The Italian government is looking for private cash to restore its national patrimony. Tod's, the luxury Italian leather outfitter, has made the single biggest donation to date — $33 million (25 million euros) to restore the Colosseum. In an email interview, Tod’s president and CEO, Diego Della Valle, explains why:
Q: How did your donation for the Colosseum come about? What prompted it?
A: When I heard they were looking for a sponsor for the restoration I couldn’t help but think about it and step forward. Being able to contribute to the restoration of one of the most beautiful and important monuments in the world is a privilege and an honor for me and my family.
Q: It appears that a string of Italian monuments are being “adopted” by fashion houses, billionaires and companies both inside and outside of Italy. What is driving this trend?
A: There are many examples of entrepreneurs that followed along this path, I wish many others will do the same: art and culture, like food and fashion, are our country’s true resources.
Q: Has there been reluctance by the Italian government to allow private money into the dominion of the public sector’s landmarks in the past? If so, why?
A: Unfortunately Italy is not used to the Anglo-Saxon model of patronage, some skepticism lingers on, but I wish things to change soon. Facts seem to show they are changing.
Q: You apparently did not request that large advertisements for Tod’s be place on the scaffolding of the Colosseum’s renovation. But in places like St. Marco’s Square in Venice, companies have plastered their logos all over the place. How do you feel about that practice?
A: Contrary to what one might think, Tod’s did not sponsor the Colosseum’s restoration so as to be able to place a logo on it. Donating in order to support any form of art should be considered unsurprising, and without rewards of any kind. Companies lucky enough to be doing well should give some positivity back to the country. Solidarity and competitiveness are fundamental ideas.
Q: You are helping form a non-profit company related to the Colosseum. Can you explain its role?
A: The “Friends of the Colosseum” NGO will be an association whose task will be making the monument easier to be enjoyed by some categories of people like the disabled, the elderly, and also making it more welcoming for schools, kids and common citizens.
Q: Our understanding is that your company will get the right to the Colosseum’s image for two years, and that the non-profit will get the rights for 15 years. How do both institutions plan to use the logo?
A: The first thing that needs to be remembered is that we accepted to fund the restoration as long as nobody, Tod’s included, could in any way use the image of the Colosseum for commercial purposes. The rights we have let us tell the world about the restoration works being done on the monument. The NGO will only be able to support operations aimed at improving its accessibility for the disabled, or to help schoolchildren visit, and those less well off and the sick. There’s nothing commercial about it, and by the way, if you visit the Colosseum today, you’ll see that everything goes in that direction.
Q: Is there a danger that because of private donations, historical monuments in Italy may become the subject of more commercialism and advertisement for the companies that fund their restorations?
A: I’ve been saying it for a long time: Italian art and culture are the most important resources we have to relaunch our economy. I know many entrepreneurs that are willing to do much along this path in our country … We only need to encourage them with appropriate rules and bureaucracy.
- Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.