Italy, a land entirely made of culture, is now standing completely deprived of it due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city of Florence, one of the artistic hotspots, temporarily closed all of its museums just like the rest of the country, among them being Palazzo Strozzi.
More than three million visitors have visited over 50 exhibitions organized by Palazzo Strozzi since its inception in 2006. Now, the institution is finding new, innovative ways to stay connected to its audience, namely through the In Touch project. The blog of their website is slowly becoming a hub of words, images, videos, stories and further reading on the subjects of art, aiming to “remote-trigger a debate through the language that we know best, the language of art.” The initiative will also extend to the Palazzo’s social media channels.
Through In Touch, acclaimed international artists who previously exhibited at Palazzo Strozzi such as Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramović and Tomás Saraceno (whose exhibition Aria opened on February 19, but had to close on March 8) sent messages of hope, primarily to the Italian people who are still suffering the most from the Covid-19 crisis.
Palazzo Strozzi is scheduled to re-open on April 3, although this might be delayed further by the pandemic. In the meantime, the In Touch platform is there to keep us company. To discuss its contents and the uncertain future awaiting the world of art, we talk to Director Arturo Galansino.
Widewalls: How much of the new “IN TOUCH” platform was already prepared before the Covid-19 crisis caused it to be fast-tracked? What was it like to create it?
Arturo Galansino: Our platform “In touch” is having an incredible success. It looks perfectly structured and planned but it was entirely conceived during the first moments of lockdown. It is a permanent work in progress, enthusiastically created day by day by a very small group of enthusiastic colleagues.
I think that both people and press are enjoying our contents and understanding our effort in doing something different, more mediative and genuinely responding to this period of crisis.
Furthermore, the video messages sent to Palazzo Strozzi by some of our artists, including Ai Weiwei, Tomás Saraceno, Marina Abramović and Jeff Koons, are really making the difference.
Widewalls: What can people expect from it in the coming weeks?
AG: As I said, it is an ongoing project and we cannot plan too much in advance, also because we still don’t know how long this confinement will last. Surely we will continue with our reflections and surveys, linking the situation we are living with some of the themes of our artistic research, with our past exhibitions and with our daily practices.
Moreover, we are going to develop some specific educational projects dedicated our audience - firstly families and kids, but also university students and adults, including some specific groups of accessibility we are used to work together. We need to use this moment of crisis as a moment of experimentation for a different conception of sharing, engagement and collaboration.
Widewalls: How would you describe the experience of running an art museum exclusively online?
AG: We are facing an unprecedented situation. Rethinking our role in a context of forced social distance has been challenging and, in a way, also stimulating. We are surely learning something useful to our work from this experience, but I still find it extremely frustrating and deeply unnatural.
At the same time, I appreciate all the efforts that the art world is doing to cope with this crisis and reach their public differently but I strongly believe in the direct contact between art and public.
Our job is to create this connection. Internet, virtual reality, websites, social media and blogs are surely helpful to enhance our messages but they are complimentary to our work, they can not be the final product of our activity. They have become more and more necessary in the last two decades, but the real magic is elsewhere: it happens in the museum.
Widewalls: Once the health emergency is over, how do you think the online program will compliment the “physical” program of the Palazzo Strozzi?
AG: First of all I strongly hope that the emergency will be over soon and museums will go back to their normal routine. Our new online strategy has raised our social media’s connections ten times (+1000%) and we will surely capitalize this result.
Then, with the situation changed, we will continue exploring new forms of connection with our public, trying to understand the next contest where we will be playing, like we were doing before the pandemic crisis.
I think that when, at the end of this situation people will physically go back to museums and art spaces, they may be still looking for more sustainable practices and for deepest and more responsible messages from the art institutions.
Widewalls: In your opinion, what will the art world look like once it comes out of the crisis? How do you see Covid-19 impacting it in the long run?
AG: This is something we are talking about since the beginning of the pandemic and it scares everybody in our field. This is unpredictable because it is still too early for having a clear understanding of the next future of the art world.
We can see that the worldwide art calendar is already changing quickly - many events are postponed, many cancelled, many happened only online - but we already know that the international art scene will not look the same after the storm. We surely learned that a certain globetrotter life style is not sustainable anymore. This will not be the same for a while, probably for the best.
But, beyond habits and attitudes, the real question is: will the “values” of the art world be the same?
Featured image: Arturo Galansino, Palazzo Strozzi Director, with Tomás Saraceno’s Connectome, 2020. Photograph by OKNOstudio.