As Italy prepares for a general election on September 25, Eike Schmidt, the director of Florence’s state-run Uffizi Galleries — a group that also includes the Pitti Palace complex and Vasari Corridor — is sounding the alarm on staff shortages. If the shortages are not addressed by the incoming government, Schmidt says, the Uffizi group’s central institution risks closure, as do other major museums across Italy.
Schmidt’s warning came just days after a record-breaking Ferragosto holiday weekend saw sites swell to capacity, and Italy’s July tourism numbers surpassed pre-pandemic extremes.
According to Schmidt, at issue is the enactment of reforms seven years ago that gave museums “special autonomy.” Though that development helped bring about new exhibitions, improvements, additional services and restorations (such as the €50 million Boboli Gardens plan), it has also limited museum directors’ authority in initiating much-needed staffing plans — something that remains under the purview of the central administration of the Italian Ministry of Culture (MiC).
Schmidt indicated that he had recently received a circular from MiC that projected an additional 9 percent in staff reductions. Notwithstanding these proposed layoffs, between 2013 and 2022, the Uffizi alone saw 166 staff members retire, compared with only 34 new hires in that same time period.
At a time when Italy is experiencing a renaissance in cultural tourism, the system-wide deficit of staff has left museums, galleries, libraries and archives struggling to keep up with demand.
In response, Massimo Osanna, MiC's General Director of Museums, conceded that “dramatic and widespread staff shortages have been a problem for some time,” but pointed to how the Ministry has been intervening. In addition to a previously announced wave of new hires (1,053) to be activated from September 15, Osanna announced last week that December will bring another 400 new hires, and 1,053 more staff members will be brought on in 2023.
Schmidt, a German art historian who has successfully led the Uffizi for nearly seven years, directed his pleas to those who will be managing the politics of Italian culture in the upcoming new government. As reported by ANSA, “The fact that there is no co-management of human resources is still a [gap] in the reform,” Schmidt urged. “This is something that those who will govern us after September 25 will have to think about. We have options, but the only thing that we can’t do is stand still.”