There will be no reopening of museums without economic sustainability and professional prospects

How to sustain museum hubs that have so far relied on mass tourism, how to get out of the welfarism of smaller museums, how to employ the museums' diverse human capital and how to pay it? Some questions museums will have to answer.

The recent More Museum conference, The Future of Museums between Changes and New Scenarios, was the occasion for a long-awaited and much-needed discussion among the protagonists of the Italian museum and cultural scenario. From the Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities to the Director General of Italian Museums. From the councillors for culture of Milan, Turin and Florence to the heads of the most prestigious foundations and museum institutions of the peninsula. A virtual catwalk that beyond the limits imposed by the timing and the very tight schedule of interventions (over 40 speakers with a few handfuls of minutes each) highlighted a very heterogeneous scientific and cultural landscape fueled by great resilience and an eye on new digital technologies. The speeches, accomplice to the short time available, were concentrated in almost 8 hours of online conference that unfortunately reduced the possibility of carrying forward with the right self-criticism reflections on the disastrous state in which the thousands of museums present on the Italian territory find themselves (over 4000 according to some estimates).

The real unknown looming over the future of museums, and stubbornly glossed over by some of the speakers, is the economic one. How to sustain and promote again the great museum centers that have made mass tourism the main support of their survival? And how instead to get out of the perennial state of welfarism for smaller museums? We all agree that museums, like libraries or theaters, should not necessarily have a financial return from their activities, but how will these thousands of institutions employ the diverse human capital called into question by some of the very speakers to revitalize them? How will they pay thousands of workers, currently laid off, without ticket revenues from international tourists? Here are some questions that currently do not seem to have an answer.

Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio, il Salone dei Cinquecento. Ph. Credit Targetti Sankey
Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, the Salone dei Cinquecento. Ph. Credit Targetti Sankey

One can certainly de-tax contributions to culture as brilliantly advocated by some, one can secure refreshments for a given period, but how to engage that (this yes, virtual) army of curators, marketing experts, fundraisers, teaching assistants, registrars, restorers and social media managers in the long term without an (also) economic vision for their future?

If we do not get out of the binomial culture = free, it is precisely the many professionals who would be needed to revitalize the very idea of a museum that will suffer. It is difficult to draw up a strategic plan if one does not have the necessary figures to put it in place. It is like a game of chess. Without pawns you lose the game before you even start. That is why one of the first investments for restarting, as also emerged during the conference, will have to start with the hiring of trained and qualified figures and not (only) of multifaceted trainees who improvise themselves as social media managers, fundraisers, supervisory assistants, secretaries or press officers.

The museums of the future, if they really want to have one, must intertwine with the community socially, politically and, above all, economically. There will be no “new” museums without a shared sustainability strategy. There will be no “museums that curate” without the courage to give professional and economic blood to the community that is to support them.

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