3rd February 2014

The Art Factor?!

By Michael Wood on Monday February 3, 2014

Despite its reputation as a paradise for art lovers and culture vultures, Italy has one of the smallest heritage conservation funds in Europe, spending billions less each year on its priceless treasures than its EU partners.

Sadly, in a bid to cut its overwhelming deficit, the Italian government is having to slash the budget even further, meaning tough decisions have to be made about the future of many of its greatest works of art.

However, to help him choose which artefacts to save and which to ditch (that’s to say, keep in a secure location for restoration when budgets allow), the Minister for Culture, Massimo Bray, came up with an ingenious idea: a public vote via Facebook!

The Culture Ministry selected eight pieces of art in urgent need of TLC, ranging from an Ancient Roman marble horse, to Fiorentino’s painting of Mary Magdalene at the Feet of Christ, and posted them on the social networking site. It then invited the Italian public to click on the work that they felt most deserved to be repaired.

After sifting through thousands of votes, the Ministry declared the winner to be the Madonna and Child by Renaissance master, Pietro Perugino, which is now undergoing restoration ahead of being unveiled to the public in the next few months.

Perugino’s Madonna and Child

With so many Italian monuments, including the ruins of Pompeii, in an advanced state of disrepair, any attempt to raise awareness of the plight of the nation’s cultural heritage is highly welcome. A social media campaign is the perfect way of doing so, encouraging ticket sales and footfall to its art galleries and sites of historic interest.

And, in the land of la dolce vita, Facebook is the ideal platform for such public outreach. It may be in the doldrums in the UK and the US, but in Italy it is booming. Visitor numbers to the site grew 4.7 per cent in 2013 and it now boasts 14 million active daily users in the country, whereas Twitter’s figures have declined 11.6 per cent in the same period.

More and more governments, not to mention businesses, in Europe are switching on to the power of social media not just as a means of boosting online presence, but also of actively engaging the public.

In a country that has suffered for a number of years under an increasingly restrictive Austerity budget, such campaigns can go a long way towards encouraging the electorate to get on board with what may initially seem to them to be a frivolous expense.

Through social media, they can fully appreciate the importance of these works to their national identity, and see where their tax Euros are going.

With a bit of luck, Italy will have more spare cash to lavish on its many astounding cultural gems in the near future, but for the time being we, and the Italian people, can be thankful for Facebook and the role it has played in preserving the country’s history for posterity.