October 1, 2008 / 9:47 PM / 9 years ago

Wanted: culture czar to dust off Italy's museums

3 Min Read

<p>A dog lies on the ground in Pompeii, the famous city next to Naples which was destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius July 17, 2008.Giampiero Sposito</p>

ROME (Reuters) - As museum jobs go, it's a whopper: Italy seeks a chief curator to run all the museums in a country that boasts more masterpieces and archeological treasures than anywhere in the world, but fails to exploit them properly.

Italy has about 1,500 museums and is home to more UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites than any other country.

The headhunter for the new position of Director General of Italian Museums is Culture Minister Sandro Bondi, who has opened up the contest to Italians and foreigners.

"This person will be at the heart of a major project to look after, and add value to, Italy's museums by ensuring they get the proper resources, both public and private," Bondi told Reuters in an interview carried out by email.

The job is part of a drive to halt the decay of some of the icons of Italy's heritage -- notoriously, the ancient Roman town of Pompeii, one of Italy's top tourist attractions, which was frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

The government has declared a "state of emergency" at Pompeii and appointed a special commissioner, "to show that we will not stand by idly while faced with the decay of one of the most important archeological areas in the world," Bondi said.

Once Pompeii is returned its former -- well, ruin -- he will hand its management as a tourist attraction to a private firm.

Impact on Economy

Bondi has also named a special commissioner to help Rome and Milan modernize their transport systems without wrecking their heritage. New metro lines are often delayed for months or even years while archeologists pore over ruins bared by bulldozers.

Resolving conflicting demands of conservation, tourism and infrastructure would help improve Italy's economic prospects.

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of economic output but the industry body Federturismo complained to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Italy had "slipped to 28th place in the World Economic Forum's ranking of competitiveness in tourism."

The turnover of Italy's top five museums equals just "12.7 percent of the British Museum, 6 percent of the Metropolitan Museum and 13 percent of the Louvre," Federturismo pointedly told Berlusconi in an open letter this week.

The government of Berlusconi, a media mogul whose TV channels are known for soaps and showgirls, is an easy target for accusations of philistinism.

Bondi, a communist-turned conservative who is now a senior figure in Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, may be a published poet but he appalled the arts establishment in August by saying that he "didn't understand" modern art.

Reporting by Stephen Brown, editing by Paul Casciato

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