A Venice Coalition Is Protesting Plans to Permanently House a Biennale Archive in the Arsenale

The Forum Futuro Arsenale's alternative vision proposes a center for boat maintenance with space for local artists.

A police boat during in front of the Arsenale on July 9, 2021 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Luca Zanon/Awakening/Getty Images)

Venice is once again mired in protests, this time over plans for the organization behind the Venice Biennale to occupy even more of the historic, city-owned Arsenale.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the Arsenale last Sunday for a protest organized by an alliance of local associations called the Forum Futuro Arsenale, the Art Newspaper reports.

Parts of the sprawling 118-acre complex of former shipyards have been used as exhibition spaces for the Venice Art and Architecture Biennales since 1999. In 2012, the state transferred ownership of two-thirds of the complex to the municipality.

Now, the protestors are trying to halt plans for the art organization to take over even more of the complex as a permanent site for the Biennale’s historical archives. The initiative is set to use €20 million ($22.8 million) of state funds and €105 million ($119.7 million) from Italy’s pandemic recovery fund.

Members of the Forum Futuro Arsenale have outlined an alternative vision for the Arsenale in a nearly 50-page proposal released in 2015. It frames reclaiming the historic space as a key to taking back the city for residents over tourists, at a time when the actual population of the city is falling and local services are suffering. It states:

To think of Venice as an “historic centre” (centro storico) dooms the city to extinction. With concerted effort, the mass exodus of Venetian residents can be curtailed, and long-term quality of life in the city ensured.

Since ownership of the Arsenale complex was transferred to Venice municipality from the State in 2012, the Forum Futuro Arsenale (FFA) has identified regeneration of this area as possibly the last chance to forge a healthy future for Venice as a city. So far, isolated from the negative effects of mass tourism that are manifest throughout the rest of Venice, the Arsenale is a large enough area to significantly influence the socioeconomic development of the city and yet sufficiently self-contained to be administered with a unified and integrated vision.

The FFA proposes that the contested space be revitalized as a site for traditional crafts and boat maintenance. It also calls for a floating Maritime Museum and recording and dance studios for local artists.

Tomás Saraceno, Aero(s)scene: When breath becomes air, when atmospheres become the movement for a post fossil fuel era against carbon-capitalist clouds (2019). Image courtesy Julia Halperin.

Tomás Saraceno, Aero(s)scene: When breath becomes air, when atmospheres become the movement for a post fossil fuel era against carbon-capitalist clouds (2019). Image courtesy Julia Halperin.

The mayors office, however, has thrown its support behind the Biennale’s plans. A spokesperson for mayor Luigi Brugnaro’s office told TAN that the current course of action would allow for redevelopment and would free the city from a previous agreement that forced the city to allow the navy to use an enclosed part of the space for free. If the proposal goes through, that space would free up the Galeazze canal as a shortcut for boats to pass through while traveling from the San Marco Basin into the northern lagoon.

In a meeting on February 2, the president of the Biennale said that the proposal for the archive would benefit both the arts organization and the residents of the city, who would enjoy “a center that is open and vibrant all year round.”

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