Can statistics and digitized procedural rules create reality in the arts…perhaps with a bit of Barnumesque assistance? The Official Recommendations of Florens 2010…

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Jacques Callot, La Fiera di Impruneta, etching and engraving. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Jacques Callot, La Fiera di Impruneta, etching and engraving. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

To read installment 1, “Petition Madness in the Art World…,” click here.

Much of the report on Florens 2010, the strategic study, deals with analyses of the kind of data we associate with audience surveys. The data is statistical, and in digesting them, the authors work with quantified phenomena that can be consistently compared. The methods, which are clearly described, reflect standard methods and different studies are brought in for comparison.

As sound as all this is, I’m always slightly mistrustful of statistical samples, and find it helpful to have specific examples from the field as well. One of the museums I have worked for once participated in a Getty program that used statistics and focus groups to inform the participants from the curatorial, education, and design departments about the needs and desires of their visitors. The results of the focus groups were fascinating and presented a rather unexpected, complex picture of the people who visit museums in different American cities.

Still, the statistics in the Florens 2010 paper were extremely useful in clarifying the overall picture and in establishing comparisons. I was surprised that the U.S. was so effective, at least comparatively, in making the most of their artistic assets.1 The most amazing tidbit, on the other hand, was the preponderance of Britons who associated the concept of culture with food and drink!

I’ll pass over the details of the analysis, since the strategic study is readily available on the Fondazione Florens site, for those with a stomach for the worst kind of bureaucratic verbiage, except for a few exciting moments, when the analysts seem to be viewing Earth and Italy in particular, from another planet.

It seems right to begin by grounding whatever else I have to say in the recommendations of Florens 2010. Since much of this will be discussed at Florens 2012. I’ve entered my thoughts simply as comments on the thirteen proposals of 2010. Some of these mention examples from my experiences in the U.S. While the U.S. scored quite well in the Florens 2010 surveys, there is no reason why it should be considered exemplary. The arts struggle there as much as anywhere, although there are a variety of resources to support it. The Tanglewood Music Festival is without a doubt the most important summer music festival and school in the country. They have just published their attendance figures for this past summer, the summer of their 75th anniversary celebrations, and it is makes for depressing reading. The most popular classical concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — and these were the cornerstone of the founder, Serge Koussevitzky’s vision for the festival — ranked ninth below eight pop concerts and semi-popular ceremonial events. Even with an array of private and corporate donors at hand and painstakingly cultivated, the arts have to work hard in the New World to survive and risk compromising their mission.

The text of the Florens 2010 proposals is in red. My comments are in black.

 

Recommendations and Policy Indications for the Relaunching of the Cultural and Creative Sector in Italy

 

Proposal no. 1

It is necessary to give priority, both on a national and regional basis, to investments in the cultural and creative system, to ensure Italy is equipped with the necessary tools (development of technical expertise and knowledge, managerial skills, infrastructures, technology, etc.) in order to promote the unexpressed potential in this sector: this is a fundamental strategic lever for future initiatives in industrial policy aimed at reconfiguring the industrial system of the country.

It is essential to have basic resources for all branches of the arts, for practicing artists, traditional and innovative artisans and craftspeople, museums, conservators, musicians, small and local presenters, etc., to name only a few examples. In the United States the federal government contributes very little to this, but there are private foundations of all sizes and shapes, as well as state and local agencies which enable artistic creativity and the presentation of all the arts in a significant way. This extends from emergency loans to individual artists to programs intended to coordinate all forms of artistic creation and presentation on a regional level. Especially important in Italy, I believe, would be an organization to help traditional craftspeople to update their businesses to be viable in today’s changing economy, while retaining the traditional handmade quality of their product. The traditional methods of production are as precious as the products themselves.

 

Proposal no. 2

Provide a “passport” for works of art entering and leaving the country, as other European countries do, like France and the UK: a certificate of this kind would not be subject to time limits of any kind and would enable collectors and art merchants to export works without having to repeat bureaucratic procedures or risk, after 5 years, if the certificate is not renewed, having their assets “nationalized”.

The illegal exportation of art from Italy reached epidemic proportions long ago. Fortunately the restitution programs which have recently been put in place have achieved considerable success in bringing stolen works of art back to Italy. I was once a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and as such I attended periodic presentations of new acquisitions. A few years ago I saw an exhibition of repatriated antiquities at the Ca’ d’Oro in Venice. I was amazed to see that the largest source of illegally exported objects was Cleveland! Most of the pieces I saw in those acquisition meetings ended up in that exhibition.

In the settlement of repatriation cases, Italy has been most generous to the American museums who have returned artworks by arranging important loans and travelling exhibitions for those institutions. An example is the important exhibition arranged by the University of Virginia Art Museum which brought together separated panels of an important 14th century Sienese altarpiece, the Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi.

A consistent legal procedure for exporting works of art would make much illegal exportation unnecessary. It would help Italian dealers do business abroad, instead of working surreptitiously with foreign dealers. An international art trade can only help the Italian economy, as it does in the U.K. France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States.

 

Proposal no. 3

– Promote so-called “traveling exhibitions” to a greater extent, for example lending even single works of art abroad (including lesser known ones currently stored in the warehouses of museums where people cannot enjoy them), and creating specific events for them outside of Italy: this would enable us to increase “cultural understanding” and give people who do not have the possibility to visit our country the opportunity to experience Italian culture; moreover, “traveling exhibitions” could be arranged on a “reciprocal” basis with other countries, whenever possible.

– Provide modes of economic compensation to those who grant their works of art on loan for exhibitions abroad.

Collectors are aware that the inclusion of works from their collections increases the value of those works and the prestige of their collection. Isn’t that enough?

– Combine art exhibitions outside of Italy with the presentation of key industrial sectors (there are, for example, strong synergisms with the Fashion and Food sectors), as well as the technologies for cultural assets produced in our country (road shows, business-to-business meetings, etc.), with the aim to promoting possible trade collaboration: itinerant exhibitions should be seen as an opportunity to present the image of Italian creativity and history abroad.

Italy has in fact been doing an excellent job at this for many years. There have been major exhibitions from the great Italian museums, travelling especially to the U.S., and they have been highly publicized, making the American public aware of the subject of the exhibition, and in some cases everything Italian. This continues unabated, and fortunately many of these exhibitions go to regional museums and not only National Gallery in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum or Morgan Library in New York, for example “Offering of the Angels: Paintings and Tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery,” curated at the Uffizi and currently on view at the Chazen Museum in Madison Wisconsin, before travelling on to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Savannah, Georgia. The Uffizi generously sends exhibitions of drawings to a variety of American cities and college towns.

It would be highly desirable if this could be more of a reciprocal exchange, but few exhibitions go the other way. I was recently involved in an exhibition of Italian photographs by Leonard Freed, which travelled to Milan, Rome, and Turin. After some difficulty in finding venues in Italy, the American organizer resorted to a private company, Admira, which did not work in an entirely professional way, although it did find the three venues, and, as far as I know, no photographs were damaged. A professional exhibition agency, possibly a non-profit, to organize travelling exhibitions from North America and the world at large would be a great advantage in Italy.

 

Proposal no. 4

– To promote the introduction of ICT technologies in Italian museums and provide incentives for companies that produce multimedia applications for the cultural sector and museum systems: This would make the production of content and initiatives of advertising and marketing of museums, archeological areas, etc., more effective and attractive.

– To invest in training the personnel active in the Italian cultural sector to use the new technologies for the cultural and environmental assets by offering lifelong learning initiatives.

The effective and appropriate implementation of ICT technologies in museums — and archaeological sites — is still in its infancy around the world. Only occasionally does one see it well-executed. The crucial thing to remember is that the works of art come first. Nothing should distract the visitor from the actual objects in the gallery. Colorful, animated apps are usually only a distraction, and often a brief wall-text or pamphlet does the job best. There is an apparent advantage in the idea of visitors carrying around an attractively designed, interactive catalogue in the galleries, but again, they are spending their limited time with the art reading or punching buttons. Note how audio guides make visitors stop longer in front of individual works, even creating obstructions to the flow of traffic. Are they looking or listening? What visitors to Italy need is education in advance. Tour companies should offer preliminary courses, online if necessary.

On the other hand I would love to see the Guida del TCI as an app, which could contain even more information, regularly updated.

 

Proposal no. 5

Florence could propose to become the world capital of digitalization (multimedia production, ICT, telecommunications, etc.). The city could also capitalize on the experience deriving from the activities of the newly created Technological District of Cultural Resources (focused on the areas of restoration and conservation, ICT and technologies for the cultural heritage and management of the services), one of the initiatives through which Florence intends to requalify the urban and entrepreneurial environment to attract creative people.

This could well be a highly desirable industry for a city with an important historic district (arguably the most important in the world!), where the preservation of buildings and works of art is of paramount importance. Since design and technology are relatively clean, low-impact industries, they can easily coexist with the patrimony.

 

Proposal no. 6

Produce a sort of “clearing house” of the best practices in the field of cultural activities, for example a database that the experts can consult when they have a problem, to find similar experiences, links, contacts, etc.

A centralized database with introductory information for users and contact information for experts in the field is extremely useful, whether it is intended to direct the owner of a work of art to an appropriate professional source of expertise on, for example, questions of conservation and attribution, or agencies to help artisanal workshops with business problems, or professional guides for museums, theater companies, or musical organizations. This could be of great help to smaller and new groups. Often one’s personal contacts are not enough. But there is no substitute for a personal chat with a friend and colleague, who has  successfully dealt with a problem one hasn’t encountered before. If you want to know what to do when a bearded gentleman dressed up as Abraham Lincoln enters the museum and asks to consult with the curator, ask me!

 

Proposal no. 7

To create, for Italian museums, a simple and user-friendly standard to assess visitor satisfaction: this would provide comparable statistics on a national level and the best practice database could be updated automatically.

While statistical data is extremely useful, it needs to be fleshed out with more specific information. As I mentioned in my first article, videos of focus groups can be highly informative records. In many, if not most, cases the average visitor or audience member doesn’t know what he or she is looking for — much less what he or she is looking at — and their satisfaction or dissatisfaction could arise from any number of random causes. Some waggish visitors have been known to enter mischievous absurdities in the survey forms just to thumb their noses at what they perceive as authority. For this reason it is crucial to have the context of their remarks.

 

Proposal no. 8

– To plan an ad hoc law to boost sponsorship of restoration works by private individuals, making it possible to deduct the entire value of the restored work from taxes. In countries such as the USA, exemption from taxation is used as a lever to promote investment in cultural heritage (also with testamentary bequests to museums and foundations).

– To earmark incentives for the valorization of works of art and private collections

– In the field of real estate, to introduce tax facilitations for the restoration of buildings designated to house museums, libraries, cultural centers, etc., making it possible to salvage disused areas/historical buildings and enrich cultural heritage.

This is the basic foundation of the non-profit sector in the U.S. In practice, private donors, while pleased with the tax deduction, are more inclined to give money to high-profile projects and the donation of works of art, which will bear their names, for example a gallery or a concert hall. Tax breaks could well encourage private individuals to fund the restoration of works of art and buildings, but this has to be made appealing for them. Their name on the label should suffice, but in truth I haven’t seen this put into practice before.

 

Proposal no. 9

– To promote public-private partnership initiatives, by encouraging the donation of works of art or private collections in view of fiscal benefits.

– To evaluate the possible transition of the great Italian museums into public-private foundations, as has already occurred for the Museo delle Antichità Egizie (Egytian Museum) of Turin, the Fondazione per la Valorizzazione Archeologica del sito di Aquileia (Foundation for Archeological Valorization of the Aquileia Site) and the Museo Maxxi in Rome,

which has had its troubles in recent months…

To strengthen the role of private foundations and project financing in the cultural field.

See immediately above. Wealthy individuals will often collect works of art with the goal of donating them to an institution for a tax deduction from an early stage.

 

Proposal no. 10

To Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) should evaluate a distinction between the so-called “high-level craftsmanship” and the artisanal sectors in the a strict sense, thus promoting an improvement of sector discipline in Italy.

This seems like the equivalent of the “Denominazione di origine controllata” in viticulture, also discussed in olive oil production as well. By analogy, it should improve quality and raise the value of the best products. But is quality in craftsmanship that much easier to quantify than quality in art?

 

Proposal no. 11

To institute recognition for “endangered” arts and crafts (as has been done, for example, in Japan for “sword crafts”, Korea, France, etc.) in order to valorize arts and crafts professionals and excellence which are in danger of disappearing.

Senza dubbio!

 

Proposal no. 12

– To render museums, art galleries, libraries, etc. more attractive to children in order to activate a powerful multiplier of visitors (as proven by the experience provided by Children’s Museums).

As I mentioned above, I was once a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, founded in 1917, at the same time as its education department, or even after. This was a separate collection of interesting, even beautiful low-value objects which could be displayed in schools and informally in a special gallery at the museum. Some objects could even be handled by the children. Along with this there was a specially trained staff — often artists themselves — who were dedicated to the education of young people. It was their job to mediate the experience of the art through lectures, tours, and workshops. This program was highly effective when it was active, and the level of awareness of Clevelanders, even among people who did not attend university, was impressive, as well as their gratitude to the museum for introducing them to art. This did in fact produce loyal museum-goers. The secret is the exposure to real works of art and the human contact with knowledgeable, committed professionals.

– To strengthen education in Italian primary schools on topics such as drawing, art, music, environment, etc. giving more time and attention to creativity and the “ability to make” while investing on the quality of teachers: investing more on the importance of the culture of creativity constitutes also a valid pre-requisite for diffusing the culture of entrepreneurship and doing.

Yes, again!!! (See the recent article in Il Giornale dell’arte.

 

Proposal no. 13

To institute in Florence a School for Training on Cultural Heritage Management in order to make the city a center of reference in this kind of specialization.

Florence is the cradle of modern Western culture, densely populated by works of art of all kinds and surrounded by other branches of culture, i.e. crafts, music, theater, literature, publishing, etc., and as such the city has every right to assume such a role.

Firenze da San Miniato. Photo © 2011 Michael Miller.

Firenze da San Miniato. Photo © 2011 Michael Miller.

 

  1. The analysis of the results of the Florens Index, calculated on an international base (see Chapter 4), revealed Italy’s weakness with regard to the capacity to use the cultural and environmental heritage at its disposal to full advantage: for example, in the ranking relative to the “Cultural and Environmental Capital” Area, Italy is preceded by the United States (in first position also for its total score in the Florens Index), the United Kingdom and France.
Michael Miller

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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