Are Museums Old Hat?

The struggle to stay relevant in the digital age.

Illustration by Milano Art Guide.

Preservation, acquisition, and promotion: these words resonate among art professionals. What about digital communication, social media, and web marketing?

Ours is an infodemic age. We are constantly overwhelmed with digital content. With its downsides and upsides, we live in the age of TikTok, Reddit, and Twitch.

Museums in Milan have an immense and frequently overlooked potential. The digital presence of almost every cultural institution in town is a Facebook page.

In an attempt to limit risks, they emulate each other. This practice, over time, has consolidated a modus operandi that, instead of intercepting visitors, ends up chasing them and perhaps never reaching them.

There is a sort of unspoken rule in cultural communication, which we probably inherited from a past when art and culture were considered elitist: an informal and entertaining tone is forbidden.

Still today, many professionals believe that because culture is serious stuff, it cannot be fun.

Unfortunately, it is a successful theory, reinforced by the fact that the few initiatives that tried something different have constantly failed.

In the last few years, museums collaborated with digital creators or influencers. Some have landed on TikTok. The Uffizi Museum in Florence joined the popular social network in 2019.

La Scala theater is the only institution in Milan on the short-video platform with one billion users.

Many museums do not even have a website translated into English, let alone other languages. So there is no point in being surprised.

It seems obvious to state that the internet is a convenient tool with specific characteristics and rules constantly evolving.

Instagram and Twitter are very popular in Italy and are widely considered two main sources for daily information. Due to the global pandemic, their importance has enormously increased in the last two years.

They are sophisticated apparatuses that have revolutionized how we communicate, but they often remain a missed opportunity for the majority of cultural institutions in Italy.

One of the oldest institutions in Milan is trying to shake things up a little bit. The Poldi Pezzoli Museum, a private but powerful institution in the center of the city, is including more young people in its staff and is open to new ideas to promote its activities and long history.

The Gruppo Giovani, a group of young professionals, was born in 2016 spontaneously from the desire of two university students to promote the activities of the museum on via Manzoni.

The Room of the Stuccoes of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum was decorated in Rococo style and intended to house the 18th-century porcelain collections. The frescoes by Luigi Scrosati and the stucco decoration by Antonio Tantardini, created before 1855, were destroyed in 1943. The consoles, consoles, and rocaille chairs made by Giuseppe Speluzzi between 1870 and 1876 were saved. Photo Museo Poldi Pezzoli.

Over the years, the association has grown considerably, and today there are about thirty people who design and produce various initiatives and projects. The group is a social inclusion project. “We like to call it a valuable community,” said Stefania Rossi, Head of Promotion and Social Inclusion Projects.

“The group operates on different levels. The main objective is to enhance and promote the collection, and consequently the city of Milan itself,” said Helena Santidrián Mas, Head of Communication Gruppo Giovani.

“We understand the importance of this because we are an assorted group of people between 18 and 30 years old,” she added.

Over the past six years, they have partnered with several local institutions to try new strategies.

“We developed the ‘Chatbot Game,’ a digital project created by InvisibleStudio for the Milanese House-Museums,” said Ms. Rossi.

“By making the most of the Facebook Messenger technology the initiative allows visitors to explore the museum in a new and interactive way, thanks to a virtual interlocutor,” she continued.

Their latest project is called “Art is Ageless.” It is a series of meetings designed to preserve the historical memory of the museum before the World War II bombings that destroyed a huge part of the building.

“The possibility to reconstruct the history of the museum from the point of view of the audience is very powerful. It allows us to complete a part of our history directly through the contribution of our visitors,” commented Ms. Rossi.

“These stories let us younger people to fully understand the values that the museum continues to convey and the importance of the museum as a tool to connect,” added Ms. Santidrián Mas.

“The memories of our visitors allow us to create an exchange across different generations that makes culture even more alive.”

Jessica Capretti contributed to this report from Milan.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.