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From McDonald's to museums: Italy's new culture tsar

With a background in Big Macs and designer handbags, Mario Resca did not seem the obvious choice to become the chief adman for culture in the nation that gave us Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

world Updated: Jan 31, 2009 12:10 IST

With a background in Big Macs and designer handbags, Mario Resca did not seem the obvious choice to become the chief adman for culture in the nation that gave us Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

The former chairman of McDonald's Italy and board member for the Versace fashion house has pledged to revamp the country's cultural heritage and promote "Brand Italy" on the world stage after taking charge of hundreds of museums and archaeological sites.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created the post to improve the management of Italy's cultural heritage.

But Resca's appointment drew the ire of left-wing politicians in Italy who fear he will bring an overly commercial, consumerist approach to the job.

Even Resca, 63, admits that he is "not an expert of the arts world," having run McDonald's operations in Italy from 1995-2007.

"I've got a lot to learn but I am enthusiastic," he told AFP. "I believe my experience in the private sector will help me improve the management of our heritage."

Rejecting reports that he had been "offended" by the uproar his appointment caused, he said: "It shows that people are interested in art and culture. It's very positive."

Resca deplored the current state of Italy's museums and cultural sites, which he says are "badly maintained, badly organised and not very informative".

He says even though Italy is "a world leader in terms of the quantity and quality of its cultural sites, (they) attract fewer visitors than elsewhere".

Italy boasts some 4,000 cultural sites overall, while Resca is in charge of promoting the more than 450 national museums.

Italy needs to be 'prouder' of its culture

"The Louvre (in Paris) greets 8.5 million visitors a year, while the Uffizi Gallery in Florence only sees 1.5 million people," Resca said.

The seasoned businessman has set himself three years to boost the appeal of Italy's museums by stepping up advertising and marketing campaigns at home and abroad.

His "action plan" for 2009 will focus on the ruins of Pompeii near Naples, Rome's Imperial Forums and the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, he said.

Last July, Culture Minister Sandro Bondi declared a "state of emergency" to save Pompeii from "neglect" and to improve security at the site, which attracts some 2.6 million visitors each year.

But Resca's ability to boost visitor numbers will be limited by budget cuts as the government reins in spending in the face of the global financial crisis.

"Times are tough, and we must first of all learn to make better use of the funding at our disposal and streamline the management of our institutions," he said.

To put that into practice, Resca wants tax incentives to encourage individuals and companies to invest in museums.

He also advocates partnerships with museums in other countries with which to exchange works of art on temporary loan.

Recalling a recent visit to the United States to meet fellow museum executives, Resca said many told him Italy needed to be "prouder" of its cultural heritage and promote it better.

"Food, wine, fashion, sports cars ... the Italian way of life is the envy of the world. Art must also play a role in selling 'Brand Italy'," he said.