Earlier this summer, the Ministry ofItaly announced that Italy was going to seek private sponsorship for the Colosseum, to clean it, stabilize the structure, change the fencing, make upper floors and underground areas (the famed hypogeum) accessible. A noble cause but seeking out private sponsors has caused quite a stir, not least of all because of the failed attempt at sponsorship by the Banca di Roma, circa 1990s,(promised funds but little action) and today’s garish and claustropobic use of billboards garishly to cover restorations in the historic center. If such in your face adverts are what is required to fund the restoration of buildings, then the public seems divided between not caring and being insulted.
With this new attempt at sponsorship of Rome’s cultural heritage, no less than Rome’s most important, well-known monument, the Colosseum, the Ministry of Culture is taking a bold step
forward into the 21st century with private sponsorship. They have cited strict measures to guarantee that not only will sponsors be appropriately recognized and visible, but done so in a tasteful and reduced manner.

There is so much potential to find new, outside funds for the preservation of Rome’s monuments. Doing it right (meaning successful sponsorship to both public and academics) with the Colosseum would open up the floodgates, as it were, to have foreign and private entities help the ministry in its mission to preserve Italian cultural heritage. I can see the great potential as I’ve seen many successful campaigns and projects in the US that have to preserved nature, highways (considering the adopt-a-highway initiatives), monuments.

The Colosseum sponsorship project is truly promising. But I think that the ministry can go further, beyond the cleaning, structural work, gate, lights. They can be bigger and bolder, something with real teeth, and make the Colosseum sponsorship project part of a larger campaign to clean Rome, instill pride and respect in the citizens and visitors. See for example the Retake Rome initiative to battle graffiti in Rome. Four million visitors to the Colosseum are watching and waiting to see what happens.

The successful case for private sponsorship is, of course, the Sistine Chapel. Four million visitors see it, too, each year, but just this fall, the Vatican has sounded the alarm: humidity (breath) and dust from visitors is damaging the frescoes. They are in the process of creating a new conservation initiative, one that is quite tricky because they do not want to cut off the public from the artwork. This kind of delicate balancing act is part of the ongoing mission of conservators around the world. It’s mostly a thankless job, but essential. It’s never easy, and it’s never cheap, but these are the requirements to protect the world’s past.

By the way, the BBC is on the campaign for Colosseum sponsorship- check out Duncan Kennedy’s news article “Italy’s dilemma over commercialising the Colosseum” and BBC video “Could adverts appear on the Colosseum?”