Italy announces museum ticket price hike as part of €2bn flood aid package

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Italy has announced a plan to raise the price of museum tickets by €1 to generate funds for saving cultural heritage damaged in the Emilia-Romagna floods. The proposal has drawn controversy from some cultural commentators, with some warning it could drive Italians away from museums.

The measure was announced by Giorgia Meloni’s government on Tuesday as part of a €2bn aid package, as emergency forces in Emilia-Romagna battled to save displaced people (the total of which is estimated at more than 36,000) as well as art, statues, historic books, historic buildings and archaeological sites from the floods. Proposed by Gennaro Sangiuliano, the culture minster, the ticket price hike will apply to state-run museums from 15 June to 15 September. The government has not indicated how much the measure is expected to generate.

Critics claim that the move will discourage more cash-strapped Italians from visiting museums. “I don’t think that this policy is right, if only for an evident lack of social equality,” Giuliano Volpe, a professor of archaeology at the University of Bari and former advisor to Dario Franceschini, the former culture minister, told The Art Newspaper. “The country should be helping the young and unemployed.”

Just 21.8% of Italian males visited a museum in 2022, compared with 23.3% of females, according to the ISTAT statistics agency. To avoid driving down visitor numbers further, Volpe argued, the government should generate the funds through other channels, such as the lottery. “These price hikes form part of a broader logic that is emerging within the ministry that favour the increase of museum tickets,” he claimed.

Vittorio Sgarbi, a culture ministry undersecretary, has also criticised the move. “Leaving visitors the freedom [to visit museums] will be more worthwhile than raising the price of tickets,” he said on Tuesday while speaking on the Tagadà news programme. Sgarbi repeatedly called for museum entry to be made free in recent months, a measure Sangiuliano has argued would be economically unsustainable.

Others, however, have thrown their support behind the price increase. “This contribution from all could really resolve a dramatic situation,” Giordano Bruno Guerri, president of the Fondazione Vittoriale (which runs the former home of the poet Garbiele D’Annunzio) told the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. Speaking with the same publication, Caterina Bon Valsassina, former research and education director of the culture ministry, praised the government for decisively introducing the measure.

The scale of the damage to heritage in Emilia-Romagna has become clearer in recent days with Lucia Borgonzoni, a culture ministry undersecretary, launching a survey of sites in the area. The survey has so far found damage to 75 historic buildings, 6 archaeological sites and 12 libraries and archives, Borgonzoni said in a statement on Thursday. Damaged sites include the Museo delle Cappuccine in Bagnacavallo, where flooding in basement storerooms has damaged six frescoes and the Museo Guerrino Tramonti, in which storerooms containing 1,800 works ceramic and canvas works have been completely flooded.

On Thursday, the government sent packaging materials to Emilia-Romagna and mobilised the Blue Helmets, the country’s world-leading heritage protection taskforce, in an effort to save endangered heritage. Culture ministry undersecretary Lucia Borgonzoni said in a statement on Thursday that the culture ministry had made €2.5m euros available to help protect cultural heritage, with another €6m on the way.

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