In the early 2000s, the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (GAMeC) of Bergamo started to address the issue of migrants’ cultural participation (see for example the “Guests of honour” project).
Since 2007, it has been actively involving museum mediators with a migrant background in the interpretation of its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. The first training course addressed to mediators as “new interpreters” of the museum’s heritage – an initiative deliberately qualified as “cultural” rather than “social” from the very start, which led to the creation of a permanent group of 31 mediators – was followed by continued opportunities for professional growth, often shared with museum educators and aimed at the development of specific planning, relational and methodological/operational skills, including storytelling.
As a result, GAMeC involved a group of mediators in a project called “Twelve storytellers in search of an author” (2014-2015), which was aimed not only at promoting new points of view on the museum’s heritage, but also at fostering the active participation of younger generations, by encouraging cross-fertilisation between “narrative” and “creative” perspectives on permanent collections.
Taking the cue from these experiences of social and intercultural inclusion, the project “My Place / My Text” (and subsequent phases, see “Project description”) was launched in the framework of the wider programme “Oltrevisioni. New cultural citizenships”, promoted by the Departments of Culture and Youth Policies of the City of Bergamo.
• Project leader of the “Oltrevisioni. New Cultural Citizenships” programme: City of Bergamo.
• Project partner of the City of Bergamo for “My Place / My Texts”: GAMeC.
– GAMeC: Giovanna Brambilla (Head of Education Services), Clara Manella (Coordinator of Education Services), Valentina Gervasoni (collaborator Education Services), Rita Ceresoli (museum educator)
– Nicole Mora (project tutor as part of an internship for the Master in “Education Services for artistic heritage, history museums and visual arts” of the Università Cattolica in Milan)
– Maria Grazia Panigada (expert in theatre and storytelling techniques applied to cultural heritage mediation)
– young participants and creators of the catalogue “My Place / My Texts”: Nisrin Amayoune, Sara Allushi, Embarka Barini, Maryem Boumediene, Ester Bresciani, Maria Bianca Carp, Umayam Dienavie, Micaela Fusaro, Laminatu Gbla, Sabrine Hilal, Gianna Hu, Seban Kaul, Samia Marzaki, Morena Nava, Magatte Ndiaye, Francesca Scotti, Thayanne Barbara Silva.
The project was co-funded by Fondazione Cariplo (a major banking Foundation based in Milan) under the programme “Citizens’ cultural leadership”, and by the Department of Youth Policies of the City of Bergamo.
The project’s main goal are reflected in its title:
• the museum should become “My Place”, a place of belonging, in which young people can identify through a process of gradual acquaintance with spaces and collections
• “My Texts” is the final destination of this process: the creation of personal – yet not arbitrary – texts, triggered by the special relationship established by project participants with artworks.
Objectives for project participants:
• to get to know the permanent collection from an historical and artistic point of view
• to develop self-perception in a cultural/historical/artistic context
• to develop writing skills, by giving shape to personal descriptions of artworks.
Objectives for the museum:
• to foster the active participation of younger generations, by helping project participants create descriptions of artworks conveying emotions and lived experiences alongside art-historical contents, and thereby allowing other individuals (their peers in particular) to approach cultural heritage in a way that gets them personally involved
• to enrich permanent collections with new meanings, also triggered by the diverse cultural backgrounds and multiple identities of project participants
• to provide other youths with free tools to approach the collections (the “My Place / My Texts” catalogue) reflecting their age and interests
• to promote GAMeC’s image as a museum committed to the issues of cultural inclusion and museum accessibility on the part of young people and new audiences.
• of the project: a group of seventeen so called “second generation migrant” girls, aged between 15 and 23
• of the catalogue created by project participants: high school students of Bergamo and its territory.
Duration of the project
Planning: April-June 2015; implementation: January-June 2016.
Within the framework of the “Oltrevisioni” programme (see above), GAMeC was asked to develop new ways of initiating a meaningful relationship between second-generation migrant youths and artworks over a period of three years. Activities always revolve around a peer-to-peer interpretation of permanent collections, but through a different medium each year:
• “My Place / My Texts” (2015-2016) focused on written text, resulting in the creation of a new catalogue;
• “My Place / My Face” (2016-2017) focused on film-making, leading to the production of a video collection;
• “My Place / My Voice”(2017-2018) focused on storytelling, with young participants becoming the museum’s “future mediators”.
As far as “My Place / My Texst” is concerned, young participants (as it turned out, all girls) were selected from local high schools with the help of teachers who had already worked with the museum. They were divided in small groups and attended two workshop cycles:
• the first one was devoted to familiarising with the permanent collection under the guidance of GAMeC educator Rita Ceresoli (January-February 2016): biographies of artists, hidden meanings and stories behind artworks, issues pertaining to style and content were explored in small groups, so as to avoid the “lecture” format, and facilitate an informal, open conversation instead; each participant was assigned 3 or 4 artworks (not always of their choice), along with the relevant bibliography and reading materials
• the second workshop cycle, aimed at producing the written texts, was led by Maria Grazia Panigada (March-May 2016), who had already worked extensively in GAMeC to develop museum mediators’ storytelling skills (see the “Twelve storytellers in search of an author” project): she always worked with participants in the exhibition spaces, focusing first on a painstaking observation and description of the artworks, then helping the girls to choose a personal “style” for their descriptions in the catalogue (e.g. the artist engaging in an imaginary conversation with the visitor, or the young participant guiding the viewer in the exploration of the painting or sculpture; the description focusing on specific aspects of the artwork, or unfolding in a number of open questions inviting personal reflection…). Individual writing was followed by group reading in front of the artworks, so that the texts may be rehearsed and revised also thanks to the feedback of the other participants.
The last two meetings were devoted to evaluation (questionnaire and a focus group with project tutor Nicole Mora) and a “cultural trip” to Turin with GAMeC Director (visits to the Castle of Rivoli – Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Cinema).
The project resulted in the production of a printed catalogue (in Italian language), which was officially presented to the city on September 2016, distributed in local schools, and made available for free to high school students visiting the permanent collections on an individual basis.
Lessons to be learned
The project showed how, through an approach combining art-historical content with individual knowledge systems, feelings and life experiences, an art museum can overcome its self-referential language, often elitist and based on scientific expertise only, and invite “new voices” to join in the interpretation of collections.
It also helped GAMeC to reach and actively involve a traditionally under-represented audience in art museums, i.e. young people in general, and more in particular “new citizens”, whether they be first or second-generation migrant youths.
Last but not least, it left a permanent trace through a catalogue where the different approaches chosen by each participant for the description of GAMeC’s artworks invite visitors to a multi-layered interpretation of permanent collections. In fact, while the staff of the Education Services expected the final output of “My Place / My Texts” to be a guide with a “simplified language”, they saw a catalogue taking shape which was unique of its kind, because of the originality and uniqueness of every project participant.
Some critical hurdles may also be identified, however:
• some participants found it difficult to start describing “their” artworks, at times due to different levels of writing skills, at others because the “match” between participants and artworks was not always the result of a personal choice, but in some cases was decided by the museum for an “effective” work distribution
• the tight schedule for the second workshop cycle went to the detriment of group work in front of the artworks, did not allow the time needed for a feedback and structured dialogue with the museum staff, and hindered some participants from revising their texts
• due to the overarching goals of the “Oltrevisioni” programme, the group was composed exclusively by second-generation migrant girls, whereas the museum would have liked to involve also Italian youths.
Feedback within the working team as well as with project participants led the museum to identify “time” as a key factor to be consolidated in order for the two following years of the project to be more effective.
Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art of Bergamo
Via S. Tomaso, 53 – 24121 Bergamo
– Giovanna Brambilla, Head of Education Department
Project description published in: June 2017