In Venice, museums open only four days a week. And the ordinary becomes extraordinary

Despite Venice being a major world tourist city, only 2 of the 11 civic museums open every day. As many as 8 open only 4 days a week, and one is closed. Thus what should be ordinary becomes extraordinary.

"Special openings: on Friday, December 3, Saturday, December 4, Sunday, December 5, Monday, December 6 and Tuesday, December 7, the doors of the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum will remain open until 11 p.m., to allow everyone a late-night visit." This is written on Facebook by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, and to the reader unfamiliar with Venetian affairs it might seem a pleasant announcement: an evening opening of museums is a dream for many enthusiasts. But the announcement continues with: “All other Civic Museums will also be open on Monday, December 6, Tuesday, December 7 and Wednesday, December 8, with the usual hours of each venue.” What does that mean? Opening Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday an “extraordinary opening”? Well, yes, as those who have been frequenting Venice in recent months now know, since the “usual hours” referred to at the end of the announcement are not so usual: these are actually the hours (6 or 4 hours daily) by which 8 of the 11 Venetian civic museums have been opening only from Thursday to Sunday for seven months now (and more, if we look ahead to 2020). While the evening opening of the two Marcian museums is indeed exceptional for the Italian scene, the “extraordinary” opening on Monday, December 6, Tuesday, December 7 and Wednesday, December 8 is as ordinary as it should be for a city of European dimension, let alone for a city characterized by heritage and cultural tourism such as Venice. Yet for Venice, having museums open is no longer “normal.”

After now a year since the first impositions of reduced hours, after a long winter with museums closed "waiting for tourists," and subsequent disputes, after the massive arrival of tourists from August onward, the situation is still this: two museums open all week (Doge’s Palace and Correr Museum), eight opening from Thursday to Sunday (Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, Ca’ Rezzonico Museum of Eighteenth-century Venetian Art, Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo, Carlo Goldoni’s House, Natural History Museum of Venice, Clock Tower, Murano Glass Museum, Burano Lace Museum) and one closed since 2019 (Fortuny Museum, closed for restoration after the Acqua Granda damage in 2019 and scheduled to reopen in early 2022). The Civic Museums of Venice, without ever having publicly declared it, seem to no longer want to follow the rules of minimum hours and openings that are supposed to characterize what are, let us remember, “essential public services” by law. With only one difference from a year ago: that the “extraordinary” (reduced hours and closures) is becoming step by step more and more ordinary. A new ordinary made up not only of world-class museums, such as Ca’ Rezzonico or Palazzo Mocenigo, opening for a total of 24 hours a week (the smaller ones do 16 instead), of constant astonishment on the part of tourists, with agencies and guides forced to repeat “no, I’m sorry” to visitors who had hoped to be able to visit those museums on a day from Monday to Wednesday, Venetian citizens or people passing through the city for study and work forced to give up their visits, not to mention researchers and professionals who, in order to use the museums’ libraries and archives, have had to produce themselves in often unbearable efforts and labors for two years now.

Il Salone da Ballo di Ca' Rezzonico. Foto di Michele Rienzo
The Ballroom of Ca’ Rezzonico. Photo by Michele Rienzo
La facciata di Ca' Pesaro. Foto di Didier Descouens
The facade of Ca’ Pesaro. Photo by Didier Descouens

But it is also an ordinary one in which, even today, all of the Foundation’s direct employees continue to spend a week a month on layoff, while all of the outsourced employees, given the reduction in hours, see reduced hours supplemented by the layoff. This also means, for the public reception staff, working ever-changing, ever-reduced hours and being forced to cover overtime evening openings without even an overtime paycheck. Finger in the wringer, from January these outsourced workers will also have their “supplementary pay” cancelled, i.e., meal vouchers and small surcharges for emergency interventions.

In this situation, although without being aware of it, the tax-paying community has been continuing, for a year and a half now, to pay for the layoffs that allow the Fondazione Musei Civici (100% owned by the City) to take away a service from the citizenry, and to place a concrete obstacle to cultural enjoyment in a city like Venice. And in this new ordinary, the Fondazione, after having asked for and received nearly 8 million in ministerial aid for 2021, has asked for and, according to the unions, obtained another 4 million for 2021: yet, at least since the summer, the situation of tourist flows in the city, while not at the (unsustainable) levels of 2019, has returned very much in line with pre-pandemic normality, with long lines outside museums (admittedly favored by the reduced hours) and 3,000 admissions per day on average even in October. The opinion of Foundation workers heard by Windows on Art is now that of frustration and discouragement, given the persistence of a situation of exceptionalism and sacrifice that goes to the users and the heritage itself (the technical-scientific staff, now 20% laid off, have been 100% so for months) while in no way involving the Foundation’s management, which has remained impervious to criticism, cuts and reductions. The widespread feeling, though never formalized publicly, is that the reduced hours (8 out of 11 museums closed for half the week) will be extended throughout the winter, except for a few “extraordinary” openings during the holidays.

Announcing the previous extraordinary opening, that of November 1, the Foundation explained on Facebook that “on Sunday, October 31, the cafeteria set-up will recall Halloween night, and as always the Correr Museum cafeteria will be accessible to everyone, even non-museum visitors, with its breathtaking view of St. Mark’s Square.” An emphasis that points to a priority. “A Fondazione Musei Civici that allows coffee on the terrace of the Museo Correr at ten o’clock at night, but does not allow museums to open with normal, suitable, adequate hours, and that can do all this thanks to public funds, while it continues to copiously debark wherever it opens, what is the point of its existence?” asks Cristina Chiesura, contact person for the Veneto of the Mi Riconosci Association, which with other city entities on February 27 had organized the event “Venice and its museums hostage to tourism,” without obtaining a change of course.

If the City Council has always defended this leadership to the hilt, limiting itself to asking for and obtaining extraordinary evening openings on holidays, if participated city events have been ignored, the ball is now in the Ministry’s court, which could refuse to provide subsidies and support if the Foundation does not meet certain minimum standards both in terms of employment and services and hours. Will Minister Dario Franceschini, who has not spoken out on the case in more than a year, call for a crackdown on the disbursement of funds? That remains the hope by now, because to do otherwise would mean endorsing, for every publicly held foundation, the radical reduction in activities and services guaranteed by state subsidies.

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