The Hidden Costs of Displaying Major Works of Art

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When we visit famous works of art in renowned museums, we spend our time admiring the paintings, sculptures, and drawings that have inspired humanity for centuries, if not millennia.

Rarely do we consider the resources that are necessary to make those works of art available to the public on a daily basis, from the structurally safe buildings that must be able to both handle a continual stream of visitors and also protect the artwork in a climate-controlled environment, to the number of staff members needed to guard the art, clean the buildings, sell the tickets, tear the tickets, lead the tours, etc. Additionally, the most celebrated works of art draw large masses of visitors to the cities in which they are held, which can create a social and environmental strain on the host city.

These factors recently came to the fore in Italy, where Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece David (shown above) is the centerpiece at L’Accademia in Florence, bringing in 8 million euros worth of ticket sales each year. However, instead of helping Florence cope with the strain of hosting so many tourists, that money goes to the Italian government. While Renaissance marvels such as Michelangelo’s David are responsible for making Florence one of the most visited cities in the world, the city of Florence does not in itself benefit financially from having the well-known statue in its midst.

Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, brought this discrepancy to light and requested that the revenue from David be transferred to Florence instead of the Italian government. This opened an investigation into who or what is the true owner of the celebrated statue. Both the city of Florence and the Italian government claim ownership of the statue and both dispute the other’s sense of entitlement to the revenues.

The debate will continue until either a consensus is reached or the revenue is shared fairly with Florence. In the meantime, thousands of visitors per day will stream past Michelangelo’s David as Florence continues to pay for the upkeep while Italy pockets all the profits.

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