2.2 billion euros ($3.1 billion); in 2009 the budget diminished to only to 1.7 billion euros ($2.4 billion).
"It's true that the ministry receives fewer funds, but let's face it, a lot of money was spent badly in the past," deputy culture minister Francesco Maria Giro told the Times.
Earlier this year, Giancarlo Galan, Italy's culture minister, criticized the International Rome Film Festival, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "It would be ridiculous for Rome not to be connected to cinema, given its history, but to also host a festival in competition with Venice is extravagant," Galan told a Turin-based daily, La Stampa. "Indeed, giving funding limitations, the current situation is likely to weaken both events."
While city officials in Rome have pledged 1.3 million euros ($1.43 million) towards the Valle's next season, critics say that Italy needs to find a solution and reform its cultural spending practices to ensure longevity, rather than avert disasters as they come. "In Italy we pass from emergency to emergency, without trying to reform the system," protester Benedetta Cappon told Times.
Protesters who have set up camp at Teatro Valle for the last two weeks are calling for their cultural revolution via Facebook and blogs to repair the down fall of the arts in the country. If this year's revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia — both spurred by social networking — are any indication, then Italy's government should take note — or better yet, do something about it.