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Italian court overturns appointment of museum directors

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Italian court overturns appointment of museum directors
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini pictured in December 2016. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
11:35 CEST+02:00
A plan from Italy's Culture Ministry to revive its museums by hiring international experts has hit an embarrassing setback, after a court overturned some of the appointments made in a high-profile recruitment campaign.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said on Thursday that he would appeal the decision from a Lazio administrative court, adding that he was "speechless" after the ruling.

"The world has seen Italian museums change in two years and now the Lazio administrative tribunal annuls the appointment of five directors. I have no words, and it's better that way..."

The court threw out five of the 20 appointments made in 2015, including directors of cultural sites in in Naples, Taranto, Reggio Calabria, Mantua and Modena. The appointments were made as part of a move to revive Italy's struggling museums by bringing in foreign expertise.

Only one of the five was a foreigner: Austrian art historian Peter Assmann, who was hired to manage Mantua's Ducal Palace.

Other foreign hires - including Eike Schmidt, the German director of Florence's world famous Uffizi gallery - were spared in the ruling, however the judges called into question the decision to hire foreigners to run Italian museums as well as other aspects of the hiring process including transparency of the process and the evaluation criteria used.

The Culture Ministry refuted these claims, saying the recruitment had been carried out "in accordance with not only European and national law but also with the highest international standards, as recognized by the International Council of Museums".

What's more, the ministry credited the overhaul with an increase of 7.5 million annual visitors to the country's museums in 2016, compared to three years earlier.

READ MORE: Italy hunts for more foreign directors in museum shake-up

Before the shake-up under Matteo Renzi's government in 2015, only native Italians were able to apply for jobs running cultural sites.

Franceschini's high-profile reform plan saw the ministry recruit overseas to find new directors for some of the country's under-performing cultural treasures, in a bid to boost cultural revenue and visitors by bringing in foreign expertise. Renzi on Thursday described the plan as one of the choices he "was and remains most proud of" from his time as PM.

Hundreds applied for the roles, though some art experts criticized the move. Eike Schmidt's predecessor at the Uffizi gallery, Antonio Natali, appeared particularly bitter at the replacement.

“I knew I would not win the bid for the Uffizi when the government statistics office told me I could not change my name to Anthony Christmas," said Natali, apparently suggesting that the choice to bring in foreigners was tokenism or a PR move.

At the time, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said that with the 20 appointments, "the organization of Italian museums will turn a page and recover from decades of delay".

READ ALSO: Why you've never heard of Italy's best museumWhy you've never heard of Italy's best museum
Photo: Gengish Skan/Flickr

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