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
Catania – Coppola 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