Museum and theater revenues are almost back to pre-Covid levels

Museum and theater revenues are almost back to pre-Covid levels: in 2022, in fact, museums and theaters collected sums only 4 percent and 6 percent lower than in 2019, respectively.

Museum and theater revenues in Italy have almost returned to pre-Covid levels. In 2022, museum and theater revenues were -4 percent and -6 percent, respectively, compared to 2019. This is the figure that jumps out most from the surveys of theDigital Innovation in Cultural Heritage and Activities Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano presented at the conference Digital Transformation, Accessibility and Sustainability: here are the Challenges for Culture!

The surveys showed that cultural participation of Italians in attendance has returned to significantly approach pre-pandemic levels. During the past year, Italian museums, monuments, and archaeological areas averaged only 7 percent fewer visitors and 4 percent less revenue than in 2019. The situation is similar for theaters, whose box office revenues prove to be down, as mentioned, by only 6 percent compared to pre-pandemic. The revenue breakdown of museums and theaters also returned to reflect the pre-pandemic situation, with an average of 36 percent of revenues coming from ticketing (they were 37 percent in 2019).

“The positive climate generated by the return of flows, along with the measures for the restart, are reflected in the institutions’ capacity for innovation, which revolves around three main themes: digital transformation, accessibility and sustainability,” says Eleonora Lorenzini, director of the Digital Innovation in Cultural Heritage Observatory. “These themes are also at the heart of the projects submitted for PNRR funds. In fact, 30 percent of the theaters and 38 percent of the museums, monuments and archaeological areas that participated in our surveys have submitted at least one project in this regard on PNRR funds, and about half of these have obtained funding that falls mainly precisely on the themes of removing physical and cognitive barriers and energy efficiency.”

The Digital Innovation Observatory survey also paid close attention to the issue of digital transformation. Italian museums, monuments and archaeological areas have consolidated in the past few years theoffer of tools to enrich the onsite visiting experience and, today, 72 percent of them offer at least one tool for this purpose, with QR-codes and beacons prevailing, followed by audio guides and touch screens. The area of investment considered a priority, on the other hand, is again confirmed for 2023 as the cataloging and digitization of collections. One service on which there is further progress by museums is online ticketing, now offered by 46 percent of facilities (up 8 percentage points from 2022). For theaters, however, the priority areas of investment remain marketing, communication and customer care, followed by ticketing and reservation management.

The digital transformation of the sector is also translating into an increase in museums producing podcasts, with the incidence rising from 9 percent to 16 percent, while about one in four is acquiring information regarding metaverse and blockchain, with a small cluster of experimenters already carrying out projects related mainly to the creation of NFTs on digital or digitized works.

Cultural institutions are also moving into more frontier areas, and one of these involves drones: 18 percent of museums, monuments, and archaeological areas say they have already implemented projects in which these tools are used, in most cases for enhancement activities such as air shows, collection digitization, developing 3-D content, or scanning archaeological sites.

“Artificial intelligence is also starting to be used by museums,” explains Michela Arnaboldi, Scientific Director of the Osservatorio Innovazione Digitale nei Beni e Attività Culturali. “Players in the sector cannot neglect this technology. It is yet another innovation trend that the cultural sector, like other supply chains, aims to integrate into its digitization process. The possible applications are vast: from the generation of textual content for communication activities to support in the management of reviews, including in foreign languages, and in the overall management of the relationship with visitors, up to the creation of real products that can potentially be commercialized.”

Focus also on the issue of environmental sustainability: a large percentage of Italian museum institutions (83 percent) say they have undertaken at least one initiative related to environmental sustainability. Overall, very similar is the situation for theaters (84 percent). In first place among the areas of intervention is theenergy efficiency of facilities (implemented by 53 percent of institutions). This is followed by reuse and recycling of materials (49 percent) and staff awareness activities on sustainable behavior (45 percent).

Finally, the last theme isattention to accessibility: Italian museums are working to improve conditions of accessibility to services, which in 2023 are still unsatisfactory in many respects. 38 percent have architectural barriers for physical access and mobility in buildings, and 51 percent offer no services for overcoming cognitive and sense-perceptual barriers in relation to people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing. The situation is reversed in theater, where 87 percent are equipped to overcome architectural barriers, but there are still few (28 percent) institutions equipped to deal with cognitive sensory barriers.

To broaden the possibility of relationship with the public, moreover, cultural institutions during the pandemic introduced digital services and content, which they still continue to produce and convey, but in a more restrained form. Sixty percent of Italian museums offer guided tours, laboratories, workshops or other online content, in most cases free of charge but in some cases for a fee, while 24 percent of theaters offer online performances. Although engaged entities state satisfaction with audience participation in these proposals, the response from audiences is in favor of a strong return to in-person activities.

“The Italian cultural system continues to suffer from the difficulty of operating in a context characterized by a shortage of specialized skills in the management of highly interdisciplinary projects and by regulations that are often unresponsive to the technological changes taking place, which make it increasingly difficult to be proactive in change,” concludes Deborah Agostino, director of the Digital Innovation in Cultural Heritage and Activities Observatory. “The hope for next year is that the innovation projects launched in recent months and largely financed with PNRR funds can be structural in nature for the ecosystem on the increasingly important issues of digital transformation, accessibility and sustainability.”

The 2022/2023 edition of the Osservatorio Innovazione Digitale nei Beni e Attività Culturali (Digital Innovation in Cultural Heritage and Activities Observatory) was produced in collaboration with: artem, Dotdotdot, EY, Fondazione Cariplo, Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, GeALex - Studio Legale Guardamagna e associati; Fondazione di Modena; ETT; Gruppo SCAI; Get Your Guide; Viseeto. Under the patronage of Gianluca Spina Association; Museimpresa.

Image: the Borghese Gallery. Photo L. Romano

Museum and theater revenues are almost back to pre-Covid levels
Museum and theater revenues are almost back to pre-Covid levels

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