Conservation Italy

Anna Somers Cocks, chairman, and six leading trustees of the Venice in Peril Fund resign

Charity to return to its restoration roots but rising waters still a threat to city

A woman wades through a flooded St Mark's Square in December 2008 (ANDREA PATTARO/AFP PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images)

Anna Somers Cocks, the chairman of the Venice in Peril Fund since 2000, has resigned. (Somers Cocks is also the chief executive of The Art Newspaper). Lord Norwich and Nathalie Brooke, both honorary chairmen, Sir Ronald Grierson, David Landau, Lady Emily FitzRoy and Sandra Graham, all trustees, have also handed in their resignation.

Venice in Peril was founded after the great flood of 1966 with the declared mission of restoring monuments and works of art, and of financing research into the city’s ecological problems. Until Somers Cocks took over, it focused exclusively on restoration. Between 2000 and today, however, while continuing with restorations, the fund has also become involved in the big policy issues regarding the city.

From 2001 to 2004, Venice in Peril financed a research project at the University of Cambridge and the Consortium for the Co-ordination of Research into the Venetian Lagoon (CoRiLa) to bring together all the scientific work done on the flooding of Venice since 1966 and to examine the solutions proposed. The project culminated in a conference held in 2003 at Churchill College, Cambridge, where more than 130 scientists from Venice, the rest of Italy, the Netherlands, UK, St Petersburg, New Orleans and elsewhere, met for three days to discuss their findings.

Their conclusion was that the city definitely needed mobile barriers at the openings between the Adriatic and lagoon, but that these only bought time, and that the authorities needed to be planning far beyond them.

This project led to the production of an authoritative book for the layperson in English and Italian editions, The Science of Saving Venice ( La Scienza per Venezia), Umberto Allemandi e C., 2004. The papers of the conference were published after peer review in the seminal volume Flooding and Environmental Challenges for Venice and its Lagoon: State of Knowledge, edited by C.A. Fletcher and T. Spencer, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

In 2009 Venice in Peril financed the research for, and publication of, The Venice Report Cambridge University Press, 2009, which investigated how many tourists can fit into Venice without overcrowding; how many people really live in Venice; how much public money is made available by Italy for the city; and how the use of buildings is changing in the city.

Now the remaining trustees of Venice in Peril (the writer Jonathan Keates is serving as acting chairman) have said that they wish to return the fund to just financing restoration.

Somers Cocks says: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has agreed that the minimum rise in sea level by the end of the century will be 60cms, and it might be as much as a metre. There is a widespread and dangerous misconception that Mose, the mobile barriers currently being built, are a solution to the problem of rising water levels and Venice. This is not the case, and what concerns me most is that the Italian authorities are not thinking long-term and that the decision-making process is deeply inefficient and highly politicised. It need not be like this; the Dutch and the English have clear policies in place for at least 50 years into the future. It is terribly serious for Venice.”

As Dr Tom Spencer, the director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit and co-editor of the above book on the lagoon, has written to Venice in Peril, “I suspect a reactive model for Venice quickly leads to no Venice as we know it.”

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Comments

9 Aug 12
4:23 CET

PENG HUI LEE, CHELMSFORD, UK

I take it that the current Facebook entry describing the mission of Venice in Peril is no longer valid, as it would appear that the organisation is now only concerned with 'just financing restoration'. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Venice-in-Peril/49236134137?sk=info

8 Aug 12
14:17 CET

JOHN PROBLEM, LONDON

The reason they resigned is because it will be impossible to stop the Italian authorities turning Venice into a large shopping mall with docks, the shopfronts interspersed with palazzi and art installations hanging from the rooftops and bridges. And, eventually, to become an underwater shoppping mall! Eh! Is good idea, no?

8 Aug 12
14:17 CET

JOHN, GEELONG

This development may not necessarily be a bad thing. I believe Venice in Peril has been quite ineffectual on the 'big picture' side of things - e.g. slow to organise protests against the massive advertisements. Focus on restoration of buildings, artworks, etc is of great importance. The Italians seem unable/unwilling to find the funds for it and it requires highly specialist leadership, something that Venice in Peril was providing so expertly in former years. The critically important work to save Venice itself is too much for VIP: it requires major collaborative action by powerful government and non-government agencies.

7 Aug 12
22:36 CET

DIANA WRIGHT, SEATTLE

But why did the six resign? Surely the Art Newspaper can include that information to explain its first statement, even if Somers Cocks is your chief executive.

7 Aug 12
22:36 CET

BARBARA RITCHIE, LISBOA

It is so very sad that the backbone of the trustees of Venice in Peril have found it necessary to resign. Their initiative since 2000 has been so laudable. Concentrating simply upon restoration of particular buildings and art works when the very foundation of Venice, itself, is "in peril" is so incredibly myopic--akin to concentrating upon counting and polishing the silver in the dining room of The Titanic AFTER it had hit the iceberg.

3 Aug 12
15:19 CET

JOHN LESSORE, LONDON

The Atlantic flows into the Mediterranean. Build a dam across the Straits of Gibralta, use it for electicity for Gibralta, Spain and Morocco, control the Mediterranean sea level according to Venice's needs and stop spending money on lagoon barriers which always cause problems.

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