IF YOU'RE in Rome between April 14 and April 21, you are in luck.
Rome's state museums and historical sites are opening their doors to the public with free entry during Culture Week. With the exception of some major sites such as the Colosseum and special exhibits, a lot of Rome's collections are pretty much free for the taking.
For those who have visited Rome before, this is a good opportunity to explore some of the more left field spaces that the city operates in addition to the bigger national museum centers whose collections are worth at least one visit to. Yes, the focus is often on classical art, but not always. For a different way to see something classical, two of my recommendations would be the Museo Andersen and Centrale Montemartini. Located outside of the historical center, these sites are invitations to explore a Rome that few visitors venture out to, and that often hide the more modern side of its identity. Traveling smarter, doing a bit of research, and picking up a bit of free press can go a long way in helping you get a better feel of a place.
There has been talk that Woody Allen's latest film To Rome With Love has caused a spike in visits to the city. I am not so sure of that, particularly because the film has not yet even been released. It could well happen later in the year when it gets its cinematic release in the States and other territories, but whether or not it will simply feed the obsession with the historical center or not remains to be seen.
Rome already commands about 10 million visitors per year, and for a city of its size, sits comfortably near, if behind its bigger neighbors London and Paris. Although it has less than half the population of its northern neighbors, it has some of the best flight connections in Europe, a heavily developed tourism industry and show stopping heritage that screams "Look at me! Look at me!" I can't think of any other European city, perhaps with the exception of Istanbul, that has such a multi-layered history that is readily accessible to visitors.
ROME is considered part of the cluster 6 cities of Europe, along with Berlin, Paris and London (Madrid and Istanbul are also in this group) in its status as a metropolis with heritage, arts and cultural industries. Because it is a cultural hub, it does pretty well at a local level in sustaining a growing amount of events, even if it is still paradoxically a city that is still finding its modern feet.
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Rome is the contemporary capital of the country, but not the contemporary heart of its cultural industry in the way that London, Paris and even Berlin can be argued to be. Whether or not a central cultural capital of modern culture exists in Italy is arguable. Some might offer up Milan for candidacy, but even then I'm not entirely convinced. Other Italian cities such as Palermo and Naples (as well as Milan) have had an easier time of leveraging their arts sectors up to international levels, but Rome has had a tougher time of it. From an international point of view, gallerists and curators generally consider these other cities as being at the forefront of contemporary Italian arts, whilst Rome stands apart as one of those classical marvels in the international imagination. You know, the center of the Italian mythology, la dolce vita etc etc where you go to experience something traditional on your way to something modern (elsewhere).
Things are changing, but you need to know where to look to find evidence of this. Its not as if this is a city that shares its modern culture as easily as it does its traditional one.
In many ways, you can almost consider the contemporary arts culture as being part of the underground culture in Rome. For every traditional exhibition that receives funding, promotion and publicity, there are two or three non traditional shows that go without the same kind of coverage. As a visitor to Rome, unlike in Paris or London or Berlin, you have to actively seek out an alternative. You have to push yourself out of the city center and into the adjoining quarters where the rent is lower and the freedoms are greater and the choices wider.
If you are in Rome and can spend more than five minutes on one of its major city roads without seeing an open bus tour, you have achieved the impossible. If during culture week you avail yourself of a few free visits to the state museums and partner those visits with some guest appearances at some up and coming art spaces or gigs then, you will have probably achieved a miracle.
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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