A guru of social networking, Laura De Benedetto has her finger on the pulse of Florence’s most active residents through FlorenceIN, the face-to-face network that she succesfully created last year. With her own inexhaustible energy she’s injected new life and creativity into a few hundred of us FlorenceIN members, and it looks like she won’t stop taking on new challenges: now she’s running for counsellor in city government. She is also a new mom, works full time at Dada.it, and president of the Florence chapter of the charity ActionAid. We sat down at her home in Florence, 7-month-old Francesco silent in his bugaboo, to discuss issues of culture and tourism in Florence.
AT: Your platform addresses issues of work, family, and volunteerism, but also focuses quite a bit on culture and tourism, which I want to discuss today. It’s interesting to me because in this time of “crisis”, there’s so much talk of cutting cultural activities, and yet tourism in Florence depends on them…
LDB: Indeed! The fact is that culture and tourism are natural resources in Florence. We need to take the greatest possible advantage of this in order to gain economic benefit, but there’s a careful balance between that and the degradation of the city…
AT: … so many tourists that downtown is crowded, impractical, dirty…
LDB: … we can redirect the tourists, encourage a healthier attitude, and make Florence a better place for its residents, as well as a great place to visit time and time again, through a series of specific actions that I propose in my campaign.
AT: We see totally eye to eye on this. Let’s go over those points one by one.
LDB: The first point is that we should have more contemporary exhibitions in this city–
AT: — I was going to suggest that!! My study abroad students complained about the lack of modern and contemporary art in Italy.
LDB: Why should we have to go to Rome to see something fresh and new? It seems that Florence gears all its
blockbuster exhibitions to tourists, with tried and true content that’s just not that exciting.
AT: yup, though I’d maintain that tourists, too, would be happy to see something new.
LDB: In fact, one of the problems is that, while cities like Paris and London create exciting proposals on a regular basis that keep bringing people back, Florence is a place you go once in your life. You can see it and figure it won’t change much, so why use up your few weeks of holiday coming back when you can go see something else.
AT: so if we create a more lively contemporary art scene, we’d have people come back more often.
LDB: Yes, and we’d also create a cultural offer that is of greater interest to locals.
AT: Locals and italians traveling from a lesser distance… and also, ideas generate ideas. Artists need fresh ideas to keep creating…
LDB: …more contemporary art would generate greater cultural dialogue in the city! Plus, we could use some of the revenue from these avant-garde shows and re-invest in our young cultural producers, which is my next point in fact. The city should encourage growth in this sector, and for that, we can tap into the revenue of blockbuster shows as well as various offshoots that could be put on in relation to those shows.
AT: I know so many wonderfully qualified italians with graduate degrees in art history or masters in tourism, and they get the most preposterous offers to work for free! Too many friends have had to change direction in order to have a paid job.
LDB: Revenue from certain exhibitions could indeed be put into creating paid internships in this sector, which then should lead to concrete jobs, not just end after the contract ends.
AT: The other issue I see is that there are too few opportunities for young people not only to gain experience, but also to express themselves through publication in a sector that tends to be quite conservative and closed. Are there any really exciting local art journals that mix analysis with art news?
LDB: There is Exibart, which is Florentine, but I’m not sure it does what you’re suggesting. We could propose the creation of a peer-reviewed arts journal and an always up-to-date website that would be an opportunity for intellectual and artistic exchange for art historians, critics, and artists.
AT: Sounds fabulous. Let’s move down your list of points… You’re suggesting branding products for sale at museums?
LDB: Yes. I love design. The Met and the MOMA for example have such cool stuff for sale at their museum stores. Co-branded products are a great way to involve both new and established designers.
AT: hey! You could launch a contest for young artists to make museum products… in the journal!
LDB: see, it all fits together. Another issue, and I know it’s one that you’re really interested in since you’ve written about it on your website, is sustainable tourism. The city needs to actively promote sustainable tourism and discourage… what’s it called, “mordi e fuggi”…
AT: ha! Uh… fast food tourism? Mass tourism I guess… encourage “slow travel”, like “slow food”… I try to do that with arttrav, as does the website slowtrav. I think many people are becoming attuned to this idea now, and it’s better for the city as well as for their own experience. All it takes is a little education…
LDB: like the creation of an informational pamphlet to help tourists act responsibly in our city… Plus, by making the city more beautiful, more clean, I think we can encourage more decent comportment. Now, I have two further points in my culture platform that are more related to the needs of locals. One is that the culture of Florence should be accessible to Florentines at a reasonable price, and with better opening hours.
AT: I totally agree. For example, if you’re a member of the Amici degli Uffizi, you get a card to get into all state museums for a lump sum membership fee, and at least we can get into churches without paying, but residents of Florence really should have greater access to their cultural patrimony. Two years ago there were some evening openings of the Uffizi and Accademia and I got together my husband and some friends who admitted to having not been to the Uffizi since grade school!
LDB: well how are we supposed to go? It closes so early on weeknights, and there’s long lines all the time. It costs too much to drop in for an hour, and there is no babysitting service to encourage young parents like us to visit. All of these are aspects around which I hope to encourage change.
AT: When we lived in Atlanta last year, Tommaso and I were members at the HIGH museum. It was a great price, and there were monthly jazz nights with a bar in the museum, and you could just enjoy the music and atmosphere. I’m not saying you can serve drinks in the Uffizi, but surely there are some more flexible spaces in the city that could host events like this that would revitalize Florentines’ relationship with their own art. It would be great to have some things to do in the evening that do not involve going to bars!
LDB: yup! Like, with some kind of universal museum pass that Florentines could purchase, we should encourage regular events, but also the creation of babysitting services and interactive zones that stimulate family learning. Museums can be fun learning and social spaces.
AT: you’re telling me!
…This conversation was rather longer than I can transcribe here, as we moved on to a pizzeria and then to a stylish gelateria. Laura and I see eye to eye on culture and tourism issues as well as on so many other issues that affect our lives here in Florence. She speaks a mile a minute – I admit, sometimes I lose a few points – because her brain works at high speed, and although I’ve only known her about half a year, I’ve been impressed by the way she not only talks about ideas, but really gets things done. It made me wish I could vote in Italy so I could vote for her. So it happened naturally that, as a way to get involved and contribute back to the city that has hosted me for a decade, I’m officially joining Laura as her campaign manager. I’ve never been involved in politics before! If you’re a resident of Florence and can vote, please see her website http://votalaura.wordpress.com/ to read more about Laura’s experience and platform (in italiano ovviamente)…