Antonio Manfredi, an Italian artist from the town of Casoria, started a surprising campaign aimed directly at the Italian Ministry of Culture. NPR reports that Manfredi has burned two or three pieces of art each week in a public display meant to criticize the deep austerity cuts to the arts in Italy. His protest began about a month ago.
Most of Europe, especially many of the southern European countries, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, have felt much of the burdensome pressure of mounting debt and resultant austerity plans. The arts have been one of the first areas Italy has severely slashed, even though the government did not invest much before the austerity measures kicked into high gear. NPR states that about 76 percent of arts funding has been cut in the last two years, which means that many museums are on the chopping block, or have already closed down completely.
Manfredi runs the Casoria Contemporary Art Musuem and relies on private sponsors to keep the enterprise going. He initially started his protest with his own works of art, but has slowly started to burn other pieces of art from the collection, with the artists’ permission as the last month has worn on. The Italian government has had no response yet and Manfredi says that burning the artwork is a painful and unpleasant process that looks to continue on for a while yet.
Italy has not only faced drastic austerity cuts which have saddened the arts and antiquities communities, but the country has also been making headlines over the last few months as the population has reacted to the mounting monetary crisis and social upheaval. Only this past March, two men protested the state of the country and their dire economic circumstances by setting themselves on fire. One man set himself alight in the face of looming tax issues in Bologna and another man self-immolated when he was not paid for months on end in Verona, according to the BBC.
The tense atmosphere fomenting in Italy due to economic hardship has also produced an upsurge in suicides. The Telegraph reports that, “There have been at least 30 austerity-related suicides this year in Italy, as the unemployment rate climbs to 10 per cent – the highest since 2001.” Another man killed himself and his two children near Milan this week after remaining unemployed for the past year. His suicide joins many others that were directly related to unemployment or monetary distress.
Manfredi’s protests have a similar self-destructive edge in a country that is facing difficult spending choices and a population tense with fear. Just this past Saturday, a bomb was set off outside a vocational school, with one 16-year-old victim left dead in its wake. The event took place in the southern town of Brindisi and investigators have now apprehended two suspects, but there is no word yet on what group or specific individuals are responsible for the bomb plot. Many Italians fear a resurgence of militant groups like the ones that racked the country in the 1970s and 1980s.
Spending cuts and more enforcement of tax payments look to be on the horizon for Italy under Mario Monti, the prime minister who took over the reigns after Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign in the face of mounting monetary issues.
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