- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ROME (AP) — One of Italy’s top culture officials has pushed private investment in the country’s museums and galleries and the seemingly insatiable Chinese and Indian appetites for art and archaeology as the way to pull the country out of its recession.

Mario Resca, a former CEO of McDonald’s Italian operations who was appointed in 2008 by the government of Silvio Berlusconi to be director-general of the Culture Ministry, said that an increase in ticket sales to Italian museums has not been matched by an increase in state finding .

Chatting with a small group of foreign correspondents in Rome, Resca said the number of visitors to state museums and archaeological sites increased by some 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 and by about 7 percent from 2010 to 2011.

But budgets and investment have not risen with visitor numbers. Resca acknowledges that the budget shortfall isn’t about to be reversed, thanks to the latest round of austerity cuts ordered by Berlusconi’s successor, Premier Mario Monti.

Instead, Resca proposes that Italy should look to private investment to develop the economic potential of its cultural heritage, adding that Monti was “making a mistake” by not pushing for tax breaks to encourage private investment in Italy’s museums and archaeological tourist sites.

“It’s hard to restart (the economy) with manufacturing,” Resca argued. Selling more Italian cars and refrigerators isn’t about to make the country the global leader in manufacturing, but Italy is well-positioned to become the world’s No. 1 in tourism centered on culture, he said.

“Indians, Chinese don’t come to swim or ski in Italy but to see our culture,” Resca added.

Appointed to tap the economic potential of Italy’s artistic and archaeological heritage, the culture ministry official has pushed for longer museum hours to encourage more Italians to visit them. “If we close a museum at 5 p.m., only vacationers can go.”

At the time, the appointment of a former hamburger chain executive to improve the situation of Italy’s museums and monuments set off an outcry from museum directors and art world officials worried that he lacked the professional background for the post.

Resca, whose mandate runs out in a few months, brushed off the fears.

“Maybe an art historian isn’t the best person to manage Pompeii, with 900 employees, contracts to stipulate,” said Resca.