The “Schools Adopt Monuments” scheme (La Scuola Adotta un Monumento) is a lifelong learning project directed at young people with the aim of encouraging a better knowledge and appreciation of their cultural heritage. The launch of the scheme in 1992 is an important date in the history of the Naples NinetyNine Foundation – it can be seen as a watershed, marking the start of a completely new approach to the preservation and promotion of Naples’ cultural assets from the one our organization had adopted since it was set up in 1984.
Until 1992 we had mainly concentrated on designing projects involving the ‘formal restoration’ of Naples’ artistic heritage. We had managed to interest and gain the support of firms and small financial institutions and persuade them of the importance of restoring and preserving the city’s artistic treasures – some of which were in a disastrous state. This renewed focus on the city of Naples and its cultural heritage had allowed us – in cooperation with the relevant local cultural institutions – to undertake several major schemes: to give merely one example, the restoration of the Triumphal Arch of Alfonso of Aragon at the Castel Nuovo, one of the most significant monuments and sites in Naples’ long history.
The “Schools Adopt Monuments” scheme, which was launched nearly ten years after we first started our programme of activities, opened up a whole new area – that of lifelong learning projects, in other words, those targeted at developing a greater awareness of cultural assets. This proved to be an inspired approach, as demonstrated by the scheme’s success not only in Naples but elsewhere. At its roots lay the conviction (today more firmly held than ever) that the reacquisition of the cultural value of the historic and artistic heritage is not enough on its own; it must always be accompanied by moves to encourage a greater awareness of its importance and the need to preserve it on the part of the whole community. Only in this way can a cultural asset take on its social role; it thus becomes an instrument of growth for the whole community and is recognized as a historic focal point around which the community establishes its identity.
The “Schools Adopt Monuments” scheme grew out of this awareness. It also arose from the need to find appropriate tools so that, through the acquisition of knowledge, the community – starting with and acting through its youngest members (who are thus given an important role: that of passing their knowledge on to the adults) – develops a new climate of respect for its cultural heritage, one that is informed and responsible, and behaves accordingly. The safeguarding of one’s cultural heritage thus becomes a shared commitment, a responsibility taken on by the whole community, a real exercise in social participation.
The project was launched in Naples in a climate of opinion that was already sensitive to the problems connected with the safeguarding and upgrading of the artistic and architectural heritage. Here we are referring in particular to the first “Monuments Open Doors” (Monumenti Porte Aperte), destined to become an annual event. This scheme, launched by the Naples NinetyNine Foundation in May 1992, was a unique opportunity for people to reappropriate their past. It was modelled on a similar initiative in France (“Portes Ouvertes sur les Monuments Historiques”). For the very first time, Neapolitans – and others – were able to cross the threshold of historic buildings that had been closed (and thus denied to them) for decades. In rediscovering their cultural heritage, those indelible traces of the past, they rediscovered the roots of their own historical identity.
While this element seemed important to us at the time, it was subsequently shown to be ‘unnecessary’. Over the years, the experience of the “Schools Adopt Monuments” initiative, both in Italy and on the European level, has demonstrated that the scheme has its own inherent capacity to involve the whole community. This is independent of the particular context in which it operates and is instead related to some of its intrinsic qualities – in particular, the deep-rooted pedagogical importance of the commitment demanded from the schools, their increased social role, a recognition that they can be relied on and – not least – an upgrading of their skills. Let us analyse the scheme’s ‘strong points’ one by one.
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