Is it possible to compare a great museum to a soccer game? On the cost of the Vasari Corridor.

To enter the Vasari Corridor when it is reopened will require spending 45 euros in the high season. "Less than a soccer game," according to director Eike Schmidt. But is the comparison to soccer correct? What determines the cost of the ticket?

In a lengthy interview with Iacopo Gori and published by Corriere della Sera on October 21, 2021, Uffizi director Eike Schmidt talked about his idea of the Florentine museum. He talked about many aspects, several of them questionable as is normal, some interesting (“I don’t find it ethically justifiable to keep thousands of works of the highest level collected by the Medici in storage where no one can see them”), others a little unpleasant (“[before my arrival] the system of cultural heritage had become increasingly incestuous”). An interview worth reading, but here we dwell on one point, one answer. The one with which, pressed by the interviewer (“There is a lot of anticipation for the reopening but isn’t 45 euros for a ticket to visit the Vasari Corridor too much?”), Eike Schmidt outlined his view on the issue of admission to the Vasari Corridor, explaining (as he has done before) that the price is much lower than what the private agencies that hoarded the few available tickets before the 2016 closure were charging, saying that “in the international perspective 45 euros is few” (a statement that, if one takes into account public museums comparable to the Uffizi, is easily disproved by real data, so much so that Schmidt makes a comparison with the Empire State Building, a private institution located in a city and country with average salaries much higher than those in Italy) and concluding that the proposed price is “lower than the market” and again that “we did not want to go beyond what you pay for a soccer match for example.”

It is a sentence that sums up a vision, not surprisingly spoken by a director who, although German, has a long career in private American museums, of which he shows in the interview that he has high regard. And which could lead to misunderstanding or subversion of the function and purpose of public museums such as the one Schmidt finds himself heading, Italy’s most-visited museum, recently awarded “the most beautiful in the world” by TimeOut Magazine. Founded in the 18th century by Anna Maria Medici ’s wish to donate the Medici’s private collection to the city of Florence, it opened to the public in 1769, became a state museum with unification and has remained so until today. Since 2015 then, museums, state and non-state, have also become “essential public services,” guaranteed even in the event of a strike, such as health or education. Neither the Empire State Building nor “soccer games” have a history, function, or legislation governing them comparable to that of Italy’s public museums. Professional soccer clubs, in particular, were born and raised as private entities, and while it is true that they served a social and popular function for much of the last century, they do not owe their existence to state or public funding, especially at high levels. In any case, if Eike Schmidt had delved into the subject, he would have noticed that tickets for an average Serie A soccer match (for example, Fiorentina-Spezia on Oct. 31, 2021) often cost much less than 45 euros, even today: only a few “flagship” matches are exceptions.

Il Corridoio Vasariano
The Vasari Corridor

So why these comparisons? And why talk about a “lower than market” price if there is no other Vasarian Corridor on the market, in the world? The market appears to materialize, correctly, as a justification for the new price, designed exactly for market needs. Fiorentina-Spezia costs less than 45 euros because market demand is low, Fiorentina-Juventus costs more because demand is high. The Vasari Corridor, with its 125 vaulted permitted accesses, is clear that it will have more demand than supply in high season, and therefore can impose high prices (even much more than 45 euros): in low season the price will drop, to 20 euros, to be competitive. And it is clear that those prices will make both the museum’s coffers happy, as well as the ticketing concessionaires who can charge a large share of the tickets. Too bad, though, that the Uffizi, as a public service, should be working for the citizenry, and not for its own coffers, nor for the concessionaires: 10 million euros, public, were invested to reopen the Vasari Corridor to the public. They were invested rightly, since citizens should be able to enjoy that heritage that belongs to them. But, with such a price tag, only some will really be able to do so: just as only some can afford the stadium.

This is a factor that Director Schmidt, unfortunately, seems not to grasp. Indeed, in the same interview, he proudly claims that last year for the first time a third of the visitors were under 25. Too bad that, in a year in which visitors plummeted by 75 percent, this indicates one thing above all: the over-25s dropped far more than the under-25s, who continued to frequent the museum instead. Given the absence of tourism, especially foreign, that characterized 2020, this figure means that local “adults” often deserted the museum. It is hard not to connect this difference, more than with the influencers Schmidt mentions in the Corriere interview (Chiara Ferragni and Martina Socrates), precisely with the price of the ticket. A price that is 2 euros for the under-25s, and free for the under-18s, while it shoots up to 24 euros (16 in the low season, a unique case in Italy of different seasonal prices) at the age of 26, unless there are concessions for different categories. In a year of economic hardship and crisis, it is not surprising that so many and so many have given up the museum, nor is it surprising that the most willing to invest such sums for a visit are foreign “once-in-a-lifetime” tourists.

Media outlets like the Courier historically struggle to talk about affordability at cultural institutions, and this interview is no exception. Yet it would have been a topic to raise, with Director Schmidt, given that the Franceschini reform, transforming the great state museums into autonomous institutions with the desire to make them self-financing as much as possible (with a view to ahoped-for transformation into Foundations?), has had as a consequence, sought after, the increase in ticket prices: from 7.5 to 9 euros between 2016 and 2019, on average, but in cases like the Uffizi there has been a net doubling. Growths that led to bombastic sequential communiqués, just with a football flavor, that spoke of “record receipts” without ever stating that these records were due, trivially, to price growth. All this without undermining, but rather protecting that system of concessions and outsourcing that leads to having ticket revenues partly granted to third parties, and those of the cafeteria, bookshop, audioguides, guided tours and presales (and here is the Vasari Corridor) granted to third parties for 85 percent.

So we should ask ourselves, and ask the director of the Uffizi to ask himself: do we want the cultural heritage to use the market and the tourist demand to improve the service to citizens and the induced not only economic, but social and cultural, that is created in the city and the territory, or do we want to suffer it, imposing ticketing and costs designed to finance private investors more than the institution and the society that supports it with its own taxes? Because museums, we should remind ourselves, are largely supported by the taxes of everyone and everyone, unlike a soccer cartel game.

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