Adaptation and survival; the problem of museums today
BY ANGELA GALA (Instagram: @imamusaller)
We invite Angela Gala, a museum professional and the creator of #Musalley to talk about the current situation of museums in the West.
My home country of Italy, also known as a museum goer's Mecca, looks after thousands and thousands of museums and sites of historical relevance.
When it comes to the way it does it, well, there's a huge set of norms and regulations which allow the museum field as a whole to carry on and, at best, survive.
Yes, as we enter 2020, we as a country can't still seem to face our biggest fear: how do we open our cultural sites to the people? Or, better, how do we invite people to our cultural sites in the most genuine yet culturally relevant way?
Most museums in the United States are magnetic. When I lived there, from 2012 to 2016, I could never get enough of them. There was always plenty of activities going on, pretty much for everyone, and I could spend an entire day between the galleries, the libraries, the cafés, the terraces, the gardens. In the U.S., when it comes to museums, one would rather pay more to see something they really like than pay less to see something mediocre. And I wish this principle was applicable in my country, too!
Some French museums are also magnetic. Although with fewer private resources, they look healthy from the outside, at least financially speaking, and they market themselves quite well. I am specifically referring to most Parisian museums.
In other words, in both cases there is marketinginvolved. Marketing works magically when you're trying to get people through your doors, as you're really "marketing" your museum to a specific yet (possibly) wide group of people.
More is better when is done well. Wouldn't you agree?
But too much is never good.
When, for instance, you focus on your appearance to the world more than you do on your programming, there's a problem. When your people do not represent your visitors, there's another, deeper, problem. When you can't stand on your feet, you close your doors for good, as it will soon happen for the Newseum in Washington D.C. and it often happens everywhere. Every day, museums big and small, in all parts of the world, have to face the hard reality and decide that it's not doable, anymore. Crude, harsh, sad, true.
Anyways, yes, some museums are failing at "marketing". Others don't market themselves at all, in Italy. The resources won't allow it. Bureaucracy won't allow it. The people, themselves, will not allow it, many of them being stuck in old ways of doing things because that's-how-it's-always-been-done and if it-has-worked-so-far-it-will-always-work.
There's little motivation to try new things, fail, do better. Our museums are shy temples of beauty, and in order to thrive, stay relevant and live to serve the public they must take risks. They must FAIL sometimes! It's imperative.
So while American museums, British museums, Canadian museums are diving deeper into topics like climate change, personal wellbeing, human rights, Italian museums are sleeping their beauty away.
As @artlust puts it in her recent blog,
"Experience and engagement are a bit linked. A good experience is usually engaging. Engaging is a word that overlaps welcoming, interesting, surprising, and audience-appropriate. Engaging and experience are absolutely in the eye of the beholder if you will. Death metal will not be engaging to me even if performed in the loveliest place on the planet by the loveliest people with the greatest visitor experience strategies. We all have things that no effort will sell. So, engagement is about connecting some people."
And how do we make sure we engage? By staying magnetic. Museum magnetism will keep museums afloat. It's the ability to capture people's attention through charisma and personality. It's the skill of making bold statements, taking relevant positions, being un-neutral.
(Good luck with that.)