Mon, Sep 12, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Saving Italy's culture may cost an arm and a leg

Fundraising activities fail to bring in enough money to preserve national treasures

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ROME

A fund-raising ad in which Jesus has been deleted from da Vinci's Last Supper reads: ``Without your help, Italy could lose something.''

PHOTO: NY TIMES

Italians are so blase about the art all around them that it apparently takes hacking a leg off Michelangelo's David or rubbing Jesus out of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper to get their attention -- and maybe their money.

The images, on television and in newspapers around the country, do require a second look: Pisa without the tower, Rome without the Coliseum, David with his left leg amputated above the knee, propped up with a metal brace.

"Without your help," the advertisements read, "Italy could lose something."

The images, digitally created and purposely provocative, began flooding Italy this week as part of a monthlong fund-raising campaign with a difficult aim: to persuade Italians to donate their own money, in hard economic times, to preserve their nation's rich artistic heritage. The difficulty is that Italians, who already pay high taxes, have always considered this the job of the state.

Floods, sacking and looting, and builders who have quarried ancient marble for homes, have all taken their toll over the millenniums -- and now cultural officials here say they are worried about simple neglect and lack of public money. The fear was underscored recently at one of Rome's most important buildings, Castel Sant'Angelo, the stout, grand papal refuge, after an Italian newspaper documented the budget cuts, lack of staffing and maintenance that one official there said had left the building on the verge of "collapse." The government was forced to earmark emergency money quickly for its preservation.

"We are asking the question, what would Italy be without its cultural objects?" said Ledo Prato, secretary general of CittaItalia, the private foundation leading the fund-raising campaign. His answer: just another "anonymous" European nation.

He may be overstating things, since the food, wine and nature here are pretty good, too. But Italian cultural officials are speaking of a deepening crisis.

demonstrable need

According to the Culture Ministry, the nation's inventory of cultural pieces is 4.7 million, spread out over 600,000 sites around the country. Prato said that one study showed that Italy's entire cultural budget -- including its funds for personnel and restoration -- was less than half of what was needed just for adequate physical upkeep of its cultural sites and objects.

And so, he and other cultural officials say, ordinary Italians need to begin to donate beyond what they already pay in taxes.

"We want to make a step forward, in which the public sector also takes responsibility," said Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's culture minister.

Prato's private group, which works alongside the Culture Ministry, commissioned the ads as the centerpiece of the fund-raising drive, which began last Monday and runs through Oct. 2. In addition to running the ads on television and in papers, the group has broadcast radio messages and printed some two million brochures. It has also commissioned a reproduction of "David," whose leg will be amputated, for display in piazzas around Italy through the end of September.

To make donating simple, the group takes funds online at www.fondazionecittaitalia.it, or by bank transfer, credit card and even text messages on mobile phones. People can also buy lottery tickets earmarked for the drive.

The big question, though, is whether Italians will actually give. Last year, CittaItalia held its first such fund-raiser and took in a relatively small amount, about 300,000 euros, which went to repair an organ in Turin.

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