Interview to Luca Bergamo
Every individual has the right to freely participate in the cultural activites of his own community, to enjoy art and benefit from the progress of science
by Valentina Valentini
Luca Bergamo: Generally speaking few centres and new suburbs exist. If we take a look at the physical structure of the city of Rome, the centre itself, which includes most of its cultural and real heritage, is mainly inside the Aurelian city walls. Regarding the vitality and cultural output I am not at all sure that the centre, where the social and economic élites live, is culturally more lively, productive and stimulating compared to other parts of the city.
I refer to graphic novels, music and new drama, the crossover of genres, the rediscovery of the relationship with space. These artistic expressions are very much a part of communities that in Rome are predominantly situated outside the city centre. It cannot be denied however, that there is an unavailability or a shortage of material resources in order for people to fully enjoy the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the city. A right referred to in the art. 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is in fact applied in different ways according to the physical and urban structure of the city. Historically, there tends to be a concentration of cultural institutions inside the city centre, and even more so at a time when State intervention is reduced as has been the case in recent years. The event of this global epidemic may bring about a new consideration of the relationship between public and private sectors. In any case the traditional venues of cultural production and distribution, as well as the institutions, are settled in a specific area of the city. This fact in itself creates differences and is also one of the reasons why the cultural policies we have tried to implement in recent years, within necessary limits, are aimed at recognizing the boundaries within which everybody is allowed to participate in the cultural life of a city. In order for this to be possible major changes are necessary in the functioning of cultural institutions: this leads us to imagine a different system than the one we found when we took office.
V.V.: Cultural experiences that began in the suburbs, such as MAAM – the Museum of Others and Other places -, the music schools and people’s orchestras which exist in the area between the Prenestina and Casilina streets, the small theatre venues, the Cultural Centre Giorgio Morandi, the People’s gym in Quarticciolo, the various underground cultural activities created in the suburbs, have no relationship with public institutions that plan the artistic life of the city of Rome. The division is blatant.
L.B.: I partly disagree with this affirmation of yours because not only does it forget the experience of transformation of the Macro, carried out by bringing the experience of MAAM into the Institutional field, but also simple experiences such as those, for example, of the Stalker, trap music, the work of Palazzo delle Esposizioni. The bond we have tried to build between “Teatri in Comune” and the public national theatre, which is the Theatre of Rome, is the building of a linking system between different cultural experiences: the system is more accessible now. I would like to add something else: there is an important link which connects the city’s cultural institutions with the Library network in Rome and this has often been a way of promoting events. It is an established fact that there is a gap between new artistic productions and the cultural events provided by institutions. However there is a lot to say about this. The most established institutions are the slowest to react to innovations, at least in Italy. Furthermore, there are other strong connections in some fields, think about the popularity of the roman trappers, beginning with Achille Lauro, who are then seen at Sanremo (the most popular music festival in Italy), so there is also an aspect -which I am not particularly fond of- however it exists, of the commercialization of new creativity which does not have roots inside niche sectors.
On the other hand, I believe there is a huge void concerning the role of intellectuals who used to belong to the élite and are now a part of the “others”. After Pasolini there have been few intellectuals who have carefully followed the transformations and the dynamics and who are able to reason in a critical or not critical manner. The institutions could be able to accomodate and integrate part of this emerging creativity and the experiences of local organizations.
V.V.: You centered the problem when you said that these experiences lack a real identifying reference, something that public Institutions can relate to. It is necessary to find the means and formulas to develop relationships between institutions, intellectuals, artists, and ensure that these alliances create a system which is functional, intellectual and political.
L.B.: We are in a different world where collective identities no longer exist, instead there are commodifications. However, I realize that public debate is often almost incapable of reflecting upon things which are not of immediate necessity. Here we are trying to discuss the impact of the model of development both in the public field and in the private one. I do not rule out that there will eventually come a time when it will be possible to discuss matters not necessarily in ideological terms but in a more general way. On this issue I also feel there is a lack of reflection and theory, but I recognize it because I belong to a certain generation. We are working on a project that until now has not been revealed, however I hope it will be in the future. We have started a series of confrontations within the global local government organization which has a cultural advisory board. I am vice president of this board and we have been discussing the role of cultural events in the context of sustainability for a long time. Using this as a starting point, we have begun to work on the formulation of a kind of declaration of these fundamental rights for the development of a sustainable society which was going to lead up to an international debate at the end of May.
V.V.: The cultural policies of Rome during the last 10 years, before you became city councilor, were tending to be more centralized. We have seen the gradual disappearance of the smaller or off-theatres, (Teatro Orologio, Rialto Sant’Ambrogio). For security reasons and other legal issues, the group of theatres where music was played and films shown, the independent cultural venues which displayed freedom of thought no longer exist. We are now in a situation where everything has been centralized under the control of few institutions, which contradicts what you said before. What cultural strategy are you putting into practice, I’m not saying to overturn this situation but to foster a wider range of opinions which represent the entire city and revolves around ideas and a cultural debate? Based upon the International Declaration of Human Rights, is it possible to adopt this ethical dynamic concerning culture in a city such as Rome with all its political and administrative issues etc…?
L.B.: I believe there is a clean break between the experience we have seen in the last three years and the previous ones. This break consists in the creation of social capital and of cultural competences. Until 2007 public spending was constantly growing, there was an increase in the resources available to the arts sector which materialized in a higher number of cultural institutions that “share a given budget”, in an increase of spending and in the widespread use of public buildings to house or give hospitality to associations which provided an independent auxiliary function for the State, providing cultural events accessible to the public etc..etc..
Two things have changed since then. First of all, if you look at the Rome Council cultural budget for the previous years, you will see that not only that spending was higher (and I would like to underline that for the first time in ten years we reversed the trend and started to increase the funds for culture), however the percentage of funds that were made available and transferred to the registered cultural institutions represented 60-65% of funds, which means that the remaining funds were put into use in different ways and for a variety of reasons sometimes in an associate way as advertising. The second point is that the problem of the legitimacy of the concession which allowed associations of private citizens to use public places, came under fire. At the start this was directed only at private house buying, but then it spread and the Court of Auditors, in particular, strongly protested against the concession and use of properties given to non profit organizations.
The present situation is that the use of properties belonging to government institutions, those that cannot be sold, is at a standstill. They used to be a major resource that facilitated that subsidiary, the independent local roots organizations which you refer to. Besides, the struggle in recent years is one of defence to avoid returning to complete acceptance of the administrative rules which would have the effect of totally cancelling the practice of subsidiary activities everywhere.
Therefore, the difficulty of a public policy in the cultural sector regarding private types of association, non-profit organizations, let’s call it a small third sector, is that the main benefits that existed, i.e. financial resources, and even more importantly the use and concession of venues, have come to a total stop.
V.V.: The procedure that would allow the right for everybody to create and benefit from culture calls for new ways to establish suitable interconnections among the different entities involved in the centre, in the outskirts, public and private subjects.
L.B.: One of the actual challenges we have been dealing with, has been to encourage cultural institutions such as Teatro di Roma, Romaeuropa Festival, Teatro dell’Opera, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Fondazione Cinema, Film Commission …etc. which take up 93% of the municipal budget to take on other responsibilities, since their main role is not to do things for their regular “customers”. In some cases, these have resulted in partial achievement. With this aim in mind, we have put into play and given new roles to the network of public libraries, because they are the only public cultural venues throughout the territory and this action has had remarkable impact. The reconnection of the system of former outer city theatres within the reconstruction of a group of public theatres is in line with this way of thinking. The aim is to maintain a cultural independence in theatres, on the one hand a strong independent vocation and on the other hand to build a networking system which at present does not exist: here we might say we are in the public of the public.
V.V.: What do we need to resist against in this present time, what do we need to fight and what do we need to build?
L.B.: I am more inclined to answer what we need to try out, rather than what we need to resist against, in so far as the resistance exists and it is tangible. Later on we will need to resist against the need to race alone. What we need to try to do is find a way ahead in which the challenges that this situation will inevitably produce are the challenges that concern asking questions about how the public and economic organization of the last thirty years has been managed. Today even important economists give their opinions on the matter. The liberal idea -to which even the reformers adhered – that is to say when a good standard of living can be reached only by increasing private consumption, the individual capacity of people to avail themselves of goods and services, appears to me to have been blatantly disproved since 2008, even though it did not have the effect it might have had, and which this pandemic I believe may have. I do not think there could be the opportunity to recover, it is necessary to invent a different model of development. However, we should try to start speaking about it and not in an instrumental manner, because the risk in this situation is that everything is used for a short term political advantage.
V.V.: It is part of the TBQ project to create opportunities and provide a space to reflect and debate about these issues.