Youth and museums: possible ways to make the union viable

A reflection by Frederick on the relationship between young people and museums, with some examples of solutions to be able to make this pairing feasible and effective.

Reading through the proceedings of the 2011 Lubec conference, I happened to find some interesting food for thought on the topic of"museum and young people": although I arrive a year late, since we are referring to the 2011 Lubec, it is still a topic of pressing relevance. The talk by Elena Pianea, director of the museums sector of the Tuscany Region, was particularly interesting. Meanwhile, what do we mean by young people? We say all people under the age of thirty-five, with particular reference to that sub-baseline that starts from high school age.

Elena Pianea, in her speech, cites an IRPET (Istituto Regionale Programmazione Economica della Toscana) statistic published in 2010 and concerning young Tuscans: a section of that research is also dedicated to the frequentations of young Tuscans during their freetime1. From the survey, compiled from ISTAT data regarding the three-year period 2006-2008, the following situation emerged:


Tuscany Northwest Northeast Other Center South and Islands Italy
Cinema 81,5 78,8 74,5 82,5 74,9 77,1
Disco 59,9 59,7 59,9 59,9 53,7 57,4
Sports performances 41,7 41,2 41 42,3 39,7 40,7
Museums 38,4 40,8 39,9 37,1 23,8 33,4
Other concerts 37 39,4 39,5 42,5 39,7 39,8
Archaeological sites 28,7 30,2 29,7 29,5 17,6 25
Theater 23,9 24,2 23,7 28,9 19,3 22,8
Classical music concerts, opera 13 13,2 13,2 15,2 11,6 12,8
Source: IRPET elaborations on ISTAT data, Multisurvey “Aspects of Daily Life”

Activities are those performed by young people between the ages of 18 and 34 at least once a year, the number concerns the percentage of young people out of the total number of respondents who performed that particular activity at least once a year. It turns out, therefore, that in Italy we have only 33.4 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 who go to a museum at least once a year (although the average is lowered by the south and the islands, where the percentage drops as low as 23.8 percent), and 25 percent who go instead to visit archaeological sites (with again the south and the islands registering far lower figures than the other parts of Italy, at 17.6 percent)2. I will leave out for the moment the composition of this percentage in terms of educational qualification, but it is easy to imagine that the vast majority of visitors to museums are people who have a high level of education: a symptom of the fact that there are problems of communication and language, as Elena Pianea herself observes, who, returning to the subject of activity, also says that "the real challenge for us who deal with museums and cultural heritage is to understand what are the ways in which the offer of the cinema is attractive."3 In my opinion, on the other hand, this observation may be a good starting point, but it is not the real challenge: the real challenge is to find alternative ways to bring young people to museums, which, translated, means rethinking the role of the museum itself within society, especially reference for young people.

In fact, in another speech at the same conference, led by Gian Bruno Ravenni ( Tuscany Region Culture Area coordinator), we read that "if you do not conquer the youth audience, you will never succeed in rooting museums in local communities."4 We have already discussed on this site how important art history is for society, but if we fail to involve young people in these arguments, we risk talking in vain. Therefore, it is necessary to propose the museum from a different perspective, one that is more attractive to young people, in terms of communicative attunement and fulfillment of expectations: dialogue with young people is indispensable in order to formulate offers in line with their desires. And in order to do this, it is necessary to be open to innovations that might turn some people’s noses up but at the same time would have the merit of bringing young audiences closer to museums. On the modalities of this dialogue I will focus perhaps at another time, right now I would like to close the article by mentioning some already working examples of palatable activities for young people organized in museum settings.

One of the best known and most discussed is that of the MADRE Museum in Naples, which in the last four years has organized several evenings with music and DJ sets in its premises, effectively transforming the museum into a disco: the inizative, which bore the name Madrenalina, also included free admission to the museum on the following days for those who had purchased a ticket for the evening5. Leaving aside the obvious controversies that arose from such an initiative, and not to mention some legal implications that affected the museum’s evenings6, that of combining music, including disco and DJ sets, withart may be a viable way to bring that large segment of the potential audience composed of young people closer to museums.

We need to focus on all those rituals that meet with the favor and liking of young people: another way may be to organize aperitifs in museum venues, perhaps with guided tours of the works included, or by giving those who consume an aperitif in a museum the opportunity to visit its halls. And even in this case, there are already museums that have initiated such initiatives, even finding success: one could give the examples of the Chiostro del Bramante in Rome or the Musei di Strada Nuova in Genoa. The former gave rise to a review entitled Vari(e)actions, which among the various activities also proposed that of art aperitifs, without forgetting, also in this case, music with lots of DJ7. In Genoa, on the other hand, the public could discover the works of Palazzo Rosso during theaperitif hour, in the course of several events8 that managed to combine the socializing and convivial moment typical of the aperitif, with the cultural moment of the museum visit. And still remaining in Genoa, one cannot fail to mention the initiatives of Palazzo Ducale, which often organizes parties in whose admission cost also includes a visit to the exhibition held at that moment in the halls of the palace. This is the case, for example, of the New Year’s Eve parties organized by the palace, which are always a remarkable success, and I can also vouch for this because having spent some New Year’s Eve in Genoa I have encountered it several times in person... ! Finally, I could mention the museum with which I personally collaborate, namely the Ugo Guidi Museum in Forte dei Marmi, which, always in compliance with the art-music binomial, often organizes concerts where the participation of young audiences is far from negligible.

Dj sets, aperitifs, concerts, maybe even conventions with movie theaters, since it is the cinema that is the favorite pastime of young people: it is necessary to open up to new perspectives and start thinking about the museum, why not, as a possible place of aggregation, but it can become a place of aggregation for young people only if it becomes attractive for them. Many will disagree, but if one wants to make the museum attractive to that audience between the ages of 18 and 35, the main way forward is to organize initiatives that can meet the tastes and expectations of the target age group, removing from the museum that unsympathetic and charming patina of a place for “boring scholars,” as Gian Bruno Ravenni says in his speech, and reasoning from a new perspective, due to the fact that museums cannot disregard young people, who, quoting Ravenni again, represent the real key to “rooting museums in society.”


1. The entire research, entitled Young people between risks and challenges of modernity. The case of Tuscany, can be downloaded for free from the IRPET website by clicking on this link and then clicking on “Volume” in the “downloadable attachments” section.

2. See section 3.2 “Cultural and recreational consumption in leisure time” of the research I giovani fra rischi e sfide della modernit√†. The case of Tuscany, downloadable from the link cited in footnote 1.

3. Technological, interactive and multi-ethnic...this is how young people go to the museum, paper by Elena Pianea in Cultural heritage, research and innovation between history and the future. Planning, development, technologies and tourism, Proceedings of the VII National Conference, Lucca, Real Collegio, October 20 and 21, 2011, p. 72

4. Technological, interactive and multiethnic...this is how young people go to the museum, paper by Gian Bruno Ravenni in Cultural heritage, research and innovation between history and the future. Planning, development, technologies and tourism, Proceedings of the VII National Conference, Lucca, Real Collegio, October 20 and 21, 2011, p. 71

5. Cf. In Naples the Madre museum becomes a disco, from Excite, November 6, 2008.

6. Cf. Fulvio Bufi, The museum-disco seized by the prosecutors, from Corriere della Sera, March 29, 2009.

7. See the program of the Vari(e)actions initiative on the official website of the Chiostro del Bramante.

8. Cf. Francesca Baroncelli, Art & Aperitif at Palazzo Rosso, from Local Mind.

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