Interview with Director Marco Tamaro
by Elvio Bordignon
and Margherita Chiara Immordino Tedesco
The Benetton Studi Ricerche Foundation, located in the historic centre of Treviso in the Bomben and Caotorta palaces, was established in 1987 on the initiative of the Benetton brothers. Chaired by Luciano Benetton and directed by Marco Tamaro, it can count on a stable working group which, with the collaboration of scientific committees made up of scholars and experts active on an international level, carries out research activities in the vast world of landscape and the study of places, in the history and civilisation of games and cultural heritage.
As part of landscape studies, every year, a study and care campaign called the Carlo Scarpa International Garden Award is dedicated to a place “particularly rich in values of nature, memory and invention”. In 2019 the Scientific Committee of the Foundation designates “The tea gardens of Dazhangshan”. Wuyuan, Jiangxi, People’s Republic of China. In previous and more recent editions, the Prize was dedicated to places located in Egypt, Switzerland, Finland, Syria, Benin, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Kazakhstan, Spain. Other important annual events are, for example, the International Landscape Study Days and the design workshops.
In addition, residential scholarships are periodically awarded. Studies on the history and civilisation of the game constitute a specific field of work recognised by the national and international scientific community and also constitute an area of excellence for the Foundation. Starting in 2016, the Foundation announces two annual awards for young scholars for original essays on the theme of games, parties, sports and, in general, playfulness; the initiative intends to continue the long experience made by the Foundation by awarding, over thirty years, more than 70 scholarships for graduates of various levels and academic degrees. At the centre of these activities is the publication of the scientific journal “Ludica. Annali di storia e civiltà del gioco” and the homonymous series. The initiatives dedicated to studies and activities in the field of cultural heritage are divided into several areas: music, literature, theater, cinema, arts.
Special projects include: Imago Mundi, a collection of small-format canvases promoted by Luciano Benetton; the Treviso Urbs Picta research project; Musica antica in casa Cozzi, a programme of concerts, specialization courses and workshops; Navigare il territorio, a project of territorial enhancement through cultural heritage, aimed at the community of Fiumicino (Rome), with actions dedicated above all to the school population. The recent restoration of the church of San Teonisto in Treviso, strongly supported by Luciano Benetton, is also part of the activity of historical heritage care. Today the beautiful church offers itself as a place of culture able to host events of international scope whose program is managed by the Foundation itself. The Foundation pays particular attention to the school.
There are also numerous ongoing collaborations with public and private institutions, in particular with the university world where one of the main fruits has undoubtedly been the project and national competition Article 9 of the Constitution, aimed at raising awareness among young people to the knowledge and preservation of the Italian cultural, landscape and scientific heritage, organized with the Ministries for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Education, in collaboration with the Senate of the Republic, the Chamber of Deputies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The study and research work of the Benetton Foundation is supported by its documentation centre, open to the public and divided into Library, Cartochive and Archive, with over 72,000 volumes, 100 subscription periodicals, 12,000 cartographies and 60.The Foundation has been publishing magazines, series and monographs since 1993, with over a hundred titles published to date in the fields of landscape studies, Venetian history, history of games and cultural heritage. The Benetton Foundation is the beating heart of Treviso’s cultural activities with an international vision and scope.
The appreciation of institutions, tourists, schools, organizations, are no longer counted and continue to increase. Imago Mundi, a non-profit idea of contemporary art promoted by Luciano Benetton under the aegis of the Benetton Studi Ricerche Foundation, is also a project in the projects that deserves a few more lines: artists from all over the world, both established and emerging, are confronted with the same support, a canvas measuring 10 x 12 cm. To date, about 25,000 artists from more than 150 countries and native communities have been involved. The artists are promoted internationally through catalogues, the platform imagomundiart.com, Google Arts & Culture and through participation in exhibitions and shows. Imago Mundi is an idea of Art and World without Borders, it is a map in becoming democratic, collective and global, typical of human cultures. This can be said to be the spirit that immediately guided the Benetton brothers (Luciano, Gilberto, Carlo, Giuliana) throughout their history, which also coincided with Italian history. Landscapes have changed, as have customs and traditions, houses and factories, the way of producing goods and communicating.
A Foundation, therefore, that deals with studying how to modify a landscape, understood as the whole, is very important because man, until proven otherwise, is inserted in a precise context that changes continuously but paradoxically remains the same in its profound synthesis. In this regard, the work of the director Tamaro with his selected staff has been and is very valuable because it follows every form of anthropological and geological change in everyday life, but at the same time it is aimed at collecting with care precious clues that constantly re-emerge from the past. Those clues that can also give us inspiration for the future that awaits us. A future certainly made of attention to our delicate cultural eco-system.
Looking at Linkedin, I was impressed by a post on a map of Italy with the Regions and the areas most exploited within them marked in red (in Italy, the record belongs to a small town in the Verona area). Unfortunately, the Veneto is the worst, but without focusing on a specific area, what is the concept of soil and its use for the Benetton Foundation and how can it be remedied by thinking about a sustainable future?
The problem is not only in the Veneto region, but quite widespread, so much so that Europe has set itself the goal of achieving zero land consumption by the middle of this century. However, the Veneto region has one particular feature: it is one of the few regions in Italy to have a legislative instrument for controlling land consumption, and yet it continues to be at the top of the list. This means two things. Firstly, the instrument adopted by Veneto is clearly not effective enough and leaves too many opportunities for derogation. Secondly, the current historical phase, which we can begin with the economic and financial crisis of 2008, has not ended with a glorious return to economic growth, but with a stagnation – we are close to recession – which puts us all in a position of not knowing what to do to get out of it. I would say that, after the roaring years of reconstruction – the second after the war – we find ourselves dealing with a development model that is showing all its limitations and we do not realize that we can not continue to rely on the construction sector for the livelihood of the economy, it is necessary to find other models and, if you have to build, you must first demolish.
As a child, I often heard people say that ‘in Italy, culture doesn’t mean eating’. So, almost to avoid giving it to a widespread feeling, I graduated from art school and then I graduated in public relations. The decade is about to end and 2020 is just around the corner. Today, who, like me, has believed and still believes in Culture as a cultural heritage and landscape to be protected and made known must still have hopes?
The relationship between culture and economy in Italy is quite schizophrenic, where people live together convinced that investing in culture is completely useless – as if it were a divertissement for intellectuals – with others who, with a good dose of cynical pragmatism, are architects of policies of authentic looting of our cultural heritage: just see the level of over-exploitation of tourism to which our famous cities of art are subjected. But we must not lose hope at all, because there are also many good signs coming from the Italian territory where the promotion of cultural heritage becomes the engine of development of local communities.
Cultural assets are also a perfect engine for the Italian economy because we have them (which is important and not obvious), and in recent years we have seen a gradual recovery that seems never enough because traveling or seeing some reports you learn of many sites abandoned and waiting for funding. Does the Foundation have a precise idea of asset recovery to suggest?
The wealth of cultural heritage in Italy is such as to make it quite clear that the state cannot deal with it alone. We need a public-private agreement based on a balanced and loyal collaboration, with forms of tax incentive – the art bonus has laid a good foundation – to make it particularly attractive for a private individual to invest in the restoration and management of cultural heritage. All this must be done with the different needs of the private sector and the community in mind, with respect for all. The Benetton Foundation has gained considerable experience in this field, thanks to our president, Mr. Luciano Benetton, who has always had an uncommon attention to the recovery and restoration of cultural heritage. Just think of Villa Minelli in Ponzano Veneto, headquarters of the Benetton Group; the Bomben and Caotorta palaces and the church of San Teonisto in Treviso, headquarters of the Foundation; the former Habsburg prisons in Treviso, which have become a place dedicated to contemporary art (the Gallerie delle Prigioni); and even other recently acquired spaces undergoing restoration.
I know that you are carrying out enhancement projects outside the Veneto region as well. Can you tell us about it?
One of the most stimulating projects we have carried out in recent years is the initiative called Navigating the territory. After learning that in the municipality of Fiumicino there is a little known and visited archaeological area – that of the imperial ports of Claudio and Traiano, Portus – we took the opportunity to deal with it, given to us by the company that manages the airport of Fiumicino, which for events related to the construction of new terminals had as a requirement to initiate actions to enhance the archaeological area near the runways. We have therefore started a project of “territorial animation”, aimed at overcoming the distance that was created over time between the resident population and this important cultural asset. In a few years, annual accesses have increased from a few thousand to over 25,000, with laboratory activities for school children, who have arrived en masse not only from Fiumicino but also from nearby Rome.
In a territory that has experienced a convulsive and disorderly development in the last sixty years, the fact of recovering contact with its forgotten cultural heritage has allowed to activate a virtuous process of collective cultural growth, recognized by all, as well as a useful opportunity for dialogue between different actors on the territorial scale that have often found themselves in positions of contrast rather than collaboration: the Archaeological Park of Ostia Antica, the Municipality of Fiumicino, the network of local schools and airports of Rome.
The project is still active and continues to have positive effects for all.
People in the city are not very used to looking up and so you lose sight of some facades of frescoed houses. Our Italian centers are mostly dating back to the medieval period where the splendor of the first rebirth could also be admired through the painting of the houses. In this regard, the Foundation has carried out the project ‘Treviso urbs picta’. Can you tell us what it is about in particular?
The ancient custom of decorating the facades of buildings has characterized Treviso for so long that it has been known as “urbs picta”. After years of collective inattention to the knowledge, protection and preservation of this widespread heritage, we decided to bring it back to the center of attention, to save it from the risk of permanent oblivion, starting in 2011, a research aimed at identifying and studying the frescoed facades within the walls of the city during the thirteenth-Xx centuries. The research, conducted by a multidisciplinary working group, has also led to the publication of the bilingual Italian and English edition of Treviso urbs picta.
Frescoed facades of the city from the 13th to the 21st century: knowledge and future of a common good (winner, this year, of the Special Prize of the Jury of the Gambrinus Prize “Giuseppe Mazzotti”), and the creation of an online database, trevisourbspicta.fbsr.it, which preserves, on existing and existing buildings, all the information collected through field inspections, bibliographic and archival research, and an accurate photographic campaign. The database offers the possibility to interactively cross the map of the historical centre of Treviso and to easily visualize (both from computer and mobile devices, from tablet to telephone) the position of all the listed buildings.
The geolocalization of each testimony facilitates anyone who lives, works, temporarily crosses the historic center of Treviso, or deals with it for reasons of study and passion, in the identification of the frescoes and in the discovery of history and collective memory that they testify. In this case, too, cultural heritage can become an important tool to link the identity of the communities and become, if well managed, also an interesting engine of economic development: just think of the induced in terms of restoration sites, and tourism.
Treviso is also Sport (we remember Basketball, Volleyball, Rugby, Formula 1 and the victories of Schumacher). I know that at the end of November there will be an important event in the city that will also involve the Benetton Foundation. Can you give any advance notice of your involvement?
One of the fields of activity of the Benetton Foundation is the history of the game, an intuition of Professor Gaetano Cozzi that started from the belief that dealing with the game was a very serious thing, because through the evolution of games and their rules you can reread in an original and useful way the history of human civilization, in parallel with what happens to animals – man included – that through the game, during the growth phase, learn the ability to relate with the world.
In November we will “field” an unprecedented alliance between the sector of studies on the history of the game and the world of Rugby, which boasts a strong tradition in Veneto, Treviso and the Benetton family. It will be an opportunity to bring together realities that usually do not dialogue with each other: that of the philological study of sport with that of sport played. It is a first experiment that will certainly give us good stimuli for the continuation of our work.