Challenges and problems for new museum directors: the most important aspects

What will be the main challenges and issues facing new museum directors? We have tried to list them in this reflection.

The affair of new museum directors, which we have also discussed on several occasions and given ample space to both in our press review and on our Facebook page, continues to hold the headlines and to be the constant focus of attention of a now very large number of commentators. Often, however, the debate has lost sight of what is probably the most important aspect of the issue: the problems that the new directors will face.

Honestly, it makes one smile a bit to read certain comments from those who think a good restaurant, a nice bookshop and a wi-fi network are enough to magically and all of a sudden make our museums modern. Of course, making the visiting experiences of anyone who comes to our museums more comfortable is a matter of great importance, but there is also the fact that if nowadays many museums are lacking in comfort for visitors, this is due to a general disinterest in cultural heritage on the part of politicians. A disinterest that has persisted for years and from which we hope to recover, but which has caused quite a few difficulties for our country’s institutions.

The first and most pressing problem is the now endemic lack of funds within which our museums are forced to work. Starting in 2008, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage has suffered continuous cuts that have deprived it of about 25 percent of the resources it could count on seven years ago: it has gone from more than two billion euros in 2008, to the billion and a half projected in MiBACT’s 2015 budget. Small increases have been factored into the 2016 and 2017 budgets, but getting back to 2008 levels will probably have to wait. Clearly, in a situation of limited resources, the new directors will have tasks not unlike those of their predecessors. Can we assume, then, that they will try to copy former directors as much as possible, where the latter have managed, in difficulties and constraints, to run their museums in an egregious manner? There is a lot of talk about Antonio Natali, who has been directing the Uffizi since 2006: a great professional who was able to set up a new exhibition itinerary that gave greater legibility to the works, to invent a project such as The City of the Uffizi that brought serious and high-value exhibitions with Uffizi works around Italy, to succeed in getting restoration and refitting work done without ever closing. And, no small thing, Natali has been able to give, for the exhibitions organized within the Uffizi, a very serious direction.

Thus he wrote in the presentation of the exhibition Il Gran Principe Ferdinando de’ Medici (1663-1713) Collezionista e mecenate, held at the Uffizi in 2013: “Do you really believe that the Uffizi would not be capable dapprontare ogni anno esposizioni sui feticci dellindustria culturale, da Botticelli aglimpisti? The Gallery is absolutely aware that those exhibitions would make it much more palatable to those who believe that valorization is only a matter of money. Instead, the Florentine museum believes that valorization is first and foremost about the historical consciousness, intelligence, culture and taste of those young people who tomorrow, precisely by virtue of these gifts of mind and heart, will hopefully make our country better than what we have left them.” Very lofty words that show us how the Uffizi Gallery, under the direction of Antonio Natali, has preferred to invest in important exhibitions, research, popularization and true enhancement, moreover also obtaining good feedback from the public. Will the new directors do the same, or will they focus more on box-office events?

However, theautonomy enjoyed by the twenty “super-museums” as a result of the MiBACT reform actually makes it possible for these museums to obtain their own revenues and dispose of them to finance their activities. Before the reform, revenues were sent from the state treasury to the Superintendencies although often to a lesser extent than what was actually earned: in the case of the Uffizi, much of the revenue was used to operate the smaller, less visited museums. It is precisely the possibility of autonomous disposition of receipts that could lead the new directors to try to replenish revenues: will this, then, be the viaticum that will open the way to rentals, perhaps scripted, of museum rooms for private use, or to commercial events that will overshadow serious projects? Doubts perhaps premature at the moment, but in our opinion more than legitimate. And we must also take into account the fact that, paradoxically, for many of the new directors the tasks will be much more difficult since they will have to deal with more than one museum: to stay with the example of the Uffizi, many of the museums that were part of the now former Polo Museale Fiorentino, that is, all those that are part of the Pitti Palace complex, have been merged into the Florentine Gallery. Which means that the new director will have to deal with an immense heritage whose direction until now was entrusted to several people. This is no small challenge, which will also affect other museums, such as the Bargello, merged with Cappelle Medicee, Orsanmichele, Palazzo Davanzati and Casa Martelli.

The above pertains solely to the sphere of museum budgets, but there will be issues of another nature that directors will face. Beginning with simple inefficiencies that also find their reason in the shortage of funds and that risk damaging the museum’s image. Just one example: one of the twenty autonomous museums, the National Museum of Capodimonte, just a few days ago, had to close most of its halls due to a broken air conditioning system, and the inconveniences were such that the staff had to advise young children and the elderly against visiting. Widespread problems, recorded in several museums in Italy: at the Galleria Borghese as at the Uffizi themselves, passing through the <a href=’ target=’_blank’>Castle of Rivoli</a> and the <strong>Pinacoteca Nazionale di Ferrara</strong>, which instead had the opposite problem, having remained weeks, this winter, with the broken heating system. And when certain museums have to deal with outdated systems, whose maintenance is often not made possible by lack of resources, it comes automatically to mind that restaurants and wi-fi networks might not exactly be a primary necessity.</p> <p style=’text-align:center’><table class=’images-ilaria’><tr><td><img class="lazy" src="" data-src=’’ alt=“Rome, National Gallery of Ancient Art of Palazzo Barberini” title=“Rome, National Gallery of Ancient Art of Palazzo Barberini” /></td></tr><tr><td>Rome, National Gallery of Ancient Art of Palazzo Barberini

In addition to having to deal with maintenance, the new directors will then necessarily have to contend with the oppressive bureaucracy that would crush even the best-motivated optimist and that, especially in a transitional phase such as the one the Ministry is experiencing in these months, also risks creating paradoxical situations: a bit like what happened at the newly founded National Archaeological Museum of Altino, where a bizarre conflict of competencies between the Superintendence and the new regional museum pole has been created. It would be difficult to make a list of all the times when bureaucratic fetters have led to clashes and delays: one need only think of the case of the Nuovi Uffizi, with work always completed heavily behind schedule. How, then, will the new directors (it comes especially to mind the foreign ones who have never had to deal with the bureaucratic apparatus of our country) cope with the thicket of rules, regulations, laws, decrees, practices, and competencies to which the institutes must submit? The first test will be on the tenders for maintenance services, national online ticketing and additional services-three deadlines with which the new directors will be grappling in a few months (the tender for maintenance services expires in October). And it won’t be easy: in Florence, for example, the entrustment of the Uffizi cafeterias, as Repubblica points out, “has been under extension for years, after an endless series of tenders and consequent appeals to the Tar.”

Then we need to consider another very important knot, that of personnel: many museums are understaffed, and directors will have to manage vacations and shifts shrewdly to prevent parts of their museums from being forced to close due to staff shortages, as often happens (at the beginning of our activity on Finestre sull’Arte we had documented ourselves the case of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini in Rome). But if the problems were limited to the management of a severely understaffed staff, the new directors would be all too well off: in fact, payments from the Ministry often arrive late, leading to subsequent protests, the latest of which just a month ago by workers at the Florentine state museums. Let’s imagine an enthusiastic Eike Schmidt, the newly appointed director of the Uffizi who rattles off his plans in early interviews, having to mediate with the unions to avert museum closures, not least because, despite the autonomy of the institutes, workers will always be dependent on the Ministry.

One has to wonder, then, whether the new directors, notwithstanding the optimism emanating from their preliminary statements, are prepared to deal with such delicate situations as those described above. For the sake of the museums they will direct, we hope, in fact, that they will not be sent out into the cold and that, prior to their appointment, they will have been adequately informed and prepared for what they will face. Thus, in the coming weeks we will be able to see whether the figures chosen by the minister were the right ones. By the way: on his blog, Tomaso Montanari lets us know that, according to what MiBACT press office chief Mattia Morandi told him, next week Minister Dario Franceschini “will sign the decrees of appointment of the new directors,” and in these decrees “the name of the winner will be followed by those of the two losers, and by the reasons justifying this very discretionary choice.” What we all expected in order to have a more complete overview of the minister’s choices: as Montanari points out, “it will be understood, therefore, whether the rumors that have been circulating for days are true: namely, that in almost all the triads there were Mibact interns judged entirely suitable by the commission, and then systematically dismissed by the minister and the director general who answers to the minister.”

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