“A Brera anch’io”. The museum as a vehicle of intercultural dialogue

Brera National Picture Gallery | Brera Friends Association | Milano


– Soprintendenza per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico di Milano – Pinacoteca di Brera (Soprintendenza for the Historic, Artistic and Ethno-anthropological Heritage of Milan Brera National Picture Gallery) (leading partner)
– Associazione Amici di Brera e dei Musei Milanesi (Brera Friends Association).
The project has been tested and evaluated prior to its launch as a permanent educational service of the Gallery thanks to the cooperation of a group of primary and secondary schools in the metropolitan area of Milan.


Funding bodies
Ministry for the Heritage and Cultural Activities, Brera Friends Association, Banca Intesa.

· to promote the “heritage awareness” of young citizens, both autochthonous and of immigrant background, starting from the assumption that all segments of the population suffer from a lack of cultural/historical knowledge
· to help young citizens develop intercultural attitudes and skills (e.g. cognitive mobility, the ability to question one’s own points of views, the awareness of one’s own multiple identities, an openness to individuals and groups with different cultural, ethnic, religious backgrounds) that may be applied in contexts other than the museum
· to explore the potential of the museum’s collections (mostly religious paintings) as a means of fostering intercultural dialogue and challenging stereotypes through an “autobiographical approach”
· to help teachers rethink their educational practice, by making them recognise intercultural education not so much as a compensatory activity specifically addressed at foreign pupils, but rather as the pedagogical answer to cultural pluralism.


Target groups
Primary and secondary school students (aged 9-12) and their families.


Duration of the project
Started in 2004 and ongoing.


Project description
“A Brera anch’io” has been developed by an interdisciplinary working group composed by museum educators, researchers in cultural diversity and social inclusion policies, cultural mediators and school teachers, who have gone through a joint training course (November 2002 – May 2003), and subsequently planned the itineraries addressed to primary (2003-2004) and secondary school (2004-2005). As already mentioned, these itineraries have been carefully tested and evaluated in close cooperation with a group of primary and secondary schools from Milan and its hinterland before becoming a full-fledged, permanent educational service of Brera Picture Gallery.
From a methodological point of view, the project results from a combination of the autobiographical approach (understood as “a pedagogic treatment of life experiences”) with a thematic approach.
The former has been chosen because it has some key features in common with intercultural dialogue – e.g. cross-fertilisation of different perspectives, destabilisation and cognitive mobility, questioning one’s own points of views, working on representations and stereotypes.
The latter has allowed the project team to use and exploit museum collections from an intercultural viewpoint, embrace multiple forms of diversity and create a resonance with the personal and emotional life of young people. The project is addressed at two different age groups, for whom a specific theme has been chosen: food (not only as an object, but also as a “value” and a “symbol”) for  primary school pupils, and memory (of people, of objects, of places) for secondary school pupils. As an example, the solemn and somewhat obscure painting by Giuseppe Bottani (XVIII century), “Santa Paola Romana leaves for the Holy Land”, provides an opportunity to rethink the journey as an encounter with different realities, to explore the sensations preceding one’s own departure or felt when away from home, to reflect on the motivations behind the journey understood both as an individual experience and as the migration of whole groups and populations.
“A Brera anch’io” includes a range of activities to be carried out throughout the whole school year both in class and at the Gallery around a small number of paintings (four for each itinerary). All school disciplines are involved (literature, history, geography, sciences, arts education etc.), albeit at different levels. One of the key features of “Brera anch’io” is that it is not meant as an extra-curricular option for teachers to take on, but rather as a tool to rethink and to support their own professional practice as well as the school’s education offer.
For this reason, teachers are actively engaged from the outset of the project, through an ad hoc training course at the beginning of the school year and two meetings with the project team devoted to front-end and summative evaluation.


Lessons to be learned
One of the most frequent misunderstandings regarding the actual possibility for museums to respond to the growing diversity of their audiences is that they are severely limited by the typology of their collections, especially in the case of art galleries whose collections are mostly formed by religious paintings (all the more so when belonging to a “dominant” faith). And yet, even before being deliberately “read” in an intercultural key, many artworks already express in themselves the encounter and mutual influences between different cultures, which may be explored and highlighted e.g. through research activities, temporary exhibitions and the development of interpretive materials integrating the perspectives of permanent exhibition spaces. But museums can go further than this, and free themselves of the assumption that a knowledge of the relevant academic disciplines (in this case, history of art) is the only possible lens through which to interpret and understand their collections. through “A Brera anch’io”, Brera National Picture Gallery is exploring this opportunity.
The museum thereby becomes a place where the evidence of the past is not only preserved and transmitted through a linear, one-way trajectory (from the teacher / museum educator to the pupil), but comes alive as it is questioned and reinterpreted by individuals in the light of present times and of personal experiences, emotions and expectations.
A key factor to achieve this new way of looking at museum collections has been the involvement in the project team of individuals coming from different institutional and professional contexts (teachers, art historians, experts in museum education and intercultural mediation), to make sure that a range of different competencies and skills were tapped and applied.
The autobiographical and thematic approach, the active engagement with objects, the use of other informal learning styles help the students of immigrant background (especially the newly arrived) to overcome language barriers; as a whole, the work carried out in class and at the Gallery provides all pupils with the opportunity for self-representation, and helps them to develop the attitudes and skills needed to recognise both similarities and (positive) differences in their respective cultural backgrounds, in ways which aim to challenge rather than reproduce stereotypes.
As regards the critical points, the difficulty of a more direct involvement of immigrant families in their children’s work has emerged throughout the project.


Publications / other resources
The history and key features of the project are documented in: Bodo S., Daffra E., Giorgi R., Mascheroni S., Montalbetti A., Sozzi M., A Brera anch’io. Il museo come terreno di dialogo interculturale, Soprintendenza per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico di Milano e della Lombardia Occidentale, Pinacoteca di Brera, Electa, Milano 2007. This volume includes all the educational materials developed for primary schools.
An analogous publication is planned for secondary schools (the related itinerary is still at the experimental stage); in the meantime, a resource pack has been made available for teachers, including a presentation of the project, educational materials to be used in class and at the Gallery, further recommended activities, basic information on the paintings and the artists, a selected bibliography and a range of evaluation tools.
Finally, it is possible to download the text of the agreement between Brera and individual schools taking part in the project from Brera’s official website.

Contact details
Soprintendenza per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico di Milano
via Brera, 28 – 20121 Milano
– Emanuela Daffra, Head of Education Services
tel. +39.02.72263227

Target Groups

Primary and secondary school students and their families