Venice's Ca' Foscari University has launched a degree course in the economics and management of the arts.
The degree will teach students how to run a museum, organise cultural events, make an opera house balance its budget, or administer a restoration project.
"This is the first degree of its kind in Italy, and in a sense in the world," said Gianfranco Mors-etto, the economist who, with Andrea Moretti, another economist, masterminded the project.
"In other countries there are postgraduate studies in arts management, but as far as I know no specific degree course."
Unesco estimates that Italy has 60 per cent of the world's art treasures and its huge tourist industry is strongly based on this vast cultural heritage. Culture minister Giovanna Melandri has reiterated the need for professional managers, specialising in the arts. "We are responding to this need for economists competent in administration who are also specialists in culture and the arts," said Dr Moretti.
The seeds of the degree lie in the International Centre for Art Economists, a research institute and postgraduate summer school founded by Dr Morsetto in 1991. He was alderman for Venice's museums for four years and between 1993 and 1998 took them from a E52 million (Pounds 33.5 million) deficit to a E15.5 million profit.
"What is needed is people who can manage a museum, an opera house or a restoration project as if it were a company," he explained. "This is what the recent reforms in Italy's cultural scenario require.
"An art historian may know all about art history, but he or she will often have no managerial or administrative know-how."
The new course takes off in the 1999-2000 academic year and will initially be open for 100 students.