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The factory open to cultural initiatives

Whoever desires to bring culture into companies can expect an immediate enrichment of the spirit of their employees: how does this come about? What are the means to encourage this? What are the most active cultural centres?

 

What are the on-going or completed experiences in Italian factories or industrial plants where problems regarding the relationship between the factory community and culture have been encountered and challenged? We publish the following research to evaluate the results of an arduous task. Lacking any general or comprehensive data (due to the lack of any specific agency or statistical organisation, nor any coordinating institution between corporate cultural centres), once again we have had to conduct our own surveys. Thus, our data regard a group of companies of various dimensions and geographical locations and will be used for a series of provisional observations. One issue must be kept in mind; the companies examined are different but have one thing in common: they are all operative in this avant-garde sector, so our observations indicate trends but cannot certainly be considered as the norm. […]

 

Pirelli
The activities and objectives of the Pirelli Cultural Centre are familiar to the readers of this magazine from a detailed article by its director Silvestro Severgnini. The article has a beautiful title, “Culture is like bread”. Before making this statement, he expressed his belief that culture is something beyond intellectualism, something that can be placed on a physical par with all other human necessities.
We often speak about spiritual nourishment to indicate that culture can generate life and germinate where it is sown, but it is a different case when there is a commixture between culture and the sustenance brought by daily work.

Severgnini told us the story of Pirelli Cultural Centre. A group of employees would meet the cafeteria; they were fascinated by certain arguments and wanted to develop them further. Little by little the group grew, and an embryonic organisation was created. Someone would refer to a recently-read book or a film that they had seen and proposed to discuss this in a more structured manner. Excursions to art galleries and performances were organised, and the group made the important discovery that such groups could also obtain discounts, reductions for entrance tickets, guided tours, subscriptions, etc. The Company supported wholeheartedly this initiative.

Today the Pirelli Group is very important not only for its dimensions, but also for its direct contribution in promoting a wide range of artistic and theatrical initiatives in the city.

To understand more, we have to consider the following numbers: in 1952, the Group had 12,495 presences at various opera or concert performances organised by various institutions: 425 subscriptions to concerts at the Teatro alla Scala, 118 subscriptions to matinée performances, 114 subscriptions to the Teatro del Popolo. Concert attendance organised by the Centre and staged in the Piccolo Teatro totalled 2,565. 18,303 presences were registered for leading theatrical performances in Milan, with special subsidies being offered. 2,013 subscriptions for the season of the Piccolo Teatro were distributed – a significant number, corresponding to a full house – for a series of performances staged specifically for Pirelli and including some première performances (the last of which was “Un caso clinico” by Buzzati which closed the season). Due to the wide scope of its activities, the Pirelli Cultural Centre is part of a city, even if the city is a metropolis of 1,300,000 inhabitants.

More numbers: 15 preparatory meetings were arranged in 1952 for concerts and performances. For its members, the Centre also offered the screening of several films organised by themes, with 53,940 presences. These films regarded social and civil issues and were introduced by critics or experts dealing with their direction, style, language and meaning. 15 meetings were organised as well on literature, and 2,025 Pirelli employees met leading figures in the contemporary literary field. Some theatrical performances included discussions and debates with actors and directors; a special cycle of conferences and readings was dedicated to the history of theatre. In the field of visual arts, the Centre has consolidated its most characteristic activities: excursions and visits to exhibitions and collections, artistic itineraries following the development of creativity in different Italian regions and foreign countries. Last year 18 meetings and 12 excursions were organised for 3,729 Pirelli employees.

The Centre regularly gathers all of these data, which are updated month by month to track the level of appreciation shown for each activity. 1953 figures show a general increase, certainly due to the introduction of new activities and consolidation of others based on successful experience from previous years. Noticeable is the lack of any direct activity, such as dramatic societies or literary or painting competitions. The Centre has favoured putting its employees in contact with the natural venues where these activities are held, and not substituting them in their vocation. No didactic activities are thus carried out, with one exception: a programme in history of theatre, which was introduced due to the need to reorganise the vast experience acquired in previous years.

The raison d’être of the Centre lies in its original formula, which made it invaluable for the greater part of its 20,000 employees, while the core group of long-standing supporters functions as a sort of antenna around Severgnini. The Centre is a sort of bridge, a shared instrument to track culture in its more contemporary and everyday aspects and to identify the highest expressions of our society; an instrument to be updated and to update people by sharing knowledge and ideas. Nothing can be done without adequate preparation to fruitful discussion. The Centre creates the ideal conditions for those who in other circumstances would not approach activities considered as being more refined or abstruse, and who can now express their interest and opinions. Its vocation is to overcome any inhibitory factors and to offer technical and financial support for this purpose.

As Severgnini says, not an academy or school that rejects people involved in daily working activity, but a bridge that leads them step by step towards participating in cultural manifestations. It would be fallacious to think that this can occur by chance, on the whim of sporadic occasions or opportunities. The function of a corporate cultural centre must be that of satisfying the cultural requirements of its members and supporting their development in a more organic and structured manner. The series of concerts and performances already imply a more coherent evolution and development of consciousness and sensitivity. The rest comes from common effort, especially from debates and discussions on the significance of the various manifestations; from applying new knowledge to understand more about further manifestations, and so on. This bridge-like function favours a climate of greater awareness in which specific characteristics can emerge, particularly after eliminating any inferiority complex regarding artistic appreciation which is commonly found in factory workers. It is noted that a worker – even the most unskilled – can identify with the creator of a certain work of art and truly understand it by appreciating the physical effort involved in its creation; to understand that the artist’s message is often achieved through extenuating and exasperating effort facilitates the comprehension of its true value, even in abstract art.

After visiting the Venice Biennale, some Pirelli employees explained abstractionism as a contrast between human nature and the power of machines, sublimating the suffering of men and objects. This was said rather laboriously but was undoubtedly an original and singular interpretation (but not unique, the same happened at the school of Arzignano); also, thanks to the parallelisms in the music of the 1700s with contemporary music, Hindemith and Stravinskij were accepted without any difficulty.

Technical or specialisation programmes are excluded from the Centre’s activities, except some mention to scientific progress for the benefit of Mankind. Such courses can be very useful but tend to be outside the framework of cultural activities, that must be free from any type of utilitarian preconceptions and directed to the essential values of humanity. Severgnini talked about certain evenings in the Piccolo Teatro in Milan when he found himself totally at ease sitting next to directors, employees, workers, guest artists and writers invited by Pirelli, all willing to openly discuss and judge the performance and the actors. A sense of individual dignity was implicit in these meetings; everyone on equal footing and a sense of responsibility towards one’s work, which was much stronger than if imposed from outside. Culture can certainly contribute to spiritual elevation and has indisputable positive effects on the factory. It is therefore logical that industries encourage similar activities, as well as they support wholly or partly their employees in other needs, such as housing and health assistance. […]

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