Power struggle in Italian academy

January 12, 2007

Art school suffers conflict and poor conditions, reports Paul Bompard

Rome's Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded in the 16th century and is alma mater of some of Italy's most illustrious artists, is in turmoil after charges of malpractice from teachers and unions, and newspaper photographs of scenes of filth and decay.

For years there have been rumblings of discontent, but now the conflicts are out in the open. A document released by a group of teachers speaks of "an unfettered exercise of power" and attacks the Accademia di Belle Arti's director and academic senate for giving teaching posts to outsiders rather than to teachers on the payroll. A statement by the unions demands that the Accademia's directors respect "legality, transparency and competence" and accuses members of the senate of assigning to themselves additional posts with extra pay.

Italy's largest national daily, the Corriere della Sera , ran a story on the academy with photographs of pieces of sculpture by students piled into a toilet, and of casts of works by eminent artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries abandoned in heaps among the tools and cement sacks of workmen.

The newspaper notes that in a just few years the number of students has dwindled from about 2,000 to 1,200 while the number of teaching posts has almost doubled. There are, for instance, 16 professors of anatomy.

The city health authorities inspected the academy, which is housed in a mid-19th century building, and found unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. They ordered parts of the building to be closed.

Gaetano Castelli, the set designer who is director of the academy, said:

"Everything is according to the rules. The list (of appointments) circulating is not official and does not carry my signature. The health and safety inspections were ambushes, organised by certain professors who called the authorities and made sure they found something irregular."

One lecturer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "There is a war for power between factions. Factions are interested in controlling appointments and resources on the basis of exchanges of favours or of sexual relations.

The least of their concerns is the lack of studios and laboratories, the scarcity of basic materials such as paint and plaster. Most of the best teachers are not part of these factions, and they have a very difficult time just doing their jobs."

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