A recent article in the Wall Street Journal’s Leisure & Arts section (January 13, 2009) highlighted a novel approach to museum marketing and cultural branding. Italy has called upon the corporate world in an attempt to boost the visibility, value and customer satisfaction of visitors to Italy’s 464 nationally owned museums. Mario Resca, a corporate “self-described turnaround specialist”, has been tapped to improve the physical condition of Italy’s museums, improve museum interactivity and to “add value” to the experience of all visitors to the national museums. Sounds like a noble endeavor, right? Well, a 7,000 person petition, signed by curators of such storied institutions as the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has served as one of the welcome gifts for Mr. Resca. The concerns of his detractors and the petition signatories is that Mr. Resca will turn the museum collections into a “negotiable commodity” while introducing “a process of disposable consumerism” into the cultural history of Italy.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Resca does speak about “benchmarking” and certain business alliances, jargon which is often harsh and unusual in certain museum cultures. Additionally, Mr. Resca has indicated a desire to “make Italian culture a brand, like Ferrari’s Formula One racing team.” From a purely academic viewpoint, Mr. Resca’s ideas may appear to infringe upon what many feel is sacred about art and the function of museums: an escape from the consumerism into an aesthetic experience that serves to preserve our culture while stimulating our senses. From a practical and business standpoint, especially in light of today’s economic trials, Mr. Resca’s ideas may actually help to highlight the essential function of museums and custodians of national culture, while enhancing the overall experience of each and every visitor to a museum under his watch.
The results of this new approach are yet to be determined. It will be an interesting case study to watch to determine whether Mr. Resca can strike the delicate balance of preserving the sacred function of the museum while promoting and marketing the cultural heritage of Italy. Stay tuned….