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Cross-generation roundtable – The museum of the future

    • Milan
    • 9 May 2017

          Italy’s network of museums has undergone major changes over the last three years, following reforms that have made the idea of museums as national institutions a strategic linchpin. It was noted by participants at this cross-generation roundtable that, within this framework, there are four objectives that characterize a museum’s mission: conservation, training, exploratory research, and marketing.

          During the debate, the following unresolved issues associated with these common objectives emerged as both crucial and controversial:

          – first and foremost is the dialectic between local and national (that is, institutional or global) that is accorded to museums both in terms of heritage as well as strategy and responsibility. Envisioning museums as national institutions certainly assures them a homogeneous legislative and administrative framework, but risks constraining local autonomy and distinctive local traits, which often play quite a marked role in Italy in the context of heritage. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that size matters. While centralization was deemed something to be avoided, it was felt a form of governance is needed that can connect small museums to the country’s major museum hubs, emblematic places that are prime attractions, together with projects that create economies of scale in areas ranging from shared use of technology to marketing. This not only allows for autonomy and a streamlining of bureaucracy, but also networking and sharing. Sicily was held up as a case in point: its regional autonomy creates a protective umbrella under which local museum institutions can network on a national scale;

          – partnership between the public and private spheres was heralded by all those in attendance as virtuous and desirable, albeit still not readily and clearly regulated. It was urged that the successful Art Bonus scheme (involving a tax credit to encourage patronage by way of donations in support of publicly-owned cultural heritage) should also be extended to private cultural assets. Such treasures, which are part of Italy’s history, could form a major component of the country’s offering of splendors. As examples, the participants pointed to historic villas and gardens, along with the collections contained therein or held by companies, banks, and foundations. It was suggested that such offerings would emerge through taxation incentives, partnerships, and systemic initiatives that encourage public-private partnerships aimed at promoting richer and more integrated itineraries across Italy (creating a “wall-less museum” through projects like Fondazione Accenture’s “Trame d’Italia”);

          – the interplay between personalization and sharing: museums must increasingly serve as a place and opportunity for community building, participation, and engagement, while offering more personalized and differentiated experiences. It was stressed that as museums are continuing to spring up around the world, competing on attractiveness requires moving on from the old concept of a “visit” to the ability to offer a unique experience that can only be fully entered into at the museum. Hence, museums need to be capable of offering a soft power embracement, an involvement that influences, enriches, and mobilizes visitors, based on a compelling experience generating an energy that spills over into the surrounding locality, creating economic value and skilled employment (as documented by the figures for the New Tate Gallery and the Bilbao museum);

          – the role of new technologies, which are crucial in the search for, presentation, promotion, and mobilization of museum content, but incapable on their own of achieving the previously outlined objectives. It was emphasized that technologies are resources that do not replace the aesthetic museum experience, but are significant in enriching and promoting it – not only as regards millennials, or digital natives, but also more mature generations, and specifically as a means to overcoming issues pertaining to accessibility of museum holdings for the diversely abled and the elderly; and

          – the importance of training specialized personnel who are equipped to meet these new challenges posed by museums, which are no longer just exhibition spaces but venues offering an experience that is first and foremost an engagement with time. They require governing boards and steering committees with more dedicated and passionate people, and museum directors who, as well as being managers are also inspiring leaders. Museums – it was concluded – need to be places of exploration and education, aimed especially at young people, imparting not just the history of art but also an aesthetic experience through which to gain an appreciation (via works of art) of Italy along with its values, thereby facilitating their spread worldwide.

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