Tour guides are not museum educators: ICOM against the guides bill

Concern in the museum sector over the bill on regulating the profession of tour guides, which grants tour guides the power to do heritage education and communication activities for disabled people. ICOM proposes amendments.

A bill S. 1921 containing the Discipline of the profession of tour guide is creating consternation in the industry. In the text, in Article 2, the tourist guide is defined as “the professional qualified to illustrate and interpret, in the course of on-site visits, including those with educational purposes, for the benefit of individuals or groups, the tangible and intangible assets that make up Italy’s historical, cultural, religious, architectural, artistic, archaeological and monumental heritage, in correlation also with the demo-ethno-anthropological, landscape, production and food and wine contexts that characterize the territorial specificities.” Criteria for convening examinations for qualification to the profession are then established, the national list of tourist guides is established, training courses are outlined, and the modalities of access to the profession for foreign nationals are outlined. Causing all the discussion in the environment is an amendment to Article 2 of the text that emerged on March 24 after the discussion of the bill in the Senate Committee on Industry, Commerce and Tourism.

A paragraph 2 is inserted in the text that specifically outlines what the activities of the tour guide are, starting with the “illustration of the value and significance, as testimonies of civilization of a territory and its community, of works of art, picture galleries, galleries, museums, exhibitions, civil and religious monuments, excavations and archaeological sites, villas, gardens, historical and artistic parks, architectural and urban planning complexes, ethno-anthropological and other assets.” The problem lies in Paragraph 3, where it says that tourist guides can achieve further specializations, thematic or territorial, through training courses, for cultural, artistic, craft, technical-scientific and enogastronomic sectors and especially for “museum education” and “specific techniques of communication with differently abled people,” as well as for other cultural and technical sectors useful for the exercise of the profession. The point is thatheritage education has nothing to do with tourism activities, and according to those working in the field, it is completely illogical to confuse the figures of the tour guide and the museum educator, and can only cause great concern of all those active in cultural institutions and those who represent cultural workers.

Pointing out the inconsistency were several professional associations led byICOM, the International Council of Museums, the largest body representing museums internationally. ICOM proposed the deletion of the specification in Paragraph 3 that guides be allowed to pursue specializations “in museum education and specific techniques of communication with persons with disabilities.” The proposal was shared by AIEM Associazione Italiana Educatori Museali, formed in May 2021, a reference reality for professionals trained in university courses, graduate schools and master’s degrees in the field.

Meanwhile, according to ICOM, “museum education” is a “backward and equivocal term; the correct expression heritage education, which has been acquired by the research and practice community for years, is far more complex, holistic and articulated; it encompasses cultural heritage education, diversified according to the ’nature’ of the heritage asset (archaeological, historical-artistic, demo-ethno-anthropological, ...) and differentiated in relation to the physiognomies of the audiences. This is not a trivial matter of terminology. And one has to wonder why, if in the field of scientific and technological research, words interpret concepts and changes, convey new concepts, and the lexicon is modified in the light of reality data, in the cultural sector, on the other hand, a kind of lazy indifference, of generalized disinterest causes outdated and inappropriate expressions to be perpetuated.”

According to the body, doing “museum education,” to use the expression in the bill, requires “expert knowledge and skills, which are the domain of educators and educators of cultural heritage (material, intangible and landscape); these professional figures work both within museum institutes and archaeological and monumental complexes. The acquisition of such expert knowledge and skills is the outcome of university-level higher education, design practices and constant updates inherent to both heritage and publics. And they cannot be acquired through a training course with a total duration of 650 hours, as stipulated in Article 6, Paragraph 3.” Education Departments (or Educational Services) of museums are engaged “with dedication and expertise in designing paths, activities, workshops, experiences for all audiences,” ICOM specifies. “The proposed amendment is not intended to inhibit access to museums and cultural sites by tour guides, but rather to respect the relevance of their work.”

As for "communication techniques," however, this passage, according to ICOM, is an even more serious vulnus than the one on teaching, especially when placed in relation to “people with disabilities” (sic). “The vocabulary used,” ICOM explains, “does not take into account both the documents of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Dec. 3, 2006), which came into force as a State Law (March 3, 2009, No. 18); such persons are also referred to generically, without considering the broad and diverse spectrum that characterizes their uniqueness. Equally serious is the assumption that attending the prescribed 650-hour courses can qualify the tour guide to possess and exercise ’specific communication techniques.’ It should be noted that ’communication techniques’ are only instrumental in building a meaningful relationship with such recipients: it requires knowledge, skills and behaviors, and is the outcome of specialized training, refresher training, study and research, and design practice within the complex reality of accessibility and inclusion, which are also pertinent to both museum and heritage educators. As an example, among the ’communication techniques’ needed to relate to people with disabilities is LIS Italian Sign Language. This language, which was recognized in Italy last May 19, 2021, requires a long (4 + 2 years) complex and articulated study that must necessarily be nurtured by continuous attendance of the deaf community. Article 34-ter of the so-called Supports Decree states that the Italian state ’recognizes, promotes and protects the Italian sign language (LIS) and the Italian tactile sign language (LIST)’; considers the figures of the LIS interpreter and the LIST interpreter ’as professionals specialized in translating and interpreting LIS and LIST respectively, as well as in guaranteeing linguistic-communicative interaction between subjects who do not share the knowledge of it.’ Finally, on April 6, 2022, the Official Gazette published the Decree (January 10, 2022) establishing the three-year experimental professionally oriented degree course in LIS and LIST interpreter.”

ICOM Italia has always been committed to promoting concrete actions for the recognition and protection of museum professionals, as well as the definition of skills and roles: the body, in particular, refers to the ICOM Italia “National Charter of Museum Professions” (2005) and subsequent updates (2017) in the “ICOM Notebook for Reform. Essential museum professionalism and functions in light of state museum reform.” “Unlike what has been regulated to date at the national and regional level for the tour guide,” the body continues, “a legislative process is long overdue to give concrete outcomes in order to remove from precariousness those who work in museums, dealing with protection and education, institutional purposes and recognized by the Constitution. The amendment proposal supported by ICOM Italy with AIEM has been signed by numerous representatives of the academic, museum and scientific community; Bodies and Associations that protect people with disabilities, as well as FAND (Federation of National Associations of People with Disabilities) have also been informed. Presidents, Councilors, and referents of these Associations expressed concern and dismay at what was indicated in the Unified Text and adhered to the proposed amendment.”

“It goes without saying,” ICOM concludes, “that the reasons briefly expressed here in support of the proposal require different and articulated insights, as they concern crucial issues such as, for example, the precariousness of cultural work and the devaluation of expert skills acquired in the face of specialized training. We trust that from May 5, the deadline for submitting amendment proposals, there will be an opportunity for discussion, rethinking and participatory consultation on the sensitive issues of cultural professions, accessibility to cultural institutions and the role of the museum in the contemporary context.”

Image: Genus Bononiae

Tour guides are not museum educators: ICOM against the guides bill
Tour guides are not museum educators: ICOM against the guides bill

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