Museums - A Risk Assessment of MACRO's New Annex in Rome: Theoretical Premises


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First posted to my MuseumStudies blog on Tumblr yesterday (18 Jabuary 2011), this text draws the theoretical background to an in-depth risk assessment of MACRO's new Annex, opened to the public in Rome on 3 December 2010.

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Museums - A Risk Assessment of MACRO's New Annex in Rome: Theoretical Premises

  1. 1. Museums - A Risk Assessment of MACRO’s New Annex in Rome:Theoretical Premises by Alessandro Califano“Risks are manifold, risks are everywhere. In Cultural Heritage, risks represent a more or lessstrong possibility of damage, or loss: of artefacts, contexts, even of human lives or, at the least,their well-being. As Museum Professionals we are called to make a strong stand against risks,and to avoid or reduce dangerous situations. But the best way to keep risks under control is still –to know them.This is the reason why risk awareness can be not enough. What we need to add to that is a properrisk assessment campaign. Only a hands-on approach – one taking into account the diversecontexts and the given situation in a museum, or in another cultural heritage related institution –will allows us to collect all the information we will need to draw a proper, customized model ofthe real, main risks involved at any given moment. We will thus have the basis upon which tobuild both a “shelf list” of risks for internal use, and some guidelines for our public, or even ageneral, effective emergency plan.”With these words I introduced a workshop organized by UNESCO for an audience of Central Asianmuseum professionals, focusing on risk assessment theory and practice in museums1. And indeed,assessing risks - be it for built structures, people, or collections - means starting first of all to lookat things we know with different eyes.This was the same fundamental principle we used in a much different, post-conflict context, whereparticipants to other UNESCO workshops2 had already witnessed to, and had learned of risks (anddamages!), often at their own, dearest expense, that the majority of museum professionalsoperating in western countries but rarely encounter. And it was this very same principle thatallowed us to positively approach the issue … and to successfully discover some possible guidelinesto creatively and effectively reduce risks to collections, staff, and visitors.1 “Risks and opportunities: difficult challenges for museum professionals”, Tashkent, September20082 “Risk assessment and risk management”, Kabul, May 2009; Kabul, “Safeguarding movablecultural heritage: post-conflict and post-disaster strategies for sustainable museummanagement”, Kabul, May 2010
  2. 2. If we remember how important it is to provide focused storytelling in museums3, in order to re-built the missing context around an artefact - sometimes hidden in its ideation or creation process,or maybe in its subsequent history as an object, or in the association of images and thoughts it mayoriginally have implied and even taken for granted - we can’t but stress how vital it is to tailor ourstorytelling to our diverse public. Ideally, in order to better place our collection (and the institutionhosting it) in the mind and heart of our audience, this should go as far as adapting storytelling toeveryone’s background, focus, and preferences.Together with storytelling comes however accessibility: on a physical level, as well as for whatregards the full wealth of information a museum could (and therefore should) provide about itscollections. Physical accessibility and usability of the informative and/or entertaining content ofmuseums’ collections should be always kept in mind, as two sides belonging to one and the samemedal: adding value to our collections, and doing our part in preserving our common culturalheritage as well as in disseminating the message it carries - be it movable or intangible.This, in turn, implies that we can’t grasp and assess risks in museums to their full extent, unless weare able to look at things with different eyes. Hearing or visually impaired people, people withreduced mobility, elderly people or children, people recovering or suffering from the after-effects ofserious and/or potentially disabling or even life-threatening diseases, people with learningdisabilities, people enriched by a different cultural background. All these should be accurately keptin mind [for an in-depth discussion regarding this theme, see “Shifting Definition of Access:Disability and emancipatory curatorship in Canada” in the November-December 2010 issue ofMUSE, the Canadian Museums Association bi-monthly magazine] when assessing (and planning!)accessibility to public spaces and to the information they are called to keep, protect, anddisseminate - be it at a museum, an archive, or a library.[ Rome, 18 January 2011 ]3See