Euro woes force Florentine institute to seek mainland sponsorship

Hopes that China fuels renaissance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 9:52am

One of Italy's most innovative art venues is forging closer ties with the mainland as continuing economic problems in Europe threaten arts funding in the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Florence's Palazzo Strozzi has launched a charitable foundation to seek sponsorship from companies in the mainland. Donations will be used to showcase the work of Chinese contemporary artists in the city and help fund internships in Florence for Chinese youngsters.

Italy is in a dire situation. The cultural sector is undergoing cuts and cuts
James Bradburne, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi

"Italy is in a dire situation. The cultural sector is undergoing cuts and cuts," says James Bradburne, director general of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, in a stopover in Hong Kong. "They're often being made in places you don't see, such as research and education."

Italy has the second-highest level of public debt in the 17-country euro-zone bloc.

As growth on the mainland slows, companies there continue to seek new markets and acquisitions overseas. Shandong Heavy Industry Group bought a 75 per cent stake in Italian luxury yacht maker Ferretti Group last year.

Chinese corporate donations will help fund exhibitions in Florence inspired by the Royal Academy of Art's annual Summer Exhibition in London, according to Bradburne. The shows will invite anyone on the mainland to submit works for assessment. The first show is scheduled to coincide with the Milan Expo in 2015.

The open-submission exhibitions will also showcase mainland music, art created and selected by children in the mainland, and the work of young mainland inventors. Mainland money will also help sponsor three-month internships in Florence.

The Palazzo Strozzi, completed in 1538 and named after the wealthy Florentine merchant who commissioned it, has won plaudits for making art fun and accessible for visitors.

It champions a business model that mixes private and public funds, supplemented by so-called earned revenue from ticket sales and other commercial activities. There has been a progressive increase in contributions from private funds and a decline of funds from public sources since 2009, says the latest annual report.

As the euro-zone crisis intensified last year, fewer visitors and a cut in the average value of ticket sales led to a 33 per cent drop in earned revenue in 2012. Total revenue fell more than 8 per cent, the financial data shows.

While mainland money will not contribute directly to revenues in Florence, the goal is to build relationships that may pay off in the years ahead. Mainland companies have a vested interest in buying goodwill in the overseas markets where they now operate, reckons Bradburne.

"There's a great deal of negative propaganda against China in the West, and I find it very problematic," he says.

"It's a no brainer to go to the corporations and say, 'You'd better start looking a lot better, and here's the answer.'"

The Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi represents a valuable model of arts funding, governance and management that should be protected and shared with the rest of the world, says Bradburne.

"We are David trying to struggle against the giant of the world recession," he says.