#IMD 2014, Our Takeaways From the Conference “Museum Collections Make Connections”


Last Saturday, May the 17th, 2014, our team has taken part, as public, speaker and media partner, to the conference Museum Collections Make Connections, organized by the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia of Milano in collaboration with ICOM Italia and on the occasion of the International Museum Day.

While Francesca attended, as a speaker, the workshop “Digital Museums”, Aurora and Alessandro were busy tweeting live the various workshops, and Valeria glued the pieces back together (this is our Storify of the day).

In addition to us, the conference saw the participation of around 150 people ranging from museum professional, consultants, students and enthusiasts. And we feel confident that they must all have come away from this rich day of meetings – as we did – with the clear knowledge that what is most heartfelt is the necessity, for the museum field in our country, to build communities around specific topics.

Following is a summary of the main topics discussed on Saturday, co-authored by all of us. We warmly thank all the speakers and moderators who kindly shared their resources and their slides with us during the organization of the conference.

The day started with a plenary session during which the ICOM 24th General Conference – to be held in Milano, 3-9 July 2016 – has been presented. Daniele Jalla, executive of ICOM-Italia, has pointed out the necessity to prepare the city of Milano and our museums to the arrival of the 3,500 congressional representatives, and, referring to the 2016 theme “Museums and Cultural Landscapes”, has described the 3 “landscapes” of museology:

1. The collections: the “ordinary” landscape, comparable to a bouquet of various flowers, which can be beautiful but will always be ‘cut’ from their original context

2. The heritage: an endangered species of which the museums should be in charge, protecting it from the potential harms of urbanization

3. The territory: the modern city in which many “bio-diversities” coexist (from highways to murals) and of which the museums should just as well take interested in.

Are Curators the Superheroes of the Contemporary Museum?

The workshop revolved mainly around these fundamental questions: are we looking at the loss of curatorial centrality in museums? How can curators adapt to the way in which museums are changing?

Laura Basso (Museo di Arte Antica e Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco) was the first to raise the issue of curatorial lack of power when it comes to finalize loans. These are often denied by the Administrations, against the fact that they are the most powerful and dynamic mean museums possess nowadays (in a world dominated by the logic of exhibition).

Mario Marubbi (Musei Civici, Cremona) put even more “heavy load” on curatorial difficulties by stressing how curators today are usually denied the opportunity to shape the cultural policies of their institutions. And although it might not be a solution to the problem, it would certainly help to keep confronting one another inside the wider community of curators all around the world. The suggestion implied is that we are all facing the same problems, so let us discuss them together.

But are all curators equal? Luciana Tasselli (Museo della Scienza di Milano) pointed out that the role of a curator can vary depending on the institution he/she works for. Her main issue? What should she, as a curator, consider ‘central’ to her work.

Giulia Formenti (MA*GA) added that being a curator requires openness to a variety of topics (often disconnected from pure research) and an ability to build a constant dialogue with the other museum professionals to maintain the centrality of its role as a ‘collector’.

What we learned, in conclusion, is that curators are no superheroes (if not when they succeed in making the dead ends of their scarce budgets meet) but are nonetheless, together with the museum collections, the beating heart of the institutions they work in. And this should never be forgotten (but it is, more and more often).

Digital Museums. How Cultural Languages Have Changed Towards an Integrated Strategy

Conceived as a dialogue and mediated by Paolo Cavallotti (Museo della Scienza), this session was centered around the integration of digital media to the daily routine of a museum.

Luca Melchionna (Mart Museum) opened the discussion with what could have passed for provocation: stop complaining and start turning problems into challenges for your creativity.

Elisa Tessaro well explained how the Muse’s mission is the focal point around which it revolves every decision she takes in the area of online communication. As the museums is constantly questioning itself on its “key words”, the Digital department changes accordingly “real-time”. Elisa also underscored how useful experimenting is to challenge oneself and learn from others, be them in Italy or abroad (see what happened during the latest edition of the #Museumweek, through which the Museum was able to connect and create a network with many other institutions). Experimenting could as well bring mistakes, but these are a necessary step towards a better understanding of what the Museum’s audience really wants.

Carlotta Margarone (Palazzo Madama) decided to focus instead on the significance of evaluating online tools. Without an understanding of such data, it would be impossible to understand the audience and, therefore, to choose the best platforms possible to use when communicating with it. The ability to choose the right language for a museum is essential, just as much as differentiating it depending on the platform we are using.

Finally yet importantly, every speaker has stressed the necessity of turning the digital process into a collaborative effort among the entire museum staffs. A “broader” approach to the use of social media, which would multiply the point of views and the voices of a museum, including those of people who are not directly involved with the web.

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Digital channels used by Muse: different sizes depend on different importance of each network for the museum

Museums | Audience | Resonances. Dialogues between Cultural Biographies and Autobiographies

The projects presented during the workshop aimed to the integration between visitors of different cultural origins. The museum – more and more attentive to its relationship with different communities – is not anymore the sole interpreter of a single ‘official’ story. It is instead the activator of a thread tying together the artists and their work with a multitude of different personal stories.

We invite you to have a look at the website of Heritage and Interculture to dive into the matter more thoroughly, and to find materials and resources related to what was discussed.

From Local to Connected. The Network Systems of Lombard Museums

What does the word “network” truly mean for museums today? What are the connections with its territory, and on the territory? In the Lombard region museum networks have been operating for the past 10 years and have reached a total number of 8, counting around 100 institutions involved (here the official listing).

Maria Gregori (ICOM-Italia, Committee for the Literary Museums), stressed how museum networks are strongly rooted in their social and political territories. Bearing Fredi Drugman’s teaching in mind, M. Gregori explained how such networks need one museum to be the stronghold for the others, as well as a connection between museums both on a theoretical and a practical level.

But where does the strength of a network reside? Marco Baioni and Claudia Mangani (MA_net, the network of the Archaeological Museums in Eastern Lombardia) think it is in communicating the museums, which is also why they decided to invest in the making of an app for mobile devices.

And what when connecting the museums on a “physical” level proves to be difficult? Gigliola de Martini (Musei Civici, Pavia) pointed out how the answer could be that of working together towards the creation of virtual exhibitions, as it has been the case for the historical museums of Lombardia.

Just as noteworthy is the experience of a network made by 7 botanical gardens, of which we learned through the presentation of Gabriele Rinaldi and Francesco Zonca (Botanical Garden of Bergamo). They not only collaborate on joint projects but have created a staff of professionals working specifically on the needs of the network. It is them, for example, who is carrying on a fundraising campaign to support, also economically, the entire network and its members.

And if you ever feared museum networks might annihilate the individuality of their members, it is time to change your mind. A network, when fully functioning, not only allows museums to reach goals unthinkable on their own, it can also enable smaller entities to be kept alive and going. What is there better than this?

From Complexity to Sustainability. Development, Common Practices and Trends for Museum Spaces Other Than Exhibit

The workshop has explored the “other” services offered by museums in a perspective of sustainable growth.

Luca Dal Pozzolo (Osservatorio Culturale del Piemonte) has pointed out how the visitor experience can be strongly influenced by factors such as the possibility to grab a coffee or buy a souvenir at the bookshop. The Museum therefore must learn to be open towards what is “other” than your Museum: as did he Museo della Scienza of Milano, Mauro Bonazzoli explained to us, by opening up to experiences other than scientific conferences and lectures.

The web has also drastically modified the perception of museum spaces, as well explained by Sarah Dominique Orlando, freelance web designer (a sample of her work can be found here). E.g., the use of online interactive maps has changed the experience of the “in-person” visit to a museum, now more and more frequently overlapped with the digital one.

And what about, more generally, the visitor services? Francesca Debolini (Superintendency of Brera) reminded us that such services, ranging from archives to reception, from publication to storage, must be strictly connected to the organization of spaces, as well as to a more general planning. This has been done thoroughly at the Museum in Brera, and the results can be appreciated here.

The optimization of spaces can also lead to an environmentally sustainable Museum, as pointed out by Michela Rota (Politecnico di Milano). And to turn sustainable effectively, the Museum needs its staff to be fully involved in its environmental policies.

The Museum for All. Experiences of Inclusion and Accessibility

Have you ever considered what “inclusion” in Museums really means? We do not all experience in the same way.

On this occasion, we had the chance to learn about a project called “ScienzAbile”, carried on by the Association L’Abilità ONLUS – represented by Carlo Riva – and the Museum della Scienza of Milano. The aim of this project is that of creating info cards for children that can be used before visiting the Museum and are accessible (and downloadable) from the Museum’s website. These are easy-to-use cards: they do not require any specialized assistance other than that of a teacher or a parent.

Another project we learned of was “Le voci della città”, presented by Matteo Galli and carried on at the Museum of Musical Instruments situated inside the Castello Sforzesco in Milano.

Giuseppe Pitti (Accessibility Committee – ICOM-Italia) provided us with an overview on the state of the art and of museum accessibility in the ICOM network of museums. The investigation showed how much work there still is to do towards a complete removal of architectonical – as well as mental – barriers (you can learn more here).

To undo such barriers, the Direzione Generale Culture, Identità e Autonomie – Regione Lombardia has organized a series of meetings on the subjects, the results of which were presented by Annamaria Ravagnan. Cristina Miedico, conservator at the Archaeological Museum of Angera, presented us instead with a series of pilot projects, among which the extremely successful “Occhi chiusi e vetrine aperte” (“Eyes Closed/Open Cases”): a tactile path of the stone materials in the Museum, open to all, with info cards written in Brail.

Translated by @RoryInLA