Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Teatro Marinoni Revisited, Part 2

Green fiberglass roof panels cast a subaqueous light over the upper flights of Teatro Marinoni's stairwell
Regardless of the improvements that those who occupy Teatro Marinoni have made to the grounds around the building (visible in Part 1 of this post), or to the inside (in this post), their basic situation remains unaltered. As one told me last week, "[Mayor Giorgio] Orsoni pretends not to know a thing about the situation. As far as he's concerned, the question of whether the city had a right to sell a property designated for public use by the man who gifted it has never even been asked, and we, and the events we put on, and the people who attend them don't exist."

Moreover, no matter how many children may attend, for example, a Saturday workshop on germinating seeds, Teatro Marinoni's occupants know that Lido itself is notoriously conservative, with traditionally little interest in more "utopian" or "artistic" projects--in spite of its famous film festival which, after all, is all about glamor and big money. This is not the Santa Marta section of Venice, nor the neighborhood of San Francesco della Vigna: two areas proud of their traditional leftist inclination which might embrace the occupants' aim of converting the building into the cultural center they say Dr Mario Marinoni intended it always to be. Indeed, I get the feeling that the bulk of the project's supporters come from Venice proper, not Lido.    

What difference a year makes: a first floor room above the auditorium of Teatro Marinoni last week and...
But just after I posted Part 1 on Teatro Marinoni, with the feeling that this occupation of the building would almost certainly be a Utopian interlude before the entire complex was transmogrified into the kind of private tourist-oriented resort that Venice actually has little need of and which would do absolutely nothing to address the emptying out of Venetians from Venice--its hospitality-industry wages likely to be enough to allow its employees to live in Mestre, not in Venice or in Lido--I ran into a friend who told me that Est Capital, the corporation that purchased the old Ospedale al Mare complex in 2010, was having serious financial problems.

How serious? I asked.

Serious enough, he said, that it was trying to sell off parts of the Ospedale al Mare complex.

...the same room as it appeared in January 2012
Now, when I first visited Teatro Marinoni in January of 2012, its occupants were older than those I encountered last week: closer to 40 (and over 40), than to 20, like those who now live there. The older members of the group are still involved, but it seems to be only 20-somethings who are there full time. Last year this older group spoke of converting the entire complex into an international arts center, with a community center at its core. 

Perhaps this big vision still exists, but the younger occupants I spoke to last week gave me the impression of trying to save the Teatro Marinoni building alone from any eventual private commercial development. After more than a year of making little progress with the city, they seemed to know that it would be a miracle if they could pull off just this. 

"We have no money," a young man told me. "We can scavenge building materials from the other abandoned buildings in the complex, we have a gas generator, and we are trying to build a wind-powered generator system, but it's all very hard. " Then he asked me, "Do you know people?" As we were speaking Italian I wasn't sure I understood his question correctly. I took it in its most general sense, and said I did. I said I knew people in Venice, if that's what he was asking, and of course also from the US....

But what he wanted to know is if I knew anyone with money who might help develop their project. That was a harder question to answer--and is of course, the question, as the city of Venice has no money, nor any interest in developing Teatro Marinoni into a cultural center. Of course a small fraction of the billions of dollars in public funds that have been poured into what has just been uncovered as the MOSE swindle run by the Consorzio Nuova Venezia would probably have been enough to work wonders with the Teatro Marinoni building itself, but that's not the kind of project that is going to get funding these days in Venice. And if it did, the contract for doing so would most certainly be put into the hands of a well-connected private contractor (some Venetians would simply say "mafia" at this point) who would milk it for everything it was worth.

So this is where things stand at this point: perhaps Teatro Marinoni could be bought back from the financially-troubled Est Capital and turned into a cultural center, but those who would do so have no money for it, and those who might have the money have not the least interest in things like cultural centers.

Does this mark a significant change in the situation from where things stood a year ago? Is it cause for any hope? I don't know. Perhaps it's a little like asking whether you'd say that the stairwell at the top of this post is half-light or half-dark; whether you think of its stairs as going up or down.

A million-euro view of the Adriatic from a make-shift music room
A room with a little privacy...
...and another with none
Much of building has come to resemble an art school facility...
...or a Biennale pavilion
"An apple a day...": this may have been intended as a comment on youth drug culture, but I can't help but think of those older people I know whose various conditions necessitate their taking an array of prescriptions each day "to keep the doctor away"
Trompe l'oeil: A photo of a vintage image of Teatro Marinoni (in its old tuberculosis sanitarium days) upon a peeling wall attached to an actual peeling wall
Those who would have been pushed in the pram when the publications inside it first came out are now old enough for the heavier-duty chair beside it
Some of the many derelict buildings of the ex-Ospedale al Mare complex seen from the roof of Teatro Marinoni


  1. Too bad they can't find a country to agree to use and restore the Teatro, as part of the Biennale, as happened with San Lorenzo.

    You have to admire the tenacity and passion of people like this, who embrace what seems to be a lost cause. It must be hard for them not to just chuck in the towel.

    1. That country idea is an interesting one, Yvonne, considering the comune seems to have so little interest in helping out. And I certainly do admire their tenacity and idealism, and their insistence, however slight the chances of success may seem to be, that it's possible to imagine better ways to reinvigorate property than private development that will further weaken a community and culture already struggling to survive.