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A Provocative Campaign to Save Italy's Artworks

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A Provocative Campaign to Save Italy's Artworks

Arts & Life

A Provocative Campaign to Save Italy's Artworks

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Italy, home of some of the world's great cultural treasures, scores of buildings, paintings and sculptures are deteriorating. Experts blame a lack of state funding. Now a non-profit foundation is trying to help by shocking Italians into taking responsibility for their art heritage. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

Unidentified Woman #1: First word, the second line, the inscription at the base of the statue...

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

These American tourists are on an "Angels & Demons" hunt, following clues from the Dan Brown novel.

Unidentified Woman #2: S-A...

Unidentified Man: Right.

Unidentified Woman #2: ...'cause I think there's a T, Sant'Angelo's.

POGGIOLI: The location is Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo, Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum, later turned into a papal fortress. The Italian government recently earmarked nearly $2 million in emergency funding for the monument after a newspaper warned it ran the risk of collapse, publishing photos of holes in its crumbling brickwork. In centuries past, sacking and looting took their toll on artworks. In recent decades, pollution, vandalism and neglect have been responsible for their decay.

The Italian culture ministry's inventory of artworks runs to nearly five million. Its 2005 budget is just over $30 million for upkeep and restoration of many hundreds of churches, palaces, convents and museums, less than half the amount an independent study estimates is needed just for maintenance. Italy spends just .2 percent of its GDP to preserve its art heritage, compared to .5 or even 1 percent in some European countries, and next year's budget will cut art funding still further.

Tour guide Giorgio Sansa(ph) says Italians are surrounded by so much art that they take it for granted.

Mr. GIORGIO SANSA (Tour Guide): I often saw people, I mean, every day going to work and just not seeing the Coliseum and suddenly realizing when they have some people visiting them that there is the Coliseum.

POGGIOLI: The private foundation CittaItalia has decided to make Italians aware of what's at stake.

(Soundbite of radio commercial)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Italian spoken)

POGGIOLI: In this radio spot, a tour guide is heard saying, `Here is Michelangelo's David. Once he had two legs, but now... And here under that big mold stain you can just imagine the birth of Venus by Botticelli.'

A TV spot shows famous landmarks, but without the monuments that made them famous: Rome without the Coliseum, Venice without the Bridge of Sighs, Pisa without the Leaning Tower. The slogan is, `Without your help, Italy could lose something.' Ledo Prato, secretary-general of CittaItalia, says that Italians don't perceive the risks these works are running and that they can perish.

Mr. LEDO PRATO (CittaItalia): (Through Translator) That's why we did such a provocative campaign. Counting David's legs means that artworks are made by human beings and, as such, are perishable at certain point. How long will an artwork last? It depends on those who preceded us. It depends on us. And it depends on those who will follow us.

POGGIOLI: Prato says more and more Italians are visiting museums and spending more on cultural activities, so he's hopeful that images of mutilated Michelangelo statues and scratched-out Leonardo frescoes will stir consciences and open wallets. And, Prato says, the campaign's other slogan comes from Dostoevsky: Beauty will save the world. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

INSKEEP: You can find more information about the campaign at npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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