Placers at the museum. Taranto: when the museum chases the influencer, and does it badly

The Cynical Aesthetician tour at the National Archaeological Museum in Taranto could have been an interesting opportunity to bring the public and heritage together. Instead, the museum decided not to apply a strategy and got it all wrong, merely filling the role of a passive location.

“Placemakers in a modern, social version” at the museum. So read the press release of the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto (MArTA), later retracted, presenting to the public the Bellezze al museo initiative, a tour by the entrepreneur and influencer “Cynical Beautician,” born Cristina Fogazzi, who made a stop at the Apulian institute last weekend. To sum up: Fogazzi is engaged in a tour of Italy with a van from which she dispenses beauty advice and sells the products of her cosmetics company, VeraLab, to interested people, also on the strength of her impressive following on social media (on Instagram alone, the fan base is close to one million). A bit like knife sharpeners do, jokes “Cynical Beautician,” only instead of sharpening knives she explains how to look better and how to make the best use of her cosmetics, which the public can buy simply by going to her “beauty truck.” However, Cynical Aesthetician is also passionate about art and offers three stops on her tour to as many museums: the Museo Statale Omero in Ancona, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Taranto, and the Museo della Scultura Contemporanea in Matera.

The case of Taranto is particularly interesting, mainly for three reasons: first, MArTA is the only autonomous state museum touched by the tour. Second, it is the first museum visited by Cynical Aesthetician where you pay a ticket to enter. Third, because as useful as the help that influencers can give to museums can be (there is nothing wrong if the museum intends to speak to different audiences through these figures as well, as long as it is done critically and creating value), the Apulian museum got almost everything wrong. The idea of the Cynical Aesthetician is: I place myself with my van in front of the museum to sell my products and consultations, and in return I buy a stock of museum tickets and offer them as a free gift to my “pheasants” (this is the ornithological term with which the Brescian entrepreneur identifies her followers), but only to those who will buy a product. The MArTA, evidently attracted by the possibility of fishing among the cosmetics influencer’s hundreds of thousands of followers, accepted the gluttonous package without, however, posing the problem of framing it in an even minimal strategy. So much so that the tour stop coincided with the Museum Night weekend, and since no museum director in the world would make two highly felt events overlap, but would take care to keep them at the right distance to avoid queues, save inconvenience to users and maximize engagement, it is entirely plausible that the dates were imposed and the museum accepted them.

Estetista Cinica
Cynical Aesthetician

The choice of dates would therefore be enough in itself to get an idea of what the power relations were in the affair. But the museum’s management managed to do even worse: we are not talking about a fruitful and equal collaboration between influencer and museum (unless we want to take into account the mere numerical aspect of the matter: the MArTA, the press office confirms to us, grossed 4,000 euros from this operation, the total from the sale of 500 full-price tickets), but about an event where the influencer played the predominant role and the museum merely acted as a set design, strictly in the background. Meanwhile, the MArTA decided to play a subordinate part: when a customer buys a product with a free gift, usually what is perceived to be of higher value is what is paid for, which in this case takes on even greater value due to the fact that it is linked to a prestigious gift (which the customer may still decide not to take advantage of). The advantage therefore is clearly skewed in favor of the entrepreneur.

Again, beyond director Eva Degl’Innocenti ’s disarming platitudes about the very frustrating concept of “beauty” (“We talk to women about a museum that tells so much about women, and we do it in the style of Opaka Sabaleida, whose wonderful gold trousseau we still preserve. Because beauty is engaging, as well as good taste, care of the body and spirit; beauty has a multiplier effect that can turn into promotion, but also into opportunities for territorial development”: this is the most he could say), the museum was unable to produce any themed content, nor did it organize any collateral initiative to the Cynical Beautician event. And yes, it would have sufficed very little, given the vastness of the topic “cosmetics in antiquity”: it would not have been complicated to organize thematic guided tours or in-depth studies of specific works reserved, by reservation, for participants in the event. Event that, well, it would have been far better to organize inside the museum, also because leaving Cynical Aesthetician outside the institution creates the perception that between influencers and the museum there is a kind of barrier, a limit.

On the contrary, bringing Cynical Aesthetician inside the halls of the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto (and not only for the ritual photos to be posted on Instagram) and organizing activities with the institute’s guides would have been an interesting result, for several reasons. First, it would have been an effective way to break down barriers, and to show that heritage can be talked about on multiple levels. Second, organizing the event within the museum (and charging the ticket, perhaps even with a small discount, to participants) would have been a smart way to give real value to the visit, without putting the decision to visit the museum back on whether or not to take advantage of the giveaway (it must be said, however, that, at least, the museum had the foresight to make the free ticket valid for a month, given the coincidence with Museum Night and the impossibility of getting everyone in on the same day). Now, I don’t know the audience of Cynical Aesthetician, so I don’t know whether or not it overlaps with the one that usually attends MArTA, but in case it is a different audience, an audience perhaps to be enticed, how useful would it have been to have the influencer inside the museum as part of one or more guided tours (or a lecture, or a presentation), conducted by professionals of course, on cosmetics in antiquity? It would have passed the idea that going to the museum is a really interesting activity and that there is real value inside the museum for our lives. And it would therefore also have been a way to better retain an audience that may be unaccustomed to museums. Conversely, the user who may have never entered a museum before will decide to take advantage of the giveaway on any given day, see perhaps the usual string of exhibits that tell them little or nothing, and never be seen again. Third, it would have been useful to hold the event inside the museum so as not to create gaps in the scale of value perception.

For Cynical Aesthetician, it was certainly a great success (due in part to the fact that her fanbase is very loyal and would probably have followed her even if the event had been held in the forecourt of a warehouse in Taranto’s industrial area), and her gift-with-purchase tactics combined with the museum’s name certainly provided added value to her products. Instead, the museum played an entirely passive role and was content to serve as a location, and as of the date of Tuesday, July 6, compared to the 500 tickets sold and given away by Estetista Cinica, there were only 31 admissions, as the press office told us (due, precisely, to museum night and “classic influx of tourists and weekend visitors”). Given that the validity of the ticket, as mentioned, will last a month, the number will certainly go up, but it will be very difficult to go beyond the 50 percent of the Museo Omero, which, the week before, attracted 446 people of the 850 who showed up at Cristina Fogazzi’s van: not least because perhaps many have traveled to Taranto from afar and will probably not return just to take advantage of the free gift. So the first communiqué, the one withdrawn evidently because of the use of an inappropriate term to identify, albeit with a veil of irony, the entrepreneur Cristina Fogazzi, was right: for MArTA it was just a matter of having placers at the museum. Indeed: pitchmen in front of the museum. So if, for director Degl’Innocenti, it is enough to set up in the museum square and sell products to “combine business with the promotion of the territory and culture,” as the same note also read, we suggest that she make an effort right now to organize a festival of orecchiette alle cime di rapa in front of the MArTA for next week. With free tickets for those who order at least one portion, of course.

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