I was therefore not surprised when BBC World gave over a slot to the fact that the Italian Government and the Mayor of Rome are considering selling the use of the icon of the Coliseum to help pay for its restoration. The headlines were a bit alarming. My imagination went a bit wild with images of adverts for pasta hanging from the famous edifice springing to mind. A Roman friend reminded me that this was tried many years ago when big names hung huge adverts on the awnings covering famous building under restoration. Residents complained to the Comune (Council) saying it was vulgar. I however agree with the eccentric Italian celebrity art critic Vittorio Sgarbi that scaffolding is ugly and obscures the buildings so why not raise money by selling advertising space?
As far as I understand the Comune of Rome is testing the waters and exactly how they will allow the Coliseum to be used is still in the Italian way to evolve. They start with these headlines and measure the public’s reaction before setting out the rules. The idea is that the 25 million Euros required for restoration should be paid for completely by private funds and in return for the sponsorship, the companies can use The Coliseum in some way in their advertising. The big question is how. Hanging awnings has been rejected so what are the alternatives. I think it is acceptable to just about everybody to have advertising on tickets. This isn’t enough also as it seems it is proving difficult to find a single sponsor. How do you share the use of the Icon and also can’t anybody be filmed just walking pass without paying a penny? The need for repairs has become more urgent in the last ten years. It seems the number of tourists have increased from 1 million to 6 million partly due to the film “The Gladiator”.
I am certainly not against this sponsorship plan even as a conservator. Here in Italy we have so many treasures all in need of preservation and there simply isn’t the money. There also comes a point when a falling school is more important than perhaps yet another church and we are after all a functioning country and not a museum. I think at times Italy has problems finding the balance between living place and past glories but beware Mayors of Italy, towns and cities without citizens can become more and like theme parks than living places and the spirit is broken. Florence and Venice spring to mind of being in danger. In Lucca, the citizens who live in the historic centre makes sacrifices and fewer and fewer local families are prepared to do so. I am digressing here so back to advertising. The money is required, private sponsors are needed and therefore some sort of balance must be found. I for one think that the most important question is not only how the image or indeed fabric of the building is used but how much say the sponsors have in how the building and by who the building should be restored or conserved.