The proposed privatization of the grand public theater in Rome, Teatro Valle, has been defeated – but perhaps more importantly, the historic three-year occupation of the building has succeeded in achieving many of its primary goals, including the recognition of its demands to establish a new theater commons, after weeks of contentious negotiations.
The struggle was noteworthy because it pitted municipal authorities in Rome, whose austerity policies had resulted in severe cutbacks at the theater, against self-identified commoners who want to run the historic theater in far more open, participatory and innovative ways. At stake was not just the continuance of performances at Teatro Valle, but the governance, management practices, purpose and character of the theater. Shall it be a “public good” managed by the city government, often to the detriment of the public interest, or a commons in which ordinary people can instigate their own ideas and propose their own rules?
Beset by budgetary problems, the mayor of Rome had proposed privatizing the management of Teatro Valle. But protesters who had occupied the building in 2011 adamantly resisted such plans. Their protests inspired an outcry not just among many Romans and Italians, but among an international network of commoners, human rights advocates, political figures, scholars and cultural leaders.
In July, the city government threatened to evict occupiers and issued an ultimatum with a July 31 deadline. Thus began a series of negotiations. Commoners were represented by Fondazione Teatro valle Bene Comune, which entered into talks with the city government and Teatro di Roma, the public entity that runs the systems of the theaters in Rome.