Workshops for the #IMD2014: what themes are going to be discussed?

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On Saturday 17th May, at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, there will be a series of workshops organized by the Museum and ICOM Italy, on the occasion of the International Museum Day. “Create connections with collections” is the title of the IMD as well as the overarching theme of the workshops that will include experts and professionals in the sector discussing and confronting on some of the tendencies in the field. Digital, participation, sustainable development, accessibility, are some of the themes that will be explored in 6 meetings. To take a more detailed look at the program and register click here.

It is an honor for #svegliamuseo to participate in the discussion and sustain this initiative, an opportunity of exchange among italian professionals in the cultural field. The #svegliamuseo crew is social media partner of this event, and Francesca will participate to the workshop: “Digital in museums: evolution of languages for an integrated strategy”.

For the live tweeting of the event: follow #IMD2014

We had a chat with some of the professionals that will be chairing the sessions to have a small preview of the content of each workshop!

Traditionally, museums are elitist institutions that study and preserve collections through rational and objectives approaches. More and more, these institutions are opening up to new methods, recognizing that interpretation is as much important as conservation and research. The ICOM definition of museum reflects this change, highlighting a context in which collections are explored to meet the needs of broader audience, with different backgrounds and abilities.

What does the contemporary museum look like?

In the past, museums preserved knowledge about science, art and technology in their magnificent buildings and galleries (take a look at this video for a reflection of what a museum is). Today, however, knowledge is just one click or tap away from us and this revolution requires museums to deeply re-think their role. They must ask themselves: what are the fundamental pillars that justify their existence and how do these pillars are changing? What is the role of the collection? What is the role of the expert? The workshop “Curators and conservators. Superheroes in the contemporary museum?” analyzes this topic.
jupiesco/CC BY-ND 2.0

jupiesco/CC BY-ND 2.0

Furthermore, the voice of the contemporary museum is no longer one, but multiple. Institutions seek participation of communities so that the meaning making process can turn into a collective one, rather that fixed and predetermined.

The workshop “Museums | Audiences | Resonances. A dialogue among cultural biographies and autobiographies” reflects on this theme. How museums can become actively engaged in the search for these connections with the communities?

Museums – explains Silvia Mascheroni – have a social responsability which is connected to the specific institution and its mission. The museum needs to become an open and receptive institution that listen to communities as much as it speaks to them.

Silvia continues explaining that the concept and the function of a museum are re-thinked, opening up to contributions from citzens with different backgrounds and cultures. In this sense, institutions can fight exclusion, by being places for experimentation, sustaining social cohesion.

Such a reflection leads to the workshop: “The Museum of everybody. Experiences of inclusion and accessibility”. 
Universal design acknowledges that visitors are different in how they access content and experiences offered by the museum. For example, visitors with disabilities face limitations in consuming and exploring exhibitions and programs because of design constraints. More in general, we all have different backgrounds, learning styles and habits that can influence the way we access content. In this sense, the workshop will reflect on how considerations on accessibility and inclusion are evolving in the italian environment.

highersights / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

highersights / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The museum on the network: digital tools, connections, sustainability

The change that museums are facing can not be separated from a discussion on  digital media. Institutions are  “expanding”  beyond their walls allowing people, that might never visit their physical locations, to access contents and interact with collections. Although we are witnessing a revolution in approaches and tools, Paolo Cavallotti, chair of the workshop ” Digital Museum: new languages for an integrated strategy” notes how often these tools, which can be costly and demanding in terms of resources, provide experiences that have the same limitations of more traditional methods of interpretation . There is sort of an anxiety in wanting to be “cutting edge ” at any cost, without careful reflections on what we want to achieve through technology.

Laurence Vagner/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Laurence Vagner/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Paolo continues explaining that the real revolution has to go through an harmonious encounter between three worlds : the museum, its audience, languages ​​and special features offered by new technologies. The revolution should be embraced internally first, involving functions and different professionals across the institution. In this sense, who is responsible for the digital strategy had to be a facilitator, mediating and balancing internal and external trends, gathering resources and opening up to opportunities. In other words, those who define a digital strategy, shouldn’t focus on being experts in the whole range of tools that are available in the industry, but rather aiming at becoming an “antenna” of trends and approaches to serve the institutional’s needs.

But sometimes the ” network” is not just the virtual one. To ensure their survival, museums have to re-invent strategies and models. The workshop ” From Local to connected. The network of Museums of the Lombardy Region”  will discuss that.

In my opinion, creating a network means, first of all, sharing experiences in a broad sense : projects , organizational models and management resources – explains Maria Grazia Diani. Sharing on a project-based level allows a more rational use of resources and permits to have a greater ‘ weight ‘ in the submission of grant proposals. On the other hand, sharing demands a strong ability to mediate between individuals and even between different institutional contexts.

jairoagua/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

jairoagua/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

#svegliamuseo often highlights the need for collaborations, but which are, in practice , the pros and cons of working as part of a network? Maria Grazia explains that networked projects often result in a wider impact and optimization of the resources, as well as the emergence of communities of practice gathered around shared themes. The resistances, however, comes from a greater complexity of the action: working in a network means working more, but also potentially working better; also sharing the results can sometimes be perceived as a loss of individuality: the network as a whole rather than the individual institution becomes the reference point.

The discourse on sustainability is further explored by the workshop “From complexity to sustainability. Evolution , uses and trends of non- exhibition spaces in museums”.

The economic crisis – explains Luca Pozzuolo – has presented new challenges for museums and there is an increasing need for a strong “accountability”, a transparent management system which made clear the effects and impacts produced by museums in a broader sense. The cultural mission of the museum, to produce and disseminate knowledge , is no longer the only guarantee of the social utility of these institutions. What are the costs museums have to face in producing programs and activities, compared to the benefits ? How to use public and private resources and with what benefits for the citizens? What are the social and cultural effects and on what types of users do they act?

Luca Pozzuolo goes on explaining the increasing need for museums to be open to private resources. A conscious use of private fundings must take into account different levels of sustainability. Economic, environmental, social, as the ability to involve large sections of the population; cultural, as the choice of languages ​​and narratives that engage groups of users from very different cultural backgrounds.

Given this reflection on the complexity that museums are facing in opening the museum to the competition of the private sector, the role of  professional associations becomes very important. ICOM , in fact, can sustain discussions and help evaluating in which terms these resources are geared toward the institutional’s  mission and the public benefit.