Tridentine Diocesan Museum needs an economist director. ICOM: experienced director needed

Tridentine Diocesan Museum loses its pieces: two employees leave and director Domenica Primerano resigns. In her place is an economist with no experience in the cultural heritage sector. ICOM also intervenes in the case.

These are troubled days in Trent, following the resignation of the director of the Museo Diocesano Tridentino, Domenica Primerano, who had been at the helm of the institute in Piazza del Duomo since 1989 and who transformed the Diocesan from a small provincial museum into a state-of-the-art institute, in a journey that culminated in her winning the Grand Prix of the European Heritage Awards, a prestigious honor received just this year. The director’s resignation followed, amid controversy, the farewell of two other employees, Chiara Leveghi and Valentina Perini. What triggered the earthquake, according to theAdige ’s reconstruction, was the aftermath of the important exhibition L’invenzione del colpevole, the show dedicated to Simonino da Trento, one of the strongest and most significant seen in recent years in Italy, which earned the museum the Grand Prix, and for which a permanent musealization project was in the works, later shelved after attacks and criticism from the Catholic right but also from part of the secular area.

In Primerano’s place (who is also president of AMEI - Association of Italian Ecclesiastical Museums, the main association that brings together the country’s diocesan museums), the Archdiocese of Trent has appointed Professor Michele Andreaus, professor of Business Economics at the Department of Economics and Management at the University of Trent, as its new director. “I accept the appointment,” said Professor Andreaus, “with much emotion and humility, grateful for the esteem for me. I have found a small team of competent and enthusiastic people, ready to get involved to give continuity to the Museum, enhancing what has been done so far and looking to the future.”

However, the Italian section ofICOM - International Council of Museums- intervened on Andreaus’ appointment, concerned about the appointment of a director who has no experience in museums and is foreign to the cultural heritage sector. “The case of the recent appointment of a university professor with no previous museum experience to the directorship of the Diocesan Museum of Trent,” reads a lengthy statement by the committee, “has reopened the debate on the figure and skills needed to direct a museum, the way in which the position is entrusted, the need to ensure a constant commitment, which is difficult to be compatible with others, and finally the relationship between management and the Board of Directors. We do not intend to discuss the choice of a person who boasts a respectable curriculum in his or her disciplinary field and a particular knowledge of the nonprofit world, but we cannot remain silent, however, on an appointment that presents clear discrepancies with the criteria identified by ICOM with its 2005 Charter of Museum Professionalism, which has now become a reference standard for defining the profiles and skills of the various professional figures in the museum field.”

It is worrying, ICOM explains, that the nomination “wants to indicate a line of discontinuity with respect to the direction of Mimma Primerano, who made that museum a small jewel, for its ability to interpret in an open and creative way the pastoral mission that is proper to it, highlighting the relationship between art, spirituality and contemporary problems. A model of experimentation that the entire community of museum professionals, including the European Union, has recognized for its innovative and guiding character.” Still, among the reasons for concern is the fact that “this decision confirms an increasingly widespread trend of sacrificing specialized expertise in cultural institutions in favor of other kinds of expertise. The issue is highly topical. The entire museum community, and not only in Italy, recognizes how much the ideal profile of a museum director encompasses multiple skills given the increasing complexity of museum functions and the expansion of services provided, the need to identify additional resources and to relate to a multiplicity of public and private entities and an ever-evolving contractual framework, and the obligation to account according to the accountability criteria provided for social and sustainability budgets. But this corresponds to a complex definition of the management structure; if we must take note of the growing importance that legal-administrative and economic-managerial responsibilities have assumed, the museum cannot deprive itself of a management that is primarily competent and aimed at the realization of a cultural project and the enhancement of collections, characters that oblige a deep knowledge of the nature, history, values, meanings and their relationship with social contexts and the widespread cultural heritage, consistent with the museum’s mission. It is not enough for this to have recourse to a curator, but it is necessary that it is in the figure and professionalism of the director that is composed the ability to interpret the cultural mandate of the museum institution and the ability to put it into practice through adequate planning. It is therefore a matter of placing planning and implementation in the same hands, seeking and verifying over time, based on a clear mission and defined cultural and social objectives, economic sustainability, shaping the organization of work and activating the indispensable internal and external relationships. Clearly, the ability or task of presiding over the administrative and economic functionality of the institution is not sufficient for this complex task.”

ICOM therefore declares that it views with perplexity and concern, “some basic distortions carried out by some administrations and managing entities of the muses,” including “the underestimation of the necessary technical-scientific qualification of the director in favor of a generic administrative competence” (ICOM cites the case of the Ethnographic Museum of San Michele all’Adige, where the director, Giovanni Kezich, was was torpedoed by the administration of the Autonomous Province of Trento and replaced by an administrative officer, Andrea Asson), the split between scientific direction and actual management responsibilities, “placed in the hands of administrative managers, as repeatedly noted in numerous calls for bids issued by municipalities,” and finally “the absolute absence of a director, often replaced with appointments to professional profiles of officials (ISTAT documents the absence of a formal director’s position in 60 percent of Italian museums).” Recalling “that the figure of the director is identified as essential and inescapable among the requirements for accreditation in the National Museum System,” ICOM, in conclusion, “believes that a careful and calm reflection on these issues is more timely than ever, in order to spread the awareness that the survival and development of museums depends largely on the qualities and abilities of its director.”

Primerano also spoke on the appointment of Andreaus: premising that she is not criticizing Professor Andreaus, the former director reflects on the issue by stating that “as Amei president, I have always fought so that ecclesiastical museums could have people with specific expertise in the museum field at the helm. Too many times, in fact, the direction is entrusted to a priest with a background that has little to do with museums, people who, moreover, are often burdened with many duties, including responsibility for a parish. The important thing, said someone who has many responsibilities in the field of church property, is that there is a good conservator. But the one who imparts the line to follow, the one who works out the mission of the museum (in agreement with the BoD), the one who decides is the director, not the conservator! That is why, as the Franceschini Reform rightly pointed out, the figure of the director is central and must be entrusted to people competent in this field.” And again, “as a former director who is perhaps a bit of a romantic, I think that a director should share his day with the museum staff and those who frequent the museum. If I have another job, which is already demanding, how do I do it? For years I was the first one in and the ’last one out of the museum. But maybe yes, it is true, I am romantic.” In conclusion, Primerano says, “if the goal is to identify new governance, why was Professor Andreaus not included in the CDA when it was renewed in 2019? Why was there not an open competition to replace me, as was done for the Riva del Garda Civic Museum or the War Museum in Rovereto (also a private museum)? So good job to the new director. I hope that he will not only maintain the level achieved in so many years of patient work, but will surpass it!”

Pictured: Palazzo Pretorio (left), home of the Tridentine Diocesan Museum. Photo by Lorenza Liandru

Tridentine Diocesan Museum needs an economist director. ICOM: experienced director needed
Tridentine Diocesan Museum needs an economist director. ICOM: experienced director needed

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