Are Italian museums ready for digital? Yes, if they can adapt

There is a lot of talk these months about digital challenges for Italian museums. But are Italian museums ready? According to Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Park, yes, museums are ready, but only if they can adapt to these challenges.

Let us start from the premise that these months of lockdown have been an important test case for the ability of cultural institutions-museums, parks-to remain “open” and continue to fulfill the role of “essential public service” with which they have been invested for years now.

Staying “open” has meant continuing to offer their audiences (and I use the plural on purpose) diverse experiences but each aimed at keeping interest in heritage alive.

Each museum reality has done so according to its own capacities, and it is evident, as has been acknowledged in the countless moments of reflection and critical analysis that have occurred in recent months (newspaper articles, interviews, dedicated webinars, etc.) that not all have been able to cope with this shock wave either due to lack of personnel, lack of adequate tools, or absence of a strategy understood as planning, design, content ideation.

But I do not read punctual blame but rather shared responsibility on the part of both the institutions themselves and the users/users. A quantitative survey that Finestre sull’Arte itself published on July 4 commissioned by Impresa Cultura Italia - Confcommercio to Swg to analyze “cultural consumption” during the so-called lockdown showed, for example, that only 4 percent of the sample of respondents followed virtual visits to museums and archaeological sites with interest.

Allestimenti del progetto Il Colosseo si racconta al Parco Archeologico del Colosseo. Ph. Credit B. Angeli
Set-ups of the project The Colosseum is told at the Colosseum Archaeological Park. Ph. Credit B. Angels

It is clear that in the face of surveys, inquiries, and reports one runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed and entangled with numbers and percentages, while I believe that each individual institution has the tools to do its own self-analysis and to assess what and how much its digital offerings should be in a broad sense based on different parameters, such as: availability of economic budget; type of audience; origin of the audience; extent of the museum and/or park under management; positioning of the museum and/or park within the target community on the different level scales; type of offering.

With these parameters, the Colosseum Archaeological Park is confronted on a daily basis and proposes its digital offerings. The investments on digital are diverted to the strengthening of the Wi-Fi network, an essential starting point for online ticketing (which we have guaranteed as of the reopening on June 1), for the download of the ParcoColosseo App that offers the tools for booking and choosing visit routes associated with audioguides, and (in the fall) for the download of another new and very important App Y&Co that in 9 languages will offer content accessible to all in the sign of Desing for all. On the subject of digital skills, I believe that the committed staff, consisting of archaeologists and architects from the Ministry, who are collaborating with external professionals (Social Media Managers, Social Media Strategy, Videomakers, firms specializing in the field), have the technical requirements necessary for the quality offering of our multimedia itineraries in the Domus Transitoria, Domus Aurea, Santa Maria Antiqua and the Houses of Livia and Augustus (with light and video mapping) and for the knowledge of the context and the collections that becomes storytelling on social through the creation of dedicated columns to be declined as much online as on site.

A constant aptitude for inward and outward mediation also makes it possible to pander to the needs of audiences, positioning the offer where the demand is greatest: the Colosseum Archaeological Park is constantly dedicated toeducational for children, to emotional videos and live broadcasts dedicated to telling the story of the daily routine of field work, to thematic routes on the website perfectly feasible even in presence, to the new contemporary storytelling of the Park with the “Star Walks” format.

In conclusion, I believe that all museums are ready for the challenge of digital if they know how to adapt that challenge to the different evaluation parameters that have been listed, starting with adequate websites in at least two foreign languages, putting themselves in relation and thus soliciting conversations, taking care as much of the collections as of their narrative, expanding their offerings step by step but always in the name of quality.

This contribution was originally published in No. 8 of our print magazine Windows on Art on paper. Click here to subscribe.

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