Venice 2021: All civic Museums closed till April!
The curse of 2020 continues on undeterred in Venice!
A few days before the end of the “annus horribilis”, the city of Venice delivered some more astonishing and disturbing news: all Civic Museums of the City will be closed until April 1st 2021.
So, with or without National Law, the decisions of the Board of Directors of the Foundation, which brings together Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, the House of Goldoni, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ Pesaro, Palazzo Fortuny, the Museums of Lace, Glass and Natural History, the Torre dell’Orologio, announced an extended lockout until Spring, regardless of the possible reopening announced by the Italian Ministry for January 15th.
The decision was taken by the board of directors of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, of which Mr. Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, is the Vice-President, and concerns all the sites. The lockout will result in layoffs for all 70 employees of the Foundation and the approximately 320 employees of the cooperatives that deal with ticketing and control of the halls.
What really surprised me the most (or maybe not, considering the state of affairs right now with this City Administration) is that this incredible news was well underplayed by International media, or better, just not even mentioned!
I start to wonder if this was deliberate and part of a strategy by the Mayor and his administration or maybe it is simply a very bad press office job, or the total lack of it (which has been a constant in the last 4 years).
Either way, the situation does not change: Venice’s city Museums will be closed!
This is a very serious matter so I decided to ask Massimiliano Zane, Venetian born and resident, Cultural Designer and Strategic Consultant for the Management and Enhancement of Cultural Resources his thoughts on what was happening.
1- Why will the Civic museums of Venice remain closed until April instead of January 15th, as in the rest of Italy? How is it possible that such a serious decision was taken so suddenly and by whom was it taken?
The municipality, in the person of the mayor Brugnaro (city councilor for culture and Vice President of the Civic Museums Foundation) has decided and imposed the closure of the city and the foundation itself, acting independently from the indications of the state. The justification is to save money: since there are no tourists, museums are just a useless expense.
A completely distorted vision of the purpose of a museum. Especially considering that beyond the opening to the public, all internal activities will be frozen: research, conservation and communication.
In this regard, concerning communication, I would like to emphasize that while most Italian museums are thinking about resuming and reviewing their programming / communication, even online, the Musei Civici di Venezia, on the contrary, very “simply” (and simplistically) decided for total closure. And this despite having enjoyed the government funds (7 million euros), by acting in a unilateral manner, not determined by national or regional obligations and without an objective economic need (budgets are in surplus) and which can open dramatic scenarios at national level. A logic that, unfortunately, demeans the public function of a museum, as a service to the community, in the face of the weight of tourism as the only income of position
2- What does this mean for museum workers?
Unfortunately, the closure of all activities leads to layoffs, to the FIS with 100-% support, so the workers will not work even an hour a week. And precisely on subsidies the question becomes more complicated, as they are given by the national community (state) in favour of a foundation (with a public majority) that arbitrarily acted for its use and consumption: with all workers on layoffs at 100% until April, the Foundation will save 600 thousand euros in 3 months and this explains the savings maneuver, in view of a more prosperous season linked to foreign incoming (illusory at present).
3- Rightly so, the Italian news focused on the situation of workers, but what does this serious decision mean for the citizens, not only for those of the city of Venice?
First of all, a serious damage to image: now Venice is the worst representation of the stereotype of a theme park for tourists, which has tarnished its image in the world. An image that, in the general desolation, finds confirmation in the words and actions of the municipality.
There is no plan, no perspective, and no design for the future of the city.
Considering one’s museums as expenses, and not investments, means not considering them as fundamental resources for citizenship, or for hospitality, or growth, perhaps for development or recovery. And this leads to the loss of a great opportunity for economic and social revival: a block of all activities, therefore, also of all programming and planning, for recovery means self-elimination from the cultural, labor, development and, finally, also from the tourism market.
Not to mention that, it means mortgaging the opportunity to take advantage of the resources that the Recovery Fund will allocate to culture, thus voluntarily giving up millions of euros. A perfect (and miserable) representation of how our precious places of culture, in Venice (and unfortunately not only), are considered “useless” when deprived of their “unique” economic function of tourist attraction; wasteful accessories that you can easily give up.
And this is a problem, because if something this difficult period has taught us for culture (in Venice and beyond) it is how risky it is to superimpose, or worse to subordinate, a complex sector, such as the cultural one, to that of tourism, without defining points of contact and differences.
Yet all it does is wait for everything to return to the way it was before Covid-19, hoping for a quick return to a normalcy that was not normal, and this despite when, just a year ago, it seemed that everyone wanted to change the city and get it out of the grip of mass tourism. Now the city could really have changed, but it preferred the easier choice.
4- 2021 marks the 1600 anniversary of the birth of Venice: how can a year of celebrations be conceived by keeping museums closed?
It cannot be done. Because you can’t talk about Venice (or even think about administering it) without having full awareness of its cultural and artistic value. An unparalleled offer in the world that must be promoted and protected as the bearer of cultural, social, historical and economic values closely linked to the city. Collective resources that cannot be marketed in a superficial and reductive way, which instead seems to be the only idea of the city that emerges from the thought of its administration. It will be a sad, soulless birthday.
Thank you Massimiliano for you insights!
Massimiliano Zane is Cultural Designer and Strategic Consultant for the Management and Enhancement of Cultural Resources, member of ICOM and ICOMOS, part of the Expert of Management List of REA of the European Commission, Crew Member of Expert List of KEA European Affair and Independent Expert at Council of Europe.
Another very interesting point of view was that of the Associazione Piazza San Marco, a local Venetian association made up of shopkeepers and individual members. It places among its main purposes the protection of the image and the historical environmental heritage of St. Mark’s Square.
In a declaration on their Facebook page, Claudio Vernier, Presidente di Associazione Piazza San Marco said.
“Since we have seen that insular Venice seems to live on tourist monoculture, closing the Civic Museums until April implies that the municipal administration is well aware that there will certainly be no visitors and therefore we imagine that it will bear all the expenses, taxes, duties, rents of all companies that are in the area, at least until that moment.
Because it is clear that if you decide that the city is not worth it of staying open, welcoming and usable, you are saying that it makes no sense for the activities – which on this place generate wealth and work thanks to tourism – to stay open too. Logically, it does not therefore appear necessary for the Administration that these activities pay anything for services and anything else that does not make sense to use.
So much lack of vision and sensitivity towards culture, of which Venice is impregnated and guardian, leaves us dismayed and worries us. We strongly ask that this type of decisions not only be taken in discussion with the many Venetian realities, but that are also thought with in mind the repercussions that certain decisions can have on the entire production sector when they are made.
The main thought is the safeguarding of the budget of a Foundation that performs an essential service for the city to the detriment of the entire productive fabric and also to the detriment of the State, which in any case must pay the layoffs: Venice is not a business company.
We are satisfied with today’s opening of Deputy Mayor Tomaello.
The workers of a museum are not only those who open it or who control the rooms, but above all, they are those who take care of the collections and who right now can devote themselves to a more meticulous maintenance of the great heritage they hold.”
As András Szántó, sociologist and strategic advisor to museums, educational institutions, and corporations active in the arts says:
Right now museums offer to people a sense of discovery and transcendence, continuity and belonging. Rarely have we needed these things more than now. As museums eye the future beyond the pandemic, they can seize an opportunity to stay true to their essential values. We will all be the better for it.
But as you can see, here in Venice, another nail in the coffin has been struck; another economical narrow-minded choice, rather than a far-sighted planned one, which could help change the fate of our beloved city!
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