Dear EU tax payer, how does the Renato Guttuso Museum spend YOUR money?

British Prime Minister David Cameron was on TV recently, telling the EU they cannot have the extra 1.7 billion pounds they are asking Britain to donate by 1st December this year. Whilst he didn’t exactly give them the hand-bagging Margaret Thatcher would have, he did seem very cheesed off indeed.

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Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party – Britain’s Eurosceptics – said afterwards that he’s sure Cameron will pay up, because basically he has no choice. I am inclined to agree, because although Cameron sometimes tries to talk tough, Thatcher he ain’t.

What do the EU want to spend this money on?

Well, Sicily is a constant receiver, rather than a contributor, of EU money. Lots of it is stolen by the Mafia, but even the local governments waste it in ways that outraged British taxpayers just cannot imagine.

Let me give you an example from right here in my own town. I drive past it when I take my son to school and, as a former and still occasional business strategist, let me tell you it stabs me like a thorn in my side, each and every day.

Here it is:

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This is called Villa Cattolica and it is is owned by Bagheria Council.

Inside is the Renato Guttuso Museum, dedicated to Sicily’s most famous artist, with a collection of his paintings and sketches, and art by various other Sicilian painters of the 19th century.

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This is Guttuso’s portrait of his own father, which hangs in the museum

Its top floor houses an enchanting collection of photos by Bagheria-born film director Giuseppe Tornatore, whose film “Cinema Paradiso” became a worldwide hit.

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A scene from “Cinema Paradiso,” set in Bagheria and filmed around the city

As if this were not enough to rake the visitors in, the ground floor contains a collection of historical Sicilian carretti, or horse-drawn carriages.

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You might think this museum would be thronging with visitors and a little gold mine for the council of Bagheria, right?

Oh no! I have it on good authority that they are losing 380 thousand Euros a year of EU money. How do they manage that, I hear you ask?

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Here’s how.

They have no website. They are not in any tour guide book whatsoever. They have no leaflets or posters or information in any tourist office anywhere in Sicily. They have no communication with any tour operator that offers guided tours of Sicily.

Are you getting the idea? Last time I went there, there were only four other people. The four people who work at reception, selling tickets, do NOT want to be disturbed by anyone actually coming to the museum and making them work for their generous EU salary!!! Oh no! So they keep the place secret.

This place is exactly 12 minutes by train from Palermo Central station, followed by a 5 minute walk. If they didn’t take such extreme precautions, it could easily be swarming with customers.

They did receive a large amount of EU money to create a museum website, by the way, but they paid that to their friends, who forgot to make one.

When you get inside, you see that the exhibits are coated in a thick layer of dust, several pictures are hanging squiffy, and there are no labels in any language telling you about any of the exhibits. Nobody opens the wooden shutters on the ground floor, and it has subtle disco lighting, so you have to look at the Sicilian carriages by the LED torch light on your cell phone and regularly rush back to the reception area to gulp some oxygen when you need it.

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I loved this picture, but don’t ask me to tell you anything about it – I have no idea!

Now, in real art galleries, in real places, they have a shop.

Here’s a picture of the Tate Gallery shop in London, full of people happily spending their money on art books, reproductions of their favourite pictures to hang in their houses, and souvenir mugs:

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I’d love to show you a similar picture of a smaller shop in the Renato Guttuso Museum, but there wasn’t one. I did find out, after my visit, that the art books stored inaccessibly behind the ticket desk, were actually on sale to the public. I am not sure how I was supposed to get a look at them, though, when they were guarded by two frowning men and a grumpy lady who all declined eye contact. I bet they have been there for years, as all their covers were curly from the damp. The books weren’t looking too great, either.

Another way that art galleries everywhere else in the world make themselves financially self sufficient, or even profitable, is by having a museum cafe. Staring at pictures lovely enough to make your jaw drop open can be thirsty work.

I still fondly remember boosting the coffers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, by enjoying the most expensive cup of tea of my life here:

met cafe

They may not have such a grand setting, but don’t you think this almost empty gallery in Villa Cattolica, with a long glass wall opening out onto lush gardens, would be a great place for some Sicilian cakes and a top quality cappucino? Or maybe some freshly squeezed Sicilian orange juice in the heat of the summer?

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Some typical Sicilian cakes, notable for their absence in Villa Cattolica

When we get to the top floor, the confusion continues.

The photos are wonderful, and the views are breathtaking, but the galleries were all empty in the middle. You could have got twice as much stuff in there. You could have got an art class in there, paying handsomely for help with their still lifes or their watercolour landscapes. You could have created a little cinema to screen Giuseppe Tornatore’s films. You could have got a craft shop up there too, full of ceramics and paintings and jewellery and glasswork by the many immensely talented local artists and artisans. 

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Not if you’re the current management of the museum, though. Instead, what you leave in there is lots of filthy patches on the floor and industrial quantities of dust in the corners.

But don’t send any of the staff up there to ensure museum security! Oh no, in this museum you can take any exhibit home, so long as you have a big enough handbag to stuff it in.

I am told they have had a lot of thefts already, but most people suspect the museum staff.

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You may still wonder how they manage to get rid of so much money each year. Well, they regularly produce monstrously large catalogues of the museum’s entire collection, in multiple languages. They are supposed to be sold, but actually hardly any copies ever get printed. The money all goes to the museum director’s friends and relatives. I have heard claims they pay thousands and thousands of euros to their friends for translations, some of which I have personally seen and which were in the inimitable literary style of Google Translate…. which, as we all know, is free.

They also send the staff on costly training courses – or so they claim – enabling them to provide guided tours of the museum. Of course they do not reveal to museum visitors that guided tours are available, since that would risk having to get off their bums and do some work.

So there you have it. How to steal whoppingly enormous amounts of EU money and achieve no economic development whatsoever, not provide any jobs for local cooks or waiters or artists, not give work to translators who actually can speak more than one language, not give work to any local website developer, and not help the local hotels or restaurants or shops by attracting tourists to the area.

Latest I’ve heard is that the building is falling down due to lack of simple maintenance work, and will need six months of structural repairs, necessitating its closure. I wonder how much money David Cameron will be sending over to pay for that? And how many builders will sit about for half a year on the site, getting paid for doing naff all? No doubt there will also be consultancy fees paid to lots of “experts” who will do nothing.

And I predict they will eventually organise a grand gala re-opening, with champagne and a buffet, no expense spared, which members of the public will not attend as nobody will tell them about it.

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And then the museum will go back to receiving six visitors a day, who wander around wondering what all the exhibits are, and asking themselves if the building really has just been restored, because it doesn’t look like it.

If you read this report on Sicilian Economic development by the pen pushers in Brussels, you will realise they have completely missed the point, they live in cloud cuckoo land, and they don’t give a stuff about all the wasted money. Of course they don’t! They are spongers themselves.

They just write reports about it, like this one, saying the EU wastes 120 billion Euros a year because of corruption. This summary explains how it works in Eastern Europe, another black hole for EU money.

Do they do anything about it? I have personally sent them reports, via the relevant website, about misuse of EU funds. They just ignored them. Just try finding that website online, by the way, if you don’t happen to know that the EU anti fraud office goes by the name of OLAF.

The OLAF website proudly boasts that, since 1999, they have recovered 1.1 billion euros of misused funds. Yet by their own admission, in that same time period, the EU has LOST 1,800 billion euros.

Thank you David Cameron! Thank you British taxpayers!

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For anyone who feels like visiting the Renato Guttuso Museum in Villa Cattolica, Bagheria, here are the details:

Opening hours are 9.30 am to 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm to 7.30 pm. CLOSED MONDAYS.

The address is Via Rammacca, 9  (This is the state road SS113 which runs along the north coast of Sicily, connecting Messina to Trapani and passing by Palermo)

From Palermo Stazione Centrale take a train to Bagheria, which takes 12 minutes. When you leave the station, turn right and walk till you reach the level crossing. Cross over the tracks at the crossing, then turn left into Via Ramacca. The museum will be on your right.
It is a 5 minute walk and there are several good restaurants and cafés on the way.

Entrance fee 5 Euros, concessions 4 Euros (children, OAPs and students with ID)

If you have time after the museum, go back to the level crossing and walk straight down the hill to the sea. Follow the road into the picturesque fishing village of Aspra and ask for directions to the local church: its interior is decorated with murals entirely painted by Renato Guttuso. 

 

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40 thoughts on “Dear EU tax payer, how does the Renato Guttuso Museum spend YOUR money?

  1. My dear,
    You are merely scraping the iceberg on its head.
    Believe me there’s a lot more going on outside of the NW of the island, let alone their own employees not being paid for a very long time……..

    I may need to pass by your way eventually, to collect what I am owed for a project or 2.
    I will let you know.
    In the meantime, keep up the good work.

    X

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  2. That’s simply outrageous. You should stand for local council (get yourself a body-guard and a pitiful with titanium-tipped teeth first, though). Let your mother-in-law loose in that building too – she’d provide them all with mops and buckets and shake some sense into them at the same time. For the EU, the process appears to be quite simple: 1. Cough up cash, 2. Close eyes. 3. Tadaaah! Wasted money. Next, please.
    I’m a translator, and I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about getting translations done by qualified people. I grit my teeth on a regular basis here in France when I see noticeboards with huge mistakes on them in English. When I give them my visiting card, they usually tell me that one of their employees spent a year in England, and they do the English translation work free. It’s the best way to lose potential clients.

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    1. I have actually been going to the council and offering my services free to sort the place out, on condition they start paying me once I am generating a net income. It seems there are so many parasites in the way, they cannot allow me to get involved…
      I have also tried to explain concepts like “opportunity cost” to them and also enlighten them as to how people in actual, real places do things like budgeting expected INCOME as well as planned EXPENDITURE. I even printed an example based on this museum to show them.
      It was all going as far over their poor little heads as a Boeing 747.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your posts, I won’t however let Mrs S read this one or she will start gnashing her teeth and pulling out her hair, she will then start telling me, this is the reason we should live in the UK and not be considering moving to Sicily in Sept 2016. I don’t want to pack up my beloved flip-flops put away my wine glass and then unpack my raincoat and tea mug and head for the UK.
    PS I think MM is correct, go into politics and I will vote for you.
    PPS, I bounced you an e mail, did it get lost in your spam folder.

    PN

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    1. Me too. Even though it appears to contain a significant nutjob element, I would vote UKIP if I were still in England: I see it as the only way to save the poorer areas of Europe as well as stopping the richer parts getting fleeced and having their currently fragile economies knocked over.

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  4. If only your rage, and my rage, and the obvious rage of others, could add up to something productive. It all makes me angry and sad. What I don’t understand, and what gives me a little hope, is that the Museo dello Sbarco in Catania, a fabulous museum, is staffed with lovely people, one of whom can tour guests in English. There is a wonderful book and film for sale (to be honest, it’s not always there, but I have seen it on the open shelf). Somebody paid attention and did this right, if modestly. (I think the British War Museum helped…) The Mandralisca Museum in Cefalù, however, another wonderful museum, is presently under threat of closing for lack of funds. Isn’t there someone in the political arena, head of culture, or museums, a little lower on the political ladder and therefore more accessible and more easily influenced that could be won over? Something has to be done. Don’t give up. Don’t go back to England. Write the next article. Send them around until you find a willing ear. Thank you.

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    1. I am going to try to get an article like this one, in Italian, in the local newspaper.
      I have been and talked to various members of the local council several times but my suggestions and offers of help are falling on deaf ears. They say they want to change and I believe them, they are just completely out of their depth.
      Very, very few Sicilians have ever been out of Sicily, and they have no concept whatsoever of what things are like and how they work in successful places. They just seem to have no idea of what I am talking about. At times, in meetings with them, I felt as if I were trying to teach a gerbil how to solve a Rubik’s cube.

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  5. What a sad mess, yet it is absolutely no surprise to me. Money corrupts, always.
    The only way to stop it all, is to dismantle the EU, the undemocratic and expansionist organisation that most citizens didn’t ask for in the first place.
    In the times I’ve been to Sicily, but also in Greece, I’ve seen many similar EU money pits. Sometimes funding is completely wasted as in your example or at best very poorly invested.
    But even in northern countries, funds are poorly invested. It doesn’t take much creativity to sell an unfeasible idea to the EU as something worth funding. Just use fashionable phrases (i.e. green, eco, environmental, etc) and technical jargon, and the money will flow to whatever impractical project you come up with, such as this one in my country:
    http://www.ampyxpower.com/
    In their video, they say that their glider will produce more energy than a wind turbine, but cleverly forget to mention, per equal wing surface area. A wind turbine as a surface area that’s hundreds of times greater than their glider’s wings.
    As with most of those projects, only those working on the project will ever benefit from it. Similarly there are many businesses in southern and eastern Europe that ‘promote tourism’ and the like, and exist solely to tap EU funds.

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    1. I think the reason so many pointless projects get financed is because the people in the EU who decide what to fund have no experience in industry, or any aspect of the real world, so they have no ability to look at a project and evaluate it.
      I see them as simply another layer of parasites, who have lots of money (which they didn’t have to earn) at their disposal, to spend like an excited kid in a sweet shop.

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    1. Sadly, no he isn’t. He has no position at all in the council, and no influence whatsoever.
      He is just an enthusiastic fan of the movimento 5 Stelle, nothing more.

      This is why I am free to criticise them to my heart’s content, with no consequences, just like any other resident of Bagheria.

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  6. I look forward to the day when I can retire from my art class to snack on pastries and reasonably priced tea at this museum, thanks to your handiwork.

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    1. Don’t hold your breath!
      I did give two councillors a brief business strategy document, outlining phase one of a programme to make the museum financially profitable in two years, with financial projections. But such documents can only have effect if you give them to people who understand them.
      So far, I have very little hope of seeing anything change.

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  7. May I share your lively rant at The Italian South blog? This battle has so many ‘front lines’ with ignorance and corruption being most obvious. And as others have noted, it spreads far beyond Sicily and Italy. I just returned from three weeks in western Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the Hungarian border. The Ukrainians consistently cited corruption as a hindrance to progress, while across the border, just a few miles away, Hungary prospers (large thriving orchards and farms, vs. strips of ox-plowed small plots). No wonder Ukrainians are leaping at the offer of Hungarian citizenship and passports to those from Transcarpathia who can prove their Hungarian ancestry and speak the language. (sorry for the sharp swerve in discussion)

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    1. Yes, please go ahead and share!

      And yes, it does go far beyond this area. In researching this piece, I learned that Eastern Europe is probably even worse. Eons ago I had a Czech boyfriend who often complained that most Czechs, and probably most Eastern Europeans in general, would rather rip you off for ten pounds than earn 100 pounds off you fairly and honestly. This is the mentality I find time and again in Sicily too, and I believe it is the mentality that leads to this wasting of public funds.

      Do you think all those Ukrainians in Hungary will be scrupulously honest once they live in a society with a higher level of trust, or will they bring their devious ways with them to exploit the locals?

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  8. Ah, that’s the reason why the Paolo Orsi museum in Syracuse was closed (mancanza di corrente), the archaeological museum in Adrano was closed (in restauro for 2 years), and the archaeological museum in Mineo was closed (rinnovazione). Ah, my tourist guide to Sicily from 2007 spends 6 lines on Villa Cattolica! I must say, it is a very good one! 636 pages only for Sicily.

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    1. Ah yes, mysteriously closed museums. If you want to find out the opening hours of Italian museums, throw away your guide book and buy a schedule for the football. They have unexpected early closures when there are important football matches on!

      I am impressed that you guide book talks about Villa Cattolica. What is the publisher/title?

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      1. Thank you! It seems there isn’t an English language version of this guide, but it looks very good. Unfortunately the Amazon preview doesn’t show the page about Villa Cattolica.
        Does it say good things about the place?

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      2. It is rather a lapidary comment and focussed on Renato Guttuso, not the other stuff. Errr …. please look into your facebook mail, I provided some further information.

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  9. In trying to be as optimistic as possible in this situation, I think you said something that is pretty key. Most Sicilians have never seen what we are talking about and haven’t travelled much. These are not bad people but they are stuck. I believe in the power of numbers. You are carrying this flag alone (with many sympathizers for sure, but you are one activist). What if an exchange could somehow be organized? What if there was a consortium of museum people to join a group (from Sicily, NYC and maybe London) that could go to perhaps visit the Met Museum, the Frick Collection and the NY Historical Society, to name a few – both the Frick and the Historical Society have re-invented themselves in the recent past. Then, perhaps, a group of people in the Museum Education field could go to Sicily to meet with people there. Like someone said, it you use the right words and approaches, it could work. (Grant writing important, of course.) Look who has handled the excavations at Selinunte and Morgantina for years… American university people – something needed doing and they figured out a way to be involved. Could we not figure something out along these line?
    Tourism is key to Sicily where other industry is small but as someone who brings tourists to Sicily, I am well aware of the inherent frustrations. There are pockets of new thinkers in Sicily, however. I’ve met and been inspired by wonderful people in Ortigia, working hard to bring interesting life and blood into their town, raising awareness of life abroad, and assisting with entrepreneurial projects.
    I applaud your keen observations and desire to see things change. Do you think there may be a way to approach this in a different manner?

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    1. I think that’s a really interesting approach, and maybe I should try that next.
      I would have to convince the mayor and minister to get involved, but that would still leave the obstacle of the museum director herself whom I believe is a lost case. She thinks she knows it all, even when presented with incontrovertible facts that whip the ground from under her. I really found her a very obtuse woman indeed. For example, she insisted it is impossible to reach the Guttuso museum from Palermo by public transport, even when I mentioned I take the 12-minute train to and from Palermo about once a week…. as do several hundred commuters every day.

      I agree with your about Ortigia – we went there this summer and a few blog posts are coming up about the marvels there, and especially the archaeological museum and its amazing coin collection. They have received a lot of EU grants and what a staggering difference – they are a shining example of how to spend money properly.

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  10. You know, it is a lovely building and the art looks pretty good. What a supreme waste! Does having lots of sunshine and food that springs abundantly from the ground and the sea make people lazy, or just really unambitious, I wonder? Or is it entrenched, cultural, post-traumatic-stress-disorder from having your land conquered by others so many times? Did they throw in the towel ages ago? What is the Sicilian mindset?

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    1. I have wondered about this lots of times. I used to favour the post-invasion stress disorder theory, till I had lunch with elderly Sicilian man recently who had worked in America for about 18 years.
      He was telling an anecdote and prefaced it, for the Sicilians present who had never been abroad, by saying:
      “In America they’re protestants so they work hard all the time, because their religion teaches them you must earn lots of money to prove you’re a good person.”
      That was the first time it was pointed out to me that what theologists call the “Judeo-Christian work ethic” applies to Protestants but not Catholics.
      I asked him about this and he said, “We’ve got enough to eat and a roof over our heads, why waste our lives working for more than we need when we could be enjoying what we’ve got?”

      To be honest it is hard to construct a sound argument against this, until you get an economic crisis like the current one, in which I am seeing more and more Sicilians picking through dustbins looking for food. Sadly we are used to seeing Africans and gypsies going through bins in Sicily, but nowadays there are young Sicilian men fighting them for what they find.

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      1. Let me add an interesting observation on this. In Germany it was quite the same situation: In the North the protestant Prussians, working hard and achieving a lot, whereas the German Catholic South was poor and lazy. Yet, after World War II things changed a lot. Today, the South is rich and known for innovations, whereas the northern parts of Germany are the poorer ones. I wonder how this came about. One theory is: After World War II, the Southern parts of Germany were American occupation zone, whereas North, West and East were British, French and Russian. What did the American do in the German Catholic South so that it became the powerhouse of Germany today? I have no answer. But this example may give some hope for Sicily … (by the way: What do we associate with “Rome”? Is it laziness? Southern way of life? I would not say so. “Rome” is strength, military, clear direction, decisiveness, order, etc., but why are the Roman Catholics not like this?!)

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      2. Interesting that the differences between north and south in Germany switched. Could it also be that the industries already established in the north, like steel etc, are in decline, whereas the south has developed more modern industries that are currently growing?

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  11. Great article, Veronica! And unfortunately too true. In my half year at Bagheria I just die not manage to get inside, because it was just always closed. Even during opening hours. What a pity!

    Like

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