Saving Culture

By Mark Abouzeid

A new model for Cultural Initiative in Economic Crisis

Synposis: Economic crisis hits all sectors but culture is the one worst affected. Florence, the cultural capital of the world for over 300 years has depended on an economic model equally as old.  One initiative is providing a living example of what is required if we are to save culture in Italy and around the globe.

Main Article: Over the past 5 years, a tragic convergence of the economic crisis, the uprisings of the Arab spring and a host of natural catastrophes has all but rung the death knell for cultural initiatives around the globe.  Traditional sources of patronage have run dry and those funds that do exist are being diverted to urgent humanitarian relief in Japan, the Middle East and Africa. The situation has become so dire that even the world’s cultural capital, Florence, has cancelled major exhibits to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of Amerigo Vespucci due to lack of funds.

Since the renaissance, Florence has held a unique position in the hearts and minds of artists, historians, academics and tourists for its treasure trove of art, monuments and cultural heritage.  The city is considered a world heritage site by UNESCO and possesses more wonders in one square mile than any other place in the world.  Every year, millions of tourists and students willingly devote their precious time lining the streets in front of its numerous museums to view first hand Michelangelo’s David, Brunelleschi’s Duomo or Botticelli’s Venus.

All this could come to an end due to an economic model that itself dates back to the renaissance, that of artistic patronage.  Since the time of Michelangelo and Botticelli the church and noble families have sponsored artists and their works allowing them to follow their creative inspiration without needing to concern themselves with economic realities.  Despite sometimes acting as a biased filter favouring established works over new inspiration, the model has essentially worked for over 500 years funding exploration of the New World, a renaissance of art, ideas and science as well as modern movements including Liberty, Futurism and Neo-realism…until now.

The nobles have been replaced by public entities, foundations and institutions but the model remains the same: every year thousands of artists and curators write grant proposals vying for precious funding that will allow them to realize their vision and open it to the general public.  The noble families remain rich in properties but are cash starved by a lack of market liquidity. Institutions invested heavily in new instruments have seen their capital wiped out when their respective economies collapsed. Public entities suffering from burdened infrastructure and significantly reduced tax revenues have been forced to concentrate on primary social services with cultural initiatives being the first to be sacrificed.  Even regional funds such as those of the European Commission and UNESCO have been redirected to emergency aid of the numerous cultural and world heritage sites at risk in Egypt, Libya, Japan and elsewhere.

Despite it’s million’s of visitors every year, Italy’s Pompei site has reached such a critical state that walls collapse regularly from lack of upkeep and maintenance. (VOA, November).  Last year, Florence risked foregoing events surrounding for Festival d’Europa due to the last minute withdrawal of a major corporate sponsor.  In the end, the city drew into its coffer using funds earmarked for other purposes to make up the shortfall.

In a year celebrating 500 years since the death of Amerigo Vespucci, the primary exhibit featuring the life and works of the explorer who gave his name to a nation has been cancelled due to an inability to raise the €40,000 required.  At the announcement ceremony by the Mayor of Florence, it became evidently clear that the year’s events included only those supported by foreign universities and institutions with the exception of one. Il Nuovo Nuovo Mondo, Non Sono Clandestino is an initiative born in Florence that has not received funding from any major institution but instead has introduces new strategies for financing cultural activities that could become a model for saving this industry.

On June 5, 6 & 7, the exhibit “Il Nuovo Nuovo Mondo . . . Non Sono Clandestino” will be shown in the Sala d’Arme of Palazzo Vecchio in central Florence; one of the most prestigious venues in the World’s Cultural Capital.  We have the full support and partnership from the City of Florence, the Uffizzi Museum and numerous other local institutions but decided not to seek funding from the Florence municipality, Italian institutions or local public authorities.” Mark Abouzeid, founder Non Sono Clandestino.

With the contribution and hard work of over 40 different associations, craftsmen, and students, the organizers have been able to eliminate many of the typical expenses relating to such an important event. They have raised donations from private citizens in the all over the world through Kapipal and will be holding a Charity Auction of works both from the exhibit and others donated by Qino, Romina Diaz, and Mark Abouzeid.

Foreign consulates, multinational corporations and private individuals are being asked to support the fund raising efforts via direct contributions, Art Adoption and promotion.  Local businesses have funded the design of t-shirts and posters to be sold before and during the exhibit and local musicians will be holding a benefit concert to coincide with the event.

Florence owes a great deal of it’s cultural heritage, the Renaissance, to the massive inflow of ideas, culture, innovation and exchange deriving from exploration of a new expanded world.  The science of the middle east, brought back from the crusades, and the culture/innovation of the Americas provided additional fire to a society seeking enlightenment.  Once again, foreign influence has raised the possibility for saving culture in a time of crisis.

With the physical assistance of individuals, institutions and commercial enterprises; by offering each of them value in kind via publicity, credibility and professional experience; through the use of technological innovation and traditional barter; and with the collaboration of young and old, alike, culture does not need to suffer in times of crisis…it merely needs to adapt to the new economic paradigms.

Quote/Unquote

“To produce The New New World series of portraits reinterpreting famous renaissance paintings we needed the original works, costumes, sets, stylists and more.  Had we paid for any of this, we would have needed to raise thousands of euros.  Instead, we contacted the institutions responsible and bartered publicity and prestige for their works.  We recruited young professional, designers, artists, costumists, etc to do the physical work in exchange for significant career credibility from an event at the center of Florence’s cultural calendar.” Abouzeid

“The overall exhibit is sponsored by numerous small commercial activities providing their specific product in a manner that allows us to satisfy one need while raising capital at the same time.  A local bar sponsored the first 100 t-shirts including their logo as sponsor.  At a production cost of €5 and sale value of €15, each 100 t-shirts we sell generates great publicity for our event and our sponsor, finances the next 100 t-shirts and adds €1,000 for our ultimate beneficiaries.  The same is being done with catalogs, posters and prints.” Abouzeid

“Corporate and institutional sponsorship has been raised with specific programs, such as ‘adopt a work of art’.  For an established price, they sponsor a specific work in the exhibit making it possible to cover its costs and raise funds for the ultimate beneficiaries.  During the event a placard informs visitors as to its benefactor and, afterwards, the work is transferred to the sponsor providing long-term value and significant publicity at the same time.”

Abouzeid