A study of the historical collections of the Biblioteca delle Arti
The National Agency for Artisanry and Small Industries (ENAPI) was established back in 1925, with the task of gathering together the most significant artefacts from Italy’s artisanal traditions and from those small industries that had begun to take shape once again throughout Italy after the trauma of the Great War. Its purpose was to draw these artefacts together and highlight the most significant aspects of Italy’s centuries-old manufacturing traditions, in addition to the small, yet deeply-rooted industries that remained regional in scope. The initiatives to re-launch and modernize this productive fabric – which while antiquated, was already one of the national economy’s main strategic sectors – were spearheaded in large part by Italy’s regional administrations, and by research and development agencies including E.N.A.P.I.
The establishment of an agency to coordinate at the national level the many schools of artisanry and small businesses in Italy’s regions was a further step forward in the process that had begun immediately after Italian unification: that of emancipating Italian society through modernizing schooling, promoting artistic education, and disseminating the main international issues that had emerged at the dawn of the 20th century. The agency’s purposes included promoting and developing economic activities and the technical improvement of the artisanal and small industry sectors by providing technical and artistic assistance (by assisting them in participating in trade shows and expositions, displaying products at trade fair, and registering patents) in addition to credit and business incentives.
This approach combined new technologies with re-discovered traditions, but also required new fashions. Renewal was not only technological, but had to take into account the needs imposed by the fashions and emerging lifestyles of the new century. For these reasons, E.N.A.P.I.’s activities were particularly focused on training a modern class of entrepreneurs and artisans that could keep pace with the needs and progress of those years. After over fifty years of activity, the agency was suppressed on 21 October 1978, and its responsibilities transferred to regional administrations.
By analyzing the E.N.A.P.I. collection at the Biblioteca delle Arti in Rome, one can trace the complex history that began in the early 1900s and takes in the relationships between architecture, industry, and artisanry; the labour sector and schools; and the applied arts and manufacturing facilities. The material reflects the workplaces, passion, and commitment of intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, and artisans, who together played a central role in an extraordinary story, where technological innovation and artistic experimentation in various fields worked side by side with tradition. This history has continued, uninterrupted, until the present day, where in spite of recurring economic downturns and increasing competition from emerging countries, it remains one of the feathers in the cap of Italy’s manufacturing sector, and a steady driver of development and employment.