Economics Cultural policy Museums Italy

Plan approved to give Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera its independence

Critics fear the nation’s heritage is being sold off

The Italian government has approved plans to form a public-private foundation to manage the state-run Pinacoteca di Brera. The foundation’s board so far includes Italy’s ministry of culture, its regional Milanese arm, the city’s chamber of commerce and the Fondazione Cariplo. Provided the project goes ahead as scheduled, the Fondazione Grande Brera will be active by the end of the year, running one of Italy’s finest but also impoverished national institutions.

This is an unusual arrangement for Italian state museums, which are traditionally tightly controlled by the government. However, the ministry’s increasing inability to adequately fund Italy’s vast network of museums and national heritage sites, especially in the current financial climate, has prompted vocal support for a public-private partnership. The plan has prompted opposition from critics who equate the managerial hand-over to an outright “privatisation” of the Pinacoteca’s assets. The government says this is not the case as the museum’s assets would still belong to the state, while its management and labyrinthine legal structure would be streamlined by the new foundation.

A proposed development plan for the museum, which at the moment is estimated to cost between €120m and €150m, would be presided over by the new foundation, and consists primarily of expanding the Pinacoteca’s exhibition spaces, which would be partly enlarged by restoring the nearby 18th-century Palazzo Citterio. The Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera, which is housed in the same building as the Pinacoteca, would also see its student campus relocated to a new site, allowing the museum to spruce up and to better display its large collection of masterpieces, which include Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin, around 1504, and Tintoretto’s Finding of the Body of St Mark, around 1548. So far the ministry of culture has only been able to pledge around €24m, a sum which, to many, emphasises the pressing need for further private investment.

The museum is suffocated by a tight web of legal constrictions that leave it with no autonomous decision-making power. All the revenue from ticket sales is channelled directly to the ministry headquarters in Rome, leaving the museum paralysed. Aldo Bassetti, the head of the organisation Amici di Brera, which has been promoting the museum’s interests since 1926, is in favour of distancing the Pinacoteca from government management. “At the moment, the museum directors are powerless. Even if ticket sales rise, they can’t keep a penny, and they end up losing interest in the museum’s welfare altogether.” State museums are not allowed to fundraise either, for example by organising temporary exhibitions, which are further complicated by the unions’ stranglehold on working hour agreements. A public-private foundation would provide the legal framework to fundraise independently, as well as providing “the proper co-ordination between running costs and profits”, Bassetti says.

Tomaso Montanari, a professor at the University of Naples and one of the leaders of the opposition, is averse to the involvement of private money. “The Pinacoteca would be managed by the private sector merely as a business,” he says. He is also worried about a potential shift of power away from the state to a majority of trustees from the private sector. “Public-private sector co-operation is needed, but this is not the right way,” he says, adding: “Turin’s Museo Egizio was handed over to a similar foundation whose president, a private individual, was paid a state-sponsored annual salary of €150,000.”

However, annual attendance has rocketed to 500,000 at the Museo Egizio since its foundation took over in 2005, whereas the Pinacoteca Brera, which is significantly larger, currently averages at around 200,000 visitors a year. Montanari also blames Italy’s rampant tax evasion problems as the real reason why the ministry of culture can’t manage all of Italy’s heritage. However, Bassetti is adamant that this is a political battle rather than a financial one. “Their’s [the opposition] is an ideologically antiquated stance,” he says, “they equate the word “private” with “profit”, but this foundation is expressly not-for-profit. Moreover, the foundation’s charter, which has yet to be drawn up, will curb the power of the board of trustees, so there is no need for this kind of alarmism.”

More from The Art Newspaper


25 Oct 12
18:12 CET


Finally! this is really good news. (Unfortunately) this is the only future for Italian museums. Look at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and how successfull that is! I have great hopes for the Fondazione Grande Brera!

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this