We Need to Rethink What a Museum Can Be

Prestigious institutions gather in Italy for a convention on the future of museums.

Milano Art Guide

We Need to Rethink What a Museum Can Be

Prestigious institutions gather in Italy for a convention on the future of museums.

22 May 2022

Why, when we need core services such as hospitals and schools, do we need an art gallery?

A nine-session programme with leading experts in management and valorization of Italian and international cultural heritage and contemporary cultures, curated by Pier Luigi Sacco, Professor at the Università degli Studi ‘Gabriele d’Annunzio’ of Chieti – Pescara, former Visiting Professor at Harvard University, will try to answer this and many other questions on the role of museums today.

The project, titled “Open Doors. Participatory museums today,” is organised by Fondazione Brescia Musei in collaboration with Fondazione Scuola dei beni e delle attività culturali and NEMO – Network of European Museum Organisations.

The invited speakers will offer a comprehensive reflection on the concept of museum as a participatory space and on the tools, techniques, and best practices for involving communities and activating them in a continuous dialogue between museum content and the major current issues mediated by cultural heritage.

The goal of the event is to be open to insiders, but also relevant to a wider community, considering that museums are increasingly taking on as spaces for building citizenship, beyond any possible educational or socio-economic barriers.

“Connection, collaboration, and conversation with the community and public are essential to the continued relevance of museums for society. To deepen the relationship with the community means increasing the sustainability of the museum in the future,” observes Julia Pagel, Secretary General of NEMO – Network of European Museum Organisations.

According to the event, eight areas are the keys to transforming museums into real spaces of social exchange based on active participation: Cohesion and social connection; Empowerment; Education; Diversity; Well-being and healing; Creativity and expression; Co-creation; Engagement and problem-solving.

“If museums are able to effectively and knowledgeably preside over these areas of active participation their social role will be considered on a par with that of schools and hospitals, and will no longer be seen as elitist spaces where rituals of social distinction are continually renewed, but as contexts where access to knowledge and its dissemination becomes an increasingly collective process.” writes Professor Pierluigi Sacco, curator of the project, in a note to the press.

“This process is not a leap in the dark, it is a feasible and necessary transition, as shown by the dozens of experiences and proposals that will be presented in Brescia during the ‘Open Doors’ program: the world of museums, from the most central and important to the smallest and geographically marginal institutions, can make this transition towards becoming museums understood as spaces for active participation.”

Museums should provide visitors with forms of knowledge that challenge and puzzle them, while also providing ways and opportunities for visitors to actively express themselves, engage in stimulating conversations with curators, experts, and other visitors, and question or challenge, if necessary, the points of view they are presented with.

“[We are] proud to present the first major platform for discussion and dialogue dedicated to the theme of participatory museums. This series of meetings will foster a full understanding of the transition we have been experiencing in recent years, particularly after Italy ratified the Faro Convention: from museums experienced as ‘palaces,’ to museums as ‘public squares’ in which the dynamics of active citizenship are lived and practiced,” commented Francesca Bazoli, President of Fondazione Brescia Musei.

From May 25, at the Auditorium of Santa Giulia in Brescia, live streaming here. Participation is free. All the events will be simultaneously translated into Italian, English and LIS (Italian Sign Language).

Katherine Thomson is an arts critic in Milan.