On May 18 2020, after being closed to the public for about two and a half months, Italian museums and cultural institutes began to reopen, rigorously following and applying the guidelines laid down by the government and the scientific committee. It has been an enormous effort, undertaken by museum staff, from security personnel and technicians to directors and communications departments, fully aware that the requirements for reducing and mitigating risk of contagion to some degree are in conflict with the construction and communication of a modern museum looking to the future.
The Museum today: international debate
In the last years, at the international level, the debate on the role and definition of museum received fresh impetus, leading to the proposal of a new definition of museum from International Council of Museums – ICOM, on the occasion of the Kyoto General Conference (September 1st-7th 2019): museum as a place committed to being open to the widest range of cultural experiences and that aims to be the space preferred by today’s society for events and performances, a place, therefore, that not only preserves but is also committed to understanding and narrating the present in a new, dynamic way.
After the Covid-19 pandemic: a new challenge
The challenge for museums today, after the Covid-19 pandemic, is not only the grave economic situation that the industry will need to face in the coming months if not years, but also and most importantly conceptual: indeed, on the one hand, the physical experience of the museum will be lacking, since, for obvious reasons, fewer people will be able to visit at a time, while, on the other hand, the same places will be able to be used, virtually, by a vastly greater number of people, showing even smaller museums the importance and potential of new media and social platforms.
After the Covid-19 pandemic: a new role for the museum
The question, therefore, is far from banal and, on the contrary, of vital importance: what should the role of the museum be today and how can we give it and its collections a new voice and meaning in the post-Covid world, a world until a few months ago not even imaginable? We need to restart firmly from the museum as a safe place for the mind and body that offers the public, visitors opting for the staycation so praised in the media, an opportunity to re-appropriate nearby historical places, focusing on the social function of the museum, which not only preserves objects but also promotes important activity.
The compulsory need to limit and schedule entry, perhaps the worst aspect for small museums, which depend on and define themselves around events, can be converted into an opportunity for communicating the safety of the site in contrast to outdoor places, like parks, gardens and beaches, which are in all probability at risk of becoming irresponsibly crowded, thwarting all of the sacrifices made thus far.
A proposal: the museum as an open cultural space
This is how the museum can come to be seen by everyone, including and most importantly those who are not normally visitors, as a truly open place, a local cultural facility but also and especially a place open to creating different experiences. Museums and cultural sites, as in the past especially the ones with outdoor spaces, like archaeological areas and gardens but also terraces, loggias and atriums, can become, to start, safe places for reading a book, looking though a newspaper, listening to music, sipping a cup of coffee or just being outside enjoying the beauty of Italy’s cultural and natural heritage.
Social distancing as an opportunity for a new experience with the art
Re-appropriating the museum not just as a keeper of art but as a place to enjoy and visit whenever I like, making use of memberships and annual passes that foster loyalty and help communicate that the museum is a place for everyone that belongs to everyone. The opportunity to enjoy museum space in solitude, a rarefied place antithetical to the dynamics of big crowds and high attendance that have, not without controversy, characterised Italian museums in recent years, a place open to new scenarios for cultural access that can set aside the perception of elite relationship to culture and, on the contrary, develop an emotional, private and personal relationship with the art.
This has been the direction of various successful initiatives in Italy and abroad, where the emergency situation has favoured ways of experiencing culture in total solitude, from the exhibition 5 minuti con Monet – A tu per tu con le Ninfee at the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, focused on a single painting by Monet (1840-1926), to the event One to all organised by the Italian Institute in Stockholm for the screening of Gioacchino Rossini’s Sigismondo, initially scheduled for 19th March 2020 and then cancelled due to the emergency.