A Crowdfunding Platform Is Out to Help Save Rome and Pompeii from Ruin

Leila Amineddoleh
Aug 22, 2016 10:01PM

Rome’s Coliseum. Photo by Johnn, via Flickr.

As many nations around the world face budget cuts for art and culture spending, heritage preservation groups have begun exploring unconventional sources of funding. In Italy, said to be home to over half of the world’s art treasures and the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, art and heritage account for much of its tourism. And a group called LoveItaly! is out to use the power of crowdfunding to help keep those sites preserved for generations to come.

Tourism accounts for tens of billions of dollars in revenue to the Republic of Italy each year. But a confluence of factors means that the country lacks sufficient funds to properly protect all of its heritage sites. These issues include the sheer number of sites scattered about the country, the crumbling state of many of them, the risk of tomb raiders and heritage opportunists, and the government’s own funding debacle.

Italy’s funding shortage for cultural heritage preservation has drawn international attention. In 2014, Raphael’s famous wood panel work Deposition was damaged due to complications arising from a lack of funding. The piece is housed in the Borghese Gallery, one of Rome’s most popular museums, which is also home to paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, and Rubens. But the high cost of maintaining the building and collection left the cash-strapped museum without proper air-conditioning. This led guards to open windows to cool the gallery’s rooms. Without temperature and humidity control, Raphael’s work became warped due to humidity.

The Italian government has taken steps to introduce funding sources for cultural heritage outside of the tax revenue and federal and EU-wide projects that typically support preservation projects. Ultimately, this new initiative has brought forth alternative funding from wealthy corporations. Many of the companies funding restoration are Italian luxury and fashion brands. Tod’s funded a €25 million restoration of the Colosseum. Fendi sponsored a €2.2 million restoration of the Trevi Fountain. Bulgari gifted €1.5 million to the restoration of the Spanish Steps. Ferragamo made a €600,000 donation to the Uffizi. And OTB (the parent company to popular fashion brands Diesel, Marni, Maison Margiela, and Viktor & Rolf) funded a €5 million restoration of the Rialto Bridge.

Venice’s Rialto Bridge under construction. Photo by florador, via Flickr.


However, some of these projects have drawn criticism that Italy is “selling out” its heritage to these corporations. Although these private sponsors provide much-needed cash to protect Italy’s cultural treasures, the companies also receive an enormous benefit through the prime advertising locations they then receive. To the chagrin of locals and tourists, some famous landmarks have essentially become billboards for their wealthy corporate patrons.

Some believe that this type of advertising desecrates well-known places and tourist attractions. In particular, the restoration of the Rialto Bridge infuriated pundits: The iconic bridge became a billboard for OTB brands during the Venice Biennale in 2015. Now companies outside of Italy are being wooed for donations as well; Italy is appealing to Chinese corporations to invest in the Mediterranean nation’s preservation efforts.

LoveItaly! offers an alternative to the crumbling or corporatization of Italy’s cultural heritage sites. Through the non-profit organization’s platform, the public itself can fund restoration and preservation. “Culture has to be lived, understood and shared with all,” said LoveItaly! president, Richard Hodges, of its mission to bring more private individuals into the preservation process.

Founded in 2014, LoveItaly! works with other non-profit organizations, arts institutions, scholars, and government agencies. Collaborating with these entities provides the group with access to high-quality and high-profile projects, such as the four initiatives in Rome and Pompeii that they are currently raising funds to support. LoveItaly! also works directly with the Italian superintendency, allowing the nonprofit to raise funds, which the Italian government pays directly to restoration teams.

One of the organization’s major success stories is the restoration of a Roman Imperial-Age sarcophagus in the National Gallery of Ancient Art in the Corsini Palace in Rome. The project was undertaken by first-year students at the National Institute for Conservation and Restoration (ISCR) in Rome. The Sarcophagus of Thiasus Marino was in desperate need of conservation, and through LoveItaly!’s campaign, the relic was cleaned and restored to its former glory.

However, the project went beyond mere fundraising. The restoration artists were interviewed for television programs and newspapers. And they used social media to communicate about the progress of their work on the sarcophagus. This type of communication helps to spread knowledge about the project to the public, an important part of LoveItaly!’s mission.

An interior room of Rome’s Villa Farnesina. Photo by Silke Baron, via Flickr.

LoveItaly! also involves young people in the cultural heritage community through LoveItaly! Young, a global committee of university students who share a passion for Italian art and culture. The committee was established to help make young adults equally engaged with promoting Italian cultural heritage as are older generations by initiating a number of activities, contests, and collaborative projects. One such endeavor is the Villa Farnesina Challenge, the organization’s inaugural competition, which runs this fall. It asks Italian students to take a case study on this often overlooked Renaissance villa in Rome and devise a proposal for the restoration of three of its rooms. Students’ proposals will be evaluated by a jury, and the winning project will be implemented through funding raised on LoveItaly!’s platform.

Although the group is based in Rome, the non-profit will launch a more significant presence in the U.S. in the coming year. LoveItaly! is already a tax-exempt organization under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code. However, a U.S. presence will enable the group to reach American cultural heritage enthusiasts more easily. As Hodges explains, “The objective is to make everyone active stakeholders in protecting and sustaining a heritage that belongs to all humanity.”

While Hodges acknowledges that “crowdfunding for cultural heritage in general is a challenge worldwide,” LoveItaly!’s intended impact extends beyond monetary campaigns. It’s equally about raising awareness and creating a vested interest in protecting our world’s treasures at a time when governments are unable to go it alone.

Leila Amineddoleh