Meet Italy’s New Culture Minister: Former Rai 2 News Supremo Gennaro Sangiuliano Plans To Shake Up Performance Art Funding

Citing 19th Century patriotic poetry and Mussolini-era writers and philosophers, the freshly appointed culture minister of Italy’s new right-wing government has promised a new era for the country’s cultural sector and revealed he wants to reform state funding for the performances arts.

Gennaro Sangiuliano is among 24 ministers in the new government of Giorgia Meloni, who was sworn in as Italian prime minister on Sunday, three-and-a-half weeks after her far-right Brothers of Italy party (Fratelli d’Italia) swept to victory in general elections.

Sangiuliano arrives from state broadcaster Rai, where he worked since 2003, rising through the ranks to become editor-in-chief of news programming at Italian state channel Rai 2 in 2018.

He replaces Dario Franceschini of the centre-left Democratic Party, who was Italy’s longest-serving minister of culture, and the TV and film worlds are now waiting to see what this means for the sectors.

The new minister told Rome newspaper Il Messaggero that public funding was essential for culture, but that public institutions needed to change their mentality to be “more active and enterprising.”

“It’s a mistake to be afraid of private individuals and the market, to be closed up like a hedgehog and to be wary of any intervention, help or support from outside,” he said.

Sangiuliano revealed he wanted to overhaul the Single Fund for Entertainment (Il Fondo Unico Per Lo Spettacolo – FUS) and the way its subsidies are met out.

Created in 1985, the FUS, which was worth €400m ($394M) in 2022, oversees state support for the performing arts of dance, music and the theatre as well as circus companies and travelling shows.

Franceschini held the office from 2014 to 2018, and then from 2019 until this weekend, most recently under Mario Dario’s cross-party national unity coalition set up in 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under Franceschini’s watch, Italy bolstered the audiovisual tax credit first introduced in 2008, increasing it to 40%, and state support for the cinema sector rose from €400M ($394M) in 2016 to €750M ($740M) in 2022. He also got behind a €260M ($250M) revamp of Rome’s historic Cinecittà Studios.

Film and TV professionals at the MIA audiovisual market in Rome earlier this month, which took place prior to the formation of Meloni’s government, gave mainly wait-and-see answers when quizzed by Deadline on what they thought lay in store for the audiovisual sector under the new regime.

Most thought the new government would not touch the tax credit or the investment promised for Cinecittà but some expressed fears over respect for diversity and LGBTQ+ rights on and off the screen

Sangiuliano’s interview with Il Messaggero was among his first since being appointed as minister of culture.

Asked if he was the right person for the job, he cited the poem To Italy by 19th Century poet Giacomo Leopardi in answer.

“Time will show I will give it my all. I have a few guiding lines and ideas that I hold dear. I quote you the poem To Italy by Giacomo Leopardi: ‘O my country, I see the walls, arches, the columns, statues, and the towers of our ancestors,” he said.

The 1818 work goes on to lament Italy’s decline from its past glory, amid moral and civil decadence and evokes the 480BC Battle of Thermopylae, in which a small band of Greek warriors stood up to a large Persian army.

Sangiuliano said Leopardi along with Divine Comedy poet Dante Alighieri as well as Mussolini-era philosophers and political theoreticians Benedetto Croce, Giovanni Gentile, Giuseppe Prezzolini and Antonio Gramsci were all starting points for his ideas around his new role.

Croce was a liberal philosopher whose work influenced political figures on both sides of the left and right-wing political divide in early 20th Century Italy. Having initially gotten behind Mussolini, he went on to become a leading anti-fascist.

Gentile was a close advisor to Benito Mussolini, who described himself as the “philosopher of fascism” and was put in charge of reforming public education.

Writer and publisher Prezzolini was an associate of Mussolini before he rose to power. He published a handful of his early writings, but later denied charges of being his propagandist.

Sangiuliano said he had also included Italian Communist Party founder Gramsci, who died in 1926 from ill health after being imprisoned under Mussolini’s regime, for his railing against ideologues and his opposition to “parrots who believe they possess the truth”.

“I, like Gramsci, see many parrots around,” he said, adding that the contemporary parrots were “the priests of the politically correct and the mainstream.”

Asked how he would “combat” these “pervasive tendencies”, he replied: “By promoting an inclusive culture, which takes into account the plurality of our identity.”

An example of this, he said, was his move to kick off his term as minister by greenlighting two major exhibitions, one devoted to painter Umberto Boccioni and the early 20th Century Futurism art movement, which went on to inspire Fascist thinkers, and the second , to the Renaissance.

“The two historical and cultural moments, each in their own way, have projected Italy onto the world,” he said.

Beyond his penchant for 19th Century and early 20th Century cultural references, Sangiuliano said Italian culture also needed to be recounted through “instruments of modernity: cinema, TV drama and social media.”

During his near two decades at Rai, Sangiuliano’s career included stints as a foreign correspondent in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Prior to taking up his role as head of news at Rai 2, he was vice director of news at Rai 1.

He is also a prolific writer who has published a raft of biographies, including portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin, US presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sangiuliano has never hidden his right-wing political sympathies. Like Meloni, he was a member of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI party) in his youth.

There have been numerous charges by left-leaning media outlets of political partiality in Rai 2’s news programming during his time at the helm.

Sangiuliano said in an interview with right-wing newspaper Il Foglio Earlier this year, however, that he was “manically attentive” about ensuring equal representation of all political parties on Rai 2 news programming, timing it to the minute.

Last May, he courted controversy nonetheless when he openly participated in a Brothers of Italy conference in Milan. Rai opened an investigation into the matter, but Sangiuliano was not sanctioned after he stated he was there as a moderator rather than a speaker.

In an editorial on Saturday in reaction to his appointment, Communist newspaper Il Manifesto said Sangiuliano had treated Rai 2’s flagship evening news bulletin like “a laboratory” for normalizing right-wing discourse.

“Every evening at 8.30 pm alongside a recognizable Atlantic Pact line, which was equally attentive to the populism of the moment, from Trump to Le Pen, he proceeded in a systematic way to get “customs clearance” for authors and themes dear to the right of the past: from Mishima to the Hobbit, passing by the Nouvelle Droite,” read the article.

Political commentators in Italy in the meantime have described Sangiuliano as a technocrat appointee in Meloni’s coalition government, which finally came together at the end of last week after three-and-a-half weeks of horse trading with her fractious, right-wing allies Silvio Berlusconi at Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini at the League.

Sangiuliano is not directly affiliated with any of the parties and is listed as an independent. He joins a coalition government spanning moderate to hard-right politicians.

Key appointees include multilingual Forza Italia founder, Berlusconi right-hand man and ex-Eurocrat Antonio Tajani, in the role of Foreign Minister and deputy prime minister, and League moderate Giancarlo Giorgetti as Minister of the Economy and Finance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant populist Salvini as Infrastructure Minister and deputy prime minister as well as ultra-conservative, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights veteran politician Eugenia Roccella, who takes up the role of Minister for the Family, Birth Rate and Equal Opportunities.

Il Messaggero Sangiuliano if he feared his ministry could face a boycott by the mainly left-leaning professionals of Italy’s cultural sector.

“I absolutely hope not,” he said. “I also believe that on the right there are extremely valid intellectual energies. We’re not looking to limit anyone, but there shouldn’t exist any children of a lesser God.”

As Italy and much of Europe, watch to see how Meloni and her government conduct themselves, the other immediate question on the lips of Italy’s TV sector is who will replace Sangiuliano at Rai.

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Jorge Oliveira

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