Minister Bonisoli's mouse. Why the news on museum access is just smoke and mirrors

The Minister of Cultural Heritage, Alberto Bonisoli, has announced news for museum access. But in our view they are just smoke and mirrors.

It is curious to note how the minister of cultural heritage, Alberto Bonisoli, took more than a month (starting the count from the date of theannouncement of the abolition of free Sundays in museums) to give birth to a package of measures that, in fact, produce very minimal changes from the past.

The only real novelty is the introduction of the reduced ticket at 2 euros for young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five: a measure that certainly seems sensible, which will allow the under-25s to approach especially the larger museums (i.e., typically, those with the most expensive tickets), and perhaps stimulate their desire to learn more about and get to know the museums in their cities. However, it is also necessary to note that, without targeted communication campaigns, the measure is likely to produce little effect: according to the latest cultural statistics from Istat, referring to 2016, 41.8 percent of Italians who did not visit even one museum during the year did not do so simply because they were not interested. And it is also interesting to note how this percentage touches the peaks precisely in the 15-24 age group: 47.1% between 15 and 17, 48% between 18 and 19, and 45% between 20 and 24. And at the same time, the lowest percentages of those who do not go to the museum because they consider the entrance fee expensive are recorded in these brackets: percentages of 3.5 percent (15 to 17), 8.1 percent (18 to 19), and 8.3 percent (20 to 24) are reached, against an overall average of 9.4 percent. The under-18s, moreover, already havefree admission to state museums, so the real point of the issue is that young people do not go to museums not because they find it expensive, but simply because they are not attracted to them. So, in order to whet the appetite of young people, since the minister’s stated intent is to grow their “hunger for culture,” perhaps it is necessary to work more on communication than on tickets.

Il ministro Alberto Bonisoli
Minister Alberto Bonisoli

Otherwise, nothing really new to report. Those who expected the cancellation of the institution of #domenicalmuseo will be disappointed: it was predictable, after the many hesitations in August, after the contradictory statements (“free Sundays [...] will in fact be abolished,” Bonisoli had said in an official note, and his undersecretary Vacca on the contrary noted that “nothing has been abolished”), after the clarifications that followed the announcement. In short, no cancellation: from October to March, free Sundays remain, and the remaining six days from April to September are simply shifted, all concentrated in a single week in March. The number of days of free access to museums for everyone has thus remained the same: only the fact that Reggia di Caserta, Pompeii and the Uffizi, instead of being besieged once a month in spring and summer, will undergo a continuous one-week siege toward the end of winter changes.

Instead, the measure guaranteeing eight free opening days for individual museums, established at the discretion of directors, is simply pleonastic: directors, in fact, already have the option of establishing days with free access. This is stipulated by Ministerial Decree 111 of 2016, which amends Decree 507 of 1997, “laying down rules for the establishment of the entrance fee to monuments, museums, galleries, excavations of antiquities, parks and monumental gardens.” In fact, the decree states that “the competent Director of the Regional Museum Pole, and, with reference to museums endowed with special autonomy, the Director of the museum may establish, in agreement with the Director General of Museums, that the institutes and places referred to in paragraph 1 under their respective jurisdiction are freely accessible on the occasion of special events or in implementation of specific directives of the Minister.”

However, it will be interesting to see how a measure that we here on Windows on Art have been calling for for a long time (along with others that continue to be systematically underestimated instead) and that the minister has vaguely announced will be implemented: the free opening of museums during certain time slots. The current regulations are smoky: in the aforementioned decree, we read that “in relation to special needs, other types of tickets may be provided,” and the example of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples comes to mind, which this summer instituted a 2 euro evening ticket, valid until August 30, for visitors who, on Thursday evening, had gone to visit the institution during the last three hours of opening hours (from 7:30 to 10:40 p.m.). But also smoky is Bonisoli’s announcement that, again, leaves the choice to individual directors. Again, of great concern is the absence of a strategy for all museums, which would seem to be matched by the absence of a clear vision of the problems of Italian museums and their workers, as well as the needs of visitors: an absence of strategy that translates into the continuing design of leaving the main responsibilities to the directors. But a minister should dictate a common line: there are issues (starting with the Italians’ lack of confidence with their museums, the aforementioned lack of interest among young people, the fact that we need opening hours that are more responsive to the needs of working citizens) that are transversal and need unambiguous answers. Moreover, the only measure on which it would have made sense to make distinctions (albeit with a selection coming from the top), namely that of free Sundays (since everyone will agree that free Sundays at the Royal Palace of Caserta are not quite the same thing as free Sundays at the Museum of Folk Traditions in Anghiari), has instead an unambiguous address for everyone.

For the moment, one can only comment on an announcement: politics, for some years now, has made it its bad habit to communicate news not officially, through measures and decrees, but through social media. With all that this bad habit entails: consider that in 2014, then-Minister Franceschini triumphantly announced the institution of evening opening on Fridays until 10 p.m. of all state museums, a measure that was then, however, not included in the decree that followed the announcement. “Culture of change,” as Bonisoli pointed out in the post on his Facebook page? At the moment we do not seem to see any great revolutions on the horizon.

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