Italy's cultural capital and young entrepreneurs

Article published on Feb. 20, 2014
Article published on Feb. 20, 2014

The in­dus­try of Ital­ian cul­tural en­ter­prises forms 15% of Italy's GDP. And yet, to free them­selves from the jun­gle of ir­reg­u­lar con­tracts preva­lent in the in­dus­try, gifted young peo­ple are fly­ing to France, Lon­don, or New York. What will be left of the erst­while mine of global cul­ture?

New busi­nesses in Turin are born out­side of the city cen­tre. No chim­ney stacks or vents; all they need is a desk, a com­puter and a high-speed in­ter­net con­nec­tion. Ear­phones are re­placed by a pair of head­phones; the noise of the pro­duc­tion line by an indie song. Far from the smoke of the Mi­rafiori sub­urb where Fiats are pro­duced, the new fac­to­ries take shape, in per­fect har­mony with the fab­ric of the city. Rather than cars and tex­tiles, they pro­duce cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity. It is pre­dom­i­nantly young peo­ple be­tween 25 and 35 years of age who have taken the de­ci­sion to chal­lenge the cri­sis, strik­ing at its very core.  

Spread­ing their wings

Giuseppe Moreto is a video-maker and founder of Dewrec, a lively, mod­ern video pro­duc­tion unit, which he man­ages col­lec­tively with some of his peers, bring­ing to­gether a plethora of different skills. Giuseppe is at­tempt­ing to free him­self from the heavy label of ever­last­ing youth by rein­vent­ing the mes­sage and ap­pear­ance of his pro­duc­tions. He tells us that the gram­mar of com­mu­ni­ca­tion has changed rad­i­cally since he pro­duced videos for the Ital­ian band Sub­son­ica, as il­lus­trated by the para­dox of MTV, which has been trans­formed from a music chan­nel into a space re­served for the trans­mis­sion of Amer­i­can re­al­ity shows. It is widely be­lieved that any­one can make a video these days; the video cam­era is stored in the base­ment and re­placed by a smart­phone, but find­ing the value added in every piece of work is the true key to suc­cess. Hit­ting upon the right com­bi­na­tion of cre­ativ­ity and qual­ity needs more than just an app. It was thought that, thanks to the artis­tic pat­ri­mony pre­sent in Italy, cul­ture could be sim­ply dis­trib­uted and not cre­ated.

And so a silent army of artists, ac­tors, graphic de­sign­ers, philoso­phers and com­mu­ni­ca­tors beat a re­treat, es­cap­ing to the bright lights of Lon­don, slip­ping away among the sky­scrap­ers of New York and the lakes of Canada, or head­ing to even more ex­otic des­ti­na­tions. They are seek­ing recognition for their abil­i­ties, rather than the coro­na­tion of a dream. This is how Italy ban­ishes them, with no good­bye and avoid­ing the dreaded farewell, sending them off on a bud­get flight with a com­puter or a tablet. A small num­ber of fear­less young peo­ple re­main in the coun­try, fewer still con­tinue to be­lieve that cul­ture can pro­vide their bread and but­ter. And yet this is the case, de­spite the limited cre­dence some min­is­terslend these dreams; cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity can truly be the life raft in the cri­sis.

a jun­gle of con­tracts

As in every sec­tor, the fac­to­ries of cul­ture fol­low the in­dus­tries of knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion. Ac­quired knowl­edge is not con­sumed; it nei­ther burns in a blast fur­nace, nor evap­o­rates, but re­mains within so­ci­ety, feed­ing ex­ter­nal ef­fects in every man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try. We can all enjoy the ben­e­fits of in­vest­ment in knowl­edge.  

Dur­ing a pe­riod in which the only so­lu­tion to youth un­em­ploy­ment seems to be re­duced safe­guards and rights, no one cares about cre­at­ing new pro­fes­sions. In a world which is chang­ing before our eyes, in which bil­lions of cal­cu­la­tions can be pre­cisely con­ducted in a frac­tion of a mil­lisec­ond, no­body cares about cre­at­ing new pro­fes­sional roles. Peo­ple only look for skills ca­pa­ble of quan­ti­fy­ing the world and its com­plex­ity; never for some­body who can qual­ify it. And yet, the cri­sis is less of a bur­den for cul­tural en­ter­prises: They have an added value of 76 bil­lion- equiv­a­lent to 5.4% of GDP. They gen­er­ate skilled jobs for 140 thou­sand peo­ple and huge num­bers of young peo­ple who are able to rein­vent a ca­reer for them­selves. The cul­tural in­dus­try has the high­est rate of re-en­try, boast­ing a mul­ti­plier of 1.7: This means that for every euro of added value cre­ated, an av­er­age of 1.7 euros is created in other in­dus­tries. In this way, the en­tire cul­tural in­dus­try amounts to 15.3% of GDP.

How­ever, be­hind the cre­ation of these num­bers is an army of tem­po­rary em­ploy­ees, who are silently fight­ing amidst a jun­gle of con­tracts, reg­u­la­tions and recog­ni­tion. Peo­ple like Marco, a young the­atre actor from Turin who, tired of fac­ing suf­fo­cat­ing in­se­cu­rity, es­capes to France to per­form, or Alessan­dra, a young tal­ented web de­signer who, after com­plet­ing her in­tern­ship, at­tends an Eng­lish course be­cause ‘you never know’.

Italy has al­ways treated cul­ture like an oil well: we have been more con­cerned with ex­tract­ing the cul­ture al­ready pre­sent in Ital­ian soil, hop­ing that it won’t run out. Maybe it's bet­ter to think of cul­ture as an or­chard to be cul­ti­vated over the years, allowing it to re­gen­er­ate au­tonomously every spring. With spring on the way, maybe it's time to try.