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ITALY TO CLOSE MUSEUMS IN PROTEST

Museums will be closing down across Italy on November 12 in order to protest the government’s cuts to the cultural budget. As Agence France-Presse reports, archeological sites, parks, and libraries in the main tourist cities join the museums by closing down for the day in protest. Only institutions run by the cities and communes, not by the state, will be affected by the closure. Therefore, the Ducal Palace in Venice and the MAXXI museum in Rome will be closed, but not the Coliseum.

“Art is the main core of business in Italy,” said Andrea Ranieri, a member of the national association of Italian cities which is organizing the protest. “By cutting the cultural budget, the government risks endangering the future of the country.” According to the organizers, Silvio Berlusconi’s government is calling for cuts totaling $389 million in the realm of culture over the next three years, including $81 million alone in the ministry of culture. Faced with the massive cuts, cultural minister Sandro Bondi has threatened to step down.

AI WEIWEI’S HOUSE ARREST ENDS

Ai Weiwei’s house arrest has ended. As Agence France-Presse reports, Ai made the announcement himself on Monday after being prevented for three days from going to a banquet, which he organized in his Shanghai atelier slated for demolition. “It was planned that my house arrest would last until midnight last night,” Ai told AFP. “In fact, the police left around 11 PM.”

Ai had invited friends to the banquet last weekend to “celebrate” the imminent forced demolition of his atelier. According to messages on Twitter, Ai’s colleagues met in the hundreds on Sunday at the place planned for the banquet, despite the artist’s absence. After calling for the construction of Ai’s 6,561 square-foot studio, the Shanghai town counselors decided that the atelier was an illegal construction that must be torn down. In his telephone interview with AFP, Ai qualified the Chinese regime as “inhuman” while reckoning that the Internet could contribute to bringing down the “dictatorship” one day.

In a subsequent report from AFP, Ai called upon Western leaders to raise the issue of human rights, just before British prime minister David Cameron’s official visit to the country. Foreign leaders “should insist upon human rights,” said Ai in a telephone exchange with AFP. “It’s unacceptable that people are imprisoned because they think in a different way. Western governments must carry out these principles. If they don’t, they are fundamentally betraying the most important values of humanity. European countries and the Americans who do business with China are doing business with a group of people who turns their backs to the most fundamental values. This business is harmful to the interest of each ordinary citizen in China. They should keep that in mind.” Ai’s comments come not only before Cameron’s visit to China but also just after the Chinese president Hu Jintao’s visit to France. According to NGOs, the official visit was marked by large business contracts for French firms while human rights were sacrificed for economic interests.

SANTIAGO SIERRA TURNS DOWN PRIZE

Santiago Sierra has turned down Spain’s national prize for artists. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Javier Cáceres reports, the forty-four-year-old artist posted on his own website a letter to Spain’s cultural minister Ángeles González-Sinde that thanks both fellow artists and the jury members for choosing his work for the prize. But his “healthy human understanding” forced him to refuse the $41,000 prize. “This prize instrumentalizes the prestige of the prize winner for the benefit of the state,” wrote Sierra, who believes that the state is not following a mandate to work for the collective good. Moreover, Spain is participating “on the side of a criminal imperium in demented wars” and “happily gives away the general public’s money to the banks.”

“The state is not all of us,” wrote Sierra, who signed added the words “health and freedom!” to his signature. “The state is you and your friends. Don’t count me among them since I am a serious artist.”

AUSTRIAN CULTURE BUDGET FROZEN FOR 2011

Compared with Italy’s cuts to culture, Austrian’s budget for art and culture is looking downright generous by remaining unchanged from 2010 to 2011. As the Standard and Austria Presse Agentur report, the real value will decrease slightly since there are no compensations for inflation. “In the current budget situation, everyone involved must see it as an achievement when the budgets are not cut,” said the Albertina museum director Klaus Albrecht Schröder in a radio interview cited in the report. By contrast, theater directors plan to write to the minister of culture because they fear that the cultural budget will remain frozen for 2012 as well as 2011.

A shift is planned for the cultural budgets of schools, which will get some extra support from the education portfolio. Currently, the Austrian government spends $598 million on culture or 0.6 percent of the entire federal budget.

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