The Partnership between Officine Culturali and the University of Catania

A public-private collaboration for the enjoyment of cultural heritage

The Association and social enterprise Officine Culturali, which is engaged from several years in the democratization of cultural heritage, plays this role by focusing its resources on educational activities, inclusion and the participation of heritage, communities and citizens (students, tourists, travellers, off-sites, commutes, migrants). Following an agreement and a public–private partnership from 2020 with the University of Catania, the Association, from 2010, is responsible for the valorization and the organization of cultural services for the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena.

During this period, the Association has therefore analyzed, with the cooperation of its members, the needs of the cultural heritage and communities, in particular those who manifest interest in the former monastic complex, UNESCO World Heritage since 2002. The organization, with an audience development plan, designs the activities (tours, theatrical performances, workshops for families and schools) aimed at meeting the needs expressed by its users: with the aim of diversification, the greater possible reduction of social and cultural discrimination, and maximum accessibility of places and content.

The Association also collaborates with the University the Botanical Garden and Museum of Archaeology, achieving the same objectives. Today Officine employs 9 members of the staff with a permanent job, mainly women.

Guided tours in the Benedictine Monastery
One collaboration, three impacts

The work carried out by Officine Culturali in collaboration with the University of Catania has produced three types of impacts. The first impact concerns the audience and the communities: in a few years the visitors of the building have gone from a few hundred (2009) to about 70,000 in a year overall. This is a quantitative impact. The most important impact concerns cultural participation, which in Italy is very weak: only 27% of Italians frequent libraries, museums, bookstores, theaters and cinemas. Cultural exclusion is a phenomenon that produces a very serious effect on people’s social life, because culture strengthens awareness and autonomy, and without these skills the citizen no longer knows how to face problems and challenges.

Among under-18 in Sicily, cultural exclusion reaches 80%. The work carried out in recent years has made it possible to involve about 100,000 of them in museums and in the monument, strengthening their knowledge and their sense of belonging to those places. The Benedictine Monastery has become a common good for students, citizens and travelers; it is a building that explains to people the complicated history of the city of Catania and at the same time it is a pleasant and accessible place. The university students community considers it as a home.

Educational services in the Benedictine Monastery

The second impact concerns the workers of Officine Culturali: the Association was born in 2009, when most of them were still university students. Their knowledge and stubbornness have transformed knowledge into jobs, and today 9 people who studied at the University of Catania do a qualified job that they love inside an historic university building, with their social enterprise.

The third impact concerns the Third Mission of the University: a historic building needs maintenance and also respect. The love of the people of Catania for it has increased the care and reduced the vandalization issue.
The University of Catania has received many compliments for the management of the building and for the impacts it has generated: its reputation has grown because it has made a unique and extraordinary monument accessible and understandable, creating an opportunity for social entrepreneurship for his organized and economically independent former students. Furthermore, collaborating with Officine Culturali has transformed scientific research on cultural heritage into open knowledge accessible to many people.

The Western cloister of the Benedictine Monastery
A public-private partnership for cultural heritage

To achieve these impacts, the University and the Association have worked together for 10 years thanks to an agreement, and since 2020 they have signed a public-private partnership for the enhancement of cultural heritage thanks to the new Italian law “codice dei lavori pubblici”, Legislative Decree 50/2016, which envisages (comma 3 of Art. 151) strong collaboration between public and private institutions to achieve goals of public interest and to make their buildings, skills and scientific research available to people. This partnership has a duration of 10 years and it is renewable, also it will work thanks to a working group that gradually will take decisions. This is a deep innovation in collaborative processes, because public interest becomes primary, and private interest (in this case of a social enterprise, also dedicated to the general interest) becomes only functional to the overall sustainability of the collaboration.

The basement of the Museo della Fabbrica

Francesco Mannino

Francesco Mannino

He holds a PhD in Urban History from the University of Catania. He works in Catania with the Association and social enterprise Officine Culturali. He is a co-founder, president and project manager of the Association: with his team he works on the sustainable development of cultural participation. He has published many works about cultural participation, audiences engagement and development, museums, non-profit organization and cultural Public-Private Partnerships. He is the coordinator of ICOM in Sicily.