The legitimate illegality. culture as a commons. a journey through the italian spaces occupied by knowledge workers #1

About a month ago I started a journey that led me from Venice to Palermo and Catania via Rome and Naples. In these cities, in the last year, groups of knowledge workers (visual and performing art workers, researchers, technicians, cultural managers, people who work with cinema, publishing, translation, radio, journalism), but also students and citizens have occupied some theatres and spaces destined to culture.

I lived and visited these places, I interviewed the occupants, I participated to the assemblies.

I anticipated something about this experience in a comment to the mission Taking the Theatres, but now I want to give a deeper vision of these facts. I collected a lot of materials and so I’ll divide this mission in two parts: in this one there is a general description of what is happening and why, in the next post there is a deeper analysis about the social and cultural value of these facts and more information about the modality of governance and management of these spaces.

In Italy the media are talking about these occupations rarely and without giving a true idea of the situation. Instead I think that what is happening is very important!

Culture as commons, precariousness, welfare, cultural policies and wasting of resources are the themes at the base of the occupations of spaces, spaces that can be considered as symbols of contradictions:

Rome – Cinema Palazzo occupied in April 2011 by a group of inhabitants of the neighborhood, citizens, activists and knowledge workers because it had to be transformed in a Casino run by organized crime. After almost 1 year of occupation the judge declared legitimate the occupation against the owner company. The occupants require a place to produce and to offer culture related not only with the neighborhood, but with the all city, like many years ago when the palace was cinema and theatre.

Rome – Valle Theatre, an historic theatre built in XVIII century, occupied in June 2011 by a group of cultural workers because it risked to be closed for the suppression of ETI (public institution that dealt with the promotion and distribution of the Italian theater, also abroad). After the closure the theatre would been managed by a private society, but the occupants claim the public property for the mission of the theatre.

Venice  Marinoni Theatre occupied in September 2011 by a group of venetian knowledge workers (who already manages two spaces in Venice: S.a.L.E. Docks and Laboratorio Occupato Morion), students and the occupants of Valle Theatre during the famous Festival of Cinema because it had been allocated 37 million euro to build the new Cinema Palace. It was only a speculation and the palace was never built, while in the same area the beautiful Marinoni Theater was crumbling to ruins.

Milan – PAC (Contemporary Art Pavilion) temporarily occupied the 3rd December 2011 by a group of Art Workers of Milan and the occupants of Valle Theatre and Marinoni Theatre to talk about culture as commons and the precariousness of the knowledge workers

CataniaCoppola Theatre, the first municipal theater in the city turned into a warehouse and closed since II World War, occupied in December 2011  by a group of Sicilian art and culture workers.

The occupants consider the occupation like a liberation of the theatre and they delivered the space with the intention to build an independent place to artistic and professional training, to share their professional skills and to turn them into material goods for the community

Naples – Madre Museum temporarily occupied the 29th January 2012 by a Neapolitan collective of performing art and immaterial workers and by the occupants of Valle, Marinoni and Coppola Theatres and the Art Workers from Milan. The occupation happened to do a public assembly about the different experiences of occupations and to talk about culture as commons also with academics and lawyers.

Naples - Ex Asilo Filangieri  occupied in March 2012 by La Balena, Neapolitan collective of performing art and immaterial workers. The place is an historic palace in the centre of the city renovated with the investment of 8 million euro to be the location of the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2013. Before the event the palace is supposed to host and produce cultural events, but after the opening it was no longer used except as a place of some administrative offices of the Forum.

Palermo – Garibaldi Theatre , built in XIX century, that has always alternated periods of use and disuse (until becoming a venue for illegal boxing matches). It restored in 2008 with the investment of 4,5 million euro, but inexplicably closed. It has occupied in April 2012 by a group of Sicilian knowledge workers, the occupants of Coppola and Valle Theatre.

Palermo – Cinema inside Cantieri della Zisa occupied by a group of Sicilian knowledge workers in  April 2012. The Cantieri della Zisa is a dismissed industrial area, recovered to be the site of cultural activities, but the Cinema (the only one public in the city) was closed from 4 years.

These spaces are symbols of a catastrophic cultural policies and of the rhetoric of creative cities andlarge-scale events in a time when social policies make work and life extremely difficult, not only for knowledge workers.

If there are no economic resources and the funds to culture production are cut, why are millions of euros allocated to restore a theater that will never be in use?

If there are no economic resources, why does the Biennale have the money to pay the rent of the buildings on the Grand Canal for the exhibitions, while their workforce is made ​​by workers unpaid or underpaid (a lot of them doing internships)?

the protest and the counter – proposal

in the so-called “knowledge based economy” of course it is knowledge workers who produce the key-value of economic performance, but this value is not equitably redistributed: precariousness affects knowledge workers. But this happens also because the Italian legislative system and the current welfare system penalize the knowledge workers.

Interviews revealed that they have identified some “capture systems” of their value, beyond the legal system: unpaid internships, cultural policies based on the rhetoric of the creative city and great events, creative industries.

And so is from these symbolic spaces the occupants protest against  cultural policies, in particular against the financing procedures, the carelessness of spaces and ask a new welfare system.

With the help of lawyers and economists it is developing a proposal of welfare and they are also designing and testing new forms of legislation and administration of the spaces in which culture is understood as a commons. It is an hard work based also on a careful study of the Italian Constitution to find some ways to legitimate these illegitimate occupations (and the article 43 seems to be a good way, above all for the Valle Theatre, but it is too long to explain here).

What the occupants define culture as a commons is the need for a broader participation of citizens and workers in cultural policies and more transparency in the allocation of funding.

The experimental forms of legislation, governance and management of the spaces, sharing of means of production mentioned above could be tools to begin this new era.

The groups of occupants recognize a similarity with the Arab spring, the Occupy movement, the Spanish Indignados, but In Italy these groups form a network, not a movement. They defined themselves “constituent groups” i.e. they don’t aspire to be a minority, but they aspire to have a large representation of citizenship, to combine advanced forms of conflict with the ability to build consensus and participation by different parts of population.

And indeed the citizen participation to the assemblies and to the occupations is large. there are also people that would never have thought of entering an occupied space.

The participation is broader especially since the reform of labor law in Italy, proposed after Berlusconi’s government, puts in the same legislative situation of the knowledge workers also all the independent workers and who hasn’t a contract of indefinite duration.

The occupants specifically want: a new labor law and a new welfare system inspired by the right of citizenship (formulated by Balibar) and by the specific indemnity for intermittent work of French system of welfare; they want open data on public funding, transparency in the appointment of artistic directions, real participation in public policy and in decision making related to their field

They think that arts, culture, education, generically knowledge should not be based on the production of economic wealth, because they are the foundation for building and for developing an healthy and informed community, then the State can’ t fund paying attention only to the economic return.

in the next post you can read more about

Relations with Institutions

What are they doing inside the occupied spaces?

Participation, citizenship and neighborhood

Social and cultural value of “illegal” spaces

Final cuts and a new vocabulary

Great work!

This is great content, Alessia, very useful. I took the liberty of making some edits to the English, a shame to put language barriers to such a useful mission! And now I am off to award you +100 reputation for great content. :slight_smile:

Thank you, Alberto! I really hope that this mission could be really useful.

(I like the new badge in my profile :D)

updating - the last occupation

Milan - Torre Galfa occupied the 5th of May by the group of Art Workers from Milan and by knowledge workers also from all others occupied spaces. The palace, a skyscraper with 33 floors,  was the headquarters for about 30 years of a bank. In 2006 it was sold to another company. After years of neglect and gradual deterioration, some days ago the building has become MACAO.

from the press release:

We open Macao in order to culture recovers a piece of Milan, in response to a story that too often has seen the city ravaged by professionals procurement, unscrupulous building permits, in a neo-liberal logic that has always humiliated us residents pursuing a single goal: the profit of the few to rule the many. […]

We believe that artistic production should be completely rethought: we need to take this time and this right in a serious and radical way, taking care/occuping directly what is ours.[…]

Macao is this, a space of all. […] Here artists, intellectuals, lawyers, activists, writers, film makers, philosophers, economists, architects and urban planners, residents and the city should take time to build a social dimension by cooperating.

You anticipated me!

I was just going to leave a comment with that! Great stuff, you are going to have to keep the mission report open for successive updates. This issue seems to be very hot right now in Italy. I wonder what the occupy people on Spain would think…

strike in reverse

I had written that something would happen in Milan :slight_smile:

Instead what I didn’t write is that my involvement with the Coppola Theatre of Catania is growing, although I’m often far away. From the inside I can say that the great strength of what is happening in Italy, different from Occupy, Indignados etc., is that the protest is made ​​of work (including physical work, for the reconstructions) and concrete proposals: a productive hyperactivity (artistic, theoretical, of reconstruction)

it is making a “strike in reverse” ( remembering Danilo Dolci): protect rights through the work.

from the occupation diary of the Coppola Theatre: “We create what we need, without waiting for someone to do it for us. We organize our needs. Free and equal.”

it sounds so good as a slogan, so true that is difficoult to believe.!

I invited two researchers who have written about different cultural spaces occupied in  Europe to join Edgeryders and write something. I hope that they accept the invitation.

occupy people

Hi Albertos

I am back from other occupying things (actually it was the end of the March to Athens-btw I would talk about it soon in another mission)… Your question about what occupy people on Spain would think is exactly what I meant when trying to understand what are and what could be the differences and the connections between these different occupations. Considering that the internal mechanism of these theatres’ occupations is extremely close to the “take the square” 's ones…BUT usually there is no connection between them,  not even one person having been part of the other movement before. And I think it deserves some attention…

excuse me if I jump in the conversation

Ciao Betta! welcome back!

can you explain better why you think that this lack of direct connection is so important?

As I wrote in the mission, the groups of occupants recognize a similarity with the Arab spring, the Occupy movement, the Spanish Indignados, but the Italian occupations didn’t been organized by a movement and neither after occupations a movement is born, above all the occupants aren’t only activists. In my opinion what differs in Italy is that the protest is connected with a practical and theoretical work to find solutions for the problems that led the occupations and the physical construction of spaces for everybody.

I misexplained myself :slight_smile:

I didn’t mean that this lack is important in terms of result; I think it is important in terms of understanding the movements (not just one of them of course) which might also make us imporve it. Of course my idea can be caused my background where on one hand being a researcher and being an activist are strongly interrelated and on the other hand I have seen to many movements achieving less than they could because of a lack in interconnection (of course this cannot be the case since I am talking about movements based in different countries so the lack in interconnection is not so relevant in terms of achievements).

However the fact you underline that occupants are not only activists can be listed among the similarities between the movements (and personally I am not completely convinced that the indignados and the occupy are exactly the same kind of movement…so we are probably talking of more than two!).

For sure the “theatre occupations” are permeated by the new ideas…who would have talked about “commons”  two years ago in a theatre? and one of the reason is that this group are mixed (for ex. the cinema inside the Cantieri della Zisa in Palermo-I was not there when we occupied but I have been part of the group, even if for a short period- has been occupied by a group which is definitely mixed and includes all the comrades from the LaboratorioZeta which has celebrated its 10 years of existence as a Centro Sociale last year)

Last point: I definitely agree with you about the matter of what people think about occupations, but unfortunately, as you wrote in the title its also a matter of law, of the complex relationship between  legitimacy and legality…And again it’s a cultural and social topic!

The city seems to be ok with it

Breaking news: the city of Milano alderman Stefano Boeri visited #occupy in Macao and apparently got a very positive outlook, “working for a new Milano”. It’s semi-official, posted from his mobile on Facebook as he was actually onsite.

the prepared Milan

I appreciate a lot that Boeri visited Macao before to say something about it.

the media attention on Macao and the participation, also of famous people, is amazing! In Milan is more simple: the city is more prepared than others.

Could be the behavior of Boeri a good example for others administrations?

in the next days I’ll be in Teatro Valle for the weekly artistic direction by Teatro Coppola and then I’ll go to Macao. I can’t wait :slight_smile:


According to the newspaper it seems that this morning , early in the morning of course, police came to evict MACAO; some occupants would probably be denounced for occupation of public space.Some (always according to the newspaper…which I don’t trust so much…) are still inside.

Demonstration in support are going on outside the Torre Galfa!

Please Alessia if you have more “direct” news could you share with us?!?

private property and public space

Sorry, but now I can’t say nothing more than what is written on fb and blog.

But I want to share only a personal thought that, probably, it will be little appreciate: I don’t understand why in Milan the Art Workers ( a group, and not a movement, based in Milan and related with the other groups of occupants in Italy that they are not a movement) decided to occupy a private property.

all the other occupied spaces are public spaces and in this way we can talk of commons and, in some ways, legittimate the illegal actions, but the Torre Galfa is a private property and so I don’t surprise the reaction of the Public Administration of Milan. I think that Macao’s occupants could begin a serious dialogue with Pisapia (mayor) about the public space (ex Ansaldo) offered them yesterday.

The self organization and the partecipation in Macao were amazing, but I think that the occupation of a private property was wrong.

about 3 weeks ago, in an assembly in Rome with the groups of occupants from all over Italy, the Art Workers of Milan talked about another palace.

In these days I’m going to understand better…

I agree!

I agree with you! whe the occupied place is a public one it is i easier to discuss about commons than when it is a private property.

I hope they will find an arrangement…

Howevere, even if tactically they might have done better, it’s sad when you read this kind of news…

A Renaissance Reloaded?!

The story is really amazing!

I was in Palermo in April for a trianing organized by CEIPES. There I’ve found out about the occupied Teatro Garlibaldi. The atmosphere was just fantastic! The city is magnificent in it’s creative decadence and I’ve rarely seen such a big gathering for an theatrical performance. It looks like the ‘occupiers’ are giving a fresh breath of air to Palermitanos and Palermitanas that are fond about art and culture.

Here you can find some nice photos and video footage from the Teatro Garibaldi

The visitors are also supporting and legitimizing the new forms of active citizenship and civic participation and management of commons. Your research comes in very handy, uncovering the broader network of ‘cultural occupiers’ throughout Italy, Europe and even broader.

Your questions in the other post regarding the social and cultural value of the occupations is ideed crucial. Let’s see if perhaps institutions, organizations, mass media, research institutes can help/contribute towards a rigurous research on these issues.

I find this extremely relevant for the times we are going through right now. Perhaps this movement may signfy a something more in the coming years. Can italy be once again the initiator/driver of a new Renaissance?

I hope

Andrei, thank you for reading!  The photos are beautiful!

it would be nice to have a new Renaissance. for now what I can say is that I’ve never seen so much cooperation in the spaces (with the citizens) and between the occupants in diverse cities. There is a great proud for what is happening and a great energy to the expansion of the network and of the experimentations.

I very much hope that these events have the attention and support they deserve!

the real welfare comes from these places

Great idea and great work! I know some of the occupied places listed in the missions and in Venice I work in Centro Sociale Rivolta that is a open space where people  are trying to build up a new model of society sharing the idea that it is essential joining together to promote social justice and a new idea of social relationships and “togetherness” that can be a real alternative in this time of banks’ supremacy, xenophobia and loss of basic democratic principles. From the occupied places it will be possible a “new born” for our society.

I know the Rivolta and I agree with you

Ciao Davide! Thank you for your comment!

I know the Rivolta and probably we met there or during Radio Sherwood Festival.

obviously I agree with you: I see in these spaces new forms of welfare and a new social economy based on sharing and cooperation, but often these experiences are ignored because about occupations the great part of people have strange ideas. There are occupied spaces that coincide with that idea, but there are occupied spaces (like Rivolta and those mentioned in the mission) where something new and GOOD is growing.

I see that you wrote about Rivolta’s projects like Libera la parola and the network Tutti i diritti umani per tutti, I think also to the hard work that you do during the winter with homeless (distribution of food and hot drinks during the night and the care center for them). Great!!

How can we obtain the acknowledgement of the value produced? and how can the Instutions help these places and the people working voluntary there?

If you want write something about these questions, there is a group where we want to talk about this problem.

update - a goal has been reached in Naples

The City of Naples released a resolution by which it declares culture as commons and it destines the Asylum Filangieri, occupied about 4 months ago, to cultural space. The assembly of the occupants and citizens will have the task of developing the management and cultural program to be presented to the municipality.