The 2002 Conference

The UMAC 2002 Conference was held in Sydney and Canberra in Australia from Sunday 29 September - Friday 4 October 2002.

The title and theme of the conference was: Exposing and Exploiting the Distinct Character of University Museums and Collections.

The future of the University Museums System in Italy

Fausto Pugnaloni, Università degli Studi di Ancona, Italy

At about three years from its launch, the project of the Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI) of setting up a network of University Museums and scientific collections is nearing the completion of its preliminary phase of survey of the country's very rich heritage. The data thus collected shall be the basis for the creation of a national catalogue of university museums. These data have confirmed that the national heritage is both rich and of outstanding value, documenting the history of Italian university research in a host of different fields. They have also confirmed its multifarious nature and composition, as well as its diverse organisational and management regimes.

The phase of data collection is continuing, as the data from 41 universities in 77, among which such important institutions as Rome's Tor Vergata and Venice's Ca' Foscari, have not yet been received. We have also learned that 5 universities possess no museum structure or collection. As of 30 May, 2002, data had come in about 170 museums and 343 collections (available at the Web site:

The overall results of the activity of CRUI's Museums Committee are definitely positive: the awareness campaign aimed at large and small universities is making those in charge feel more the importance of the preservation of the heritage of teaching and research. Indeed, even at institutions lacking museums or collections, as is the case of some younger and smaller universities, a survey and cataloguing of samples, experiments, equipment and tools has been undertaken or planned that could bring interesting contributions.

The central aim of the project, and the subject of my contribution at the Paris OECS meeting of September 2000, the proceedings of which have been published, is to provide a modern and efficient model for the management and fruition of this heritage through the setting up of 'university museum systems', and to promote the creation in all universities of 'museum centres' by streamlining resources and sharing the activities of promotion of the extant material.

The national network of University Museums will bring the older and newer universities together by connecting and co-ordinating the nationally and internationally renowned collections of the former with the resources and the potential of the latter. An efficient network is required to promote consistent and profitable co-operation and relations among members as well as between members and international agencies and centres. The same degree of efficiency is needed to facilitate the exchange of information regarding the contents of each museum and its cultural initiatives, for which there is a potentially limitless public.

Advanced university structures equipped to carry out well-planned activities and employing adequately qualified staff are necessary to achieve these aims. They will include key centres in charge of documentation, research, teaching and the diffusion of knowledge and offering services on cataloguing, editing, creating multi-medial products, conservation and restoration, training, etc.

The action conducted by the Committee to date has been largely successful in bringing about an evolution of the traditional concept of museum towards places and structures that are ever more interested in the communication of scientific culture to an ever wider public. Nonetheless, there is still a very long way to go, as the gap between the ancient and austere universities that can boast of prestigious collections and a long tradition and the more recent institutions persists, as does the gap (and the competition) between scientific disciplines and the humanities.

In this context, the feasibility study undertaken by the Committee, due to be completed in March 2003, is all the more interesting. Using the data from the ongoing survey mentioned above, it aims at sketching the current situation and at finding tools and methods suitable for the creation of a national network of 'university museum systems', which should permit consistent dialogue and collaboration among very different structures.

  • the design of an easily accessible and user-friendly web portal allowing prompt information retrieval - typically of catalogue and bibliographic data regarding university museums and collections - and suggesting theme routes and specific communication tools;
  • the planning of training initiatives connected with the new functions related to university museum structures. Also in this case, a survey of ongoing initiatives shall serve as the basis to design models of training courses;
  • the definition of novel methods of protection and promotion of the historical-scientific heritage of universities;
  • the planning of suitable communication campaigns to help promote museum resources and the activities of museum structures, the support of university teaching and research and the diffusion and growth of scientific culture;
  • the identification of a set of evaluation indices or standards (compatible with those established by the relevant Ministries and specially suited to university museums, archives and collection centres of historical-scientific value) to be proposed both to the single universities for experimental adoption by free adhesion and to the reference Administrations for possible approval and adoption at the national level.

    The museums network could also enhance the connection with other national and international initiatives which the feasibility study intends to propose with a view to outlining how existing experiences and abilities can be harnessed to the future project, as well as insert the university museum systems into theme or geographic networks working in the sector of university museums.

    The scope for founding a National Institute for University Museums Systems or another appropriate legal entity guaranteeing the access to funds and contributions is being evaluated. This entity would be in charge of coordinating the museum-related activities of universities, safeguarding and promoting their heritage, guaranteeing an adequate financial support that allows to detach the museum system from university financing and stimulating the younger institutions to set up bodies able to conduct an appropriate action in the field of museums and scientific-popularisation activities; indeed, contributions will not only serve to add to the existing collections, however prestigious, and their maintenance, but shall also aim at stimulating the creation of new ones in the younger universities.

    For optimum effectiveness, the national network of university museums systems shall need to identify suitable structures in each area of interest capable of performing all the required functions and to offer services to both the universities and third parties.

    The project of a Pole of Architectural Museums or Collections, recently advanced by some italian Universities (Ancona, Venice, Parma, Catania, Turin Polytechnic and Milan Polytechnic), is to be seen in this light. This theme pole aims at becoming a sort of diffuse Architectural Museum, and as such it will work with established networks and institutions such as AAA Italia (Archives of Contemporary Architecture) and ICAM (International Confederation of Architectural Museums).

    The aims of this project are: to undertake a survey of existing collections and to survey/catalogue the material (drawings, surveys, photographs, slides, plastic models, virtual models, video material, cd-roms, dvd-roms) through the adoption of common descriptive standards and the exchange of professional skills and experience in the field, training of specialised personnel, sharing of equipment, organisation of joint research projects, and organisation of travelling exhibitions as well as virtual ones, like the one that has been proposed for the next Week of Italian Scientific Culture.

    I'd like to talk about ICAM: International Confederation of Architectural Museums.

    With regard to theme networks, see the case of ICAM, with which our Institute has recently started to work in relation to the activity of the Drawings Archives, a brief mention.

    ICAM is one of international organisation for architectural museums and related institutions. It is a forum for professionals, active in the field of preserving and exhibiting architectural records. It is devoted to fostering links between all those interested in promoting the better understanding of architecture. Founded +20 years ago in Helsinki in response to the creation of architectural museums as distinct institutions.

    Its aims are:
    • To preserve the architectural records
    • To improve the quality and increase the protection of the built environment
    • To promote the study of architectural history in the interest of future practice
    • To stimulate public appreciation of architecture
    • To promote the exchange of information and professional skills.

    The term "Confederation" has been chosen to describe the loose-knit character of architectural museums, centres, archives, collections, libraries and other institutions fulfilling the conditions of its Statutes. Members share expertise and information about institutions, exhibitions, publications, architectural documents, architectural and museum-related issues and other matters of common interest.

    ICAM is affiliated to the International Council of Museums (ICOM) as an international specialised body and as a member organisation. ICAM also has special links with the International Council on Archives (ICA).

    To finish: new economic models and changing ownerships of museums (state, municipal, foundation, private) have emerged. New mission statements have been discussed in many museums. The involvement of museums in developing tourist industries, how they both compete and cooperate with other cultural institutions, the modernisation of museums and the improvement of their professionalism, the need to increase their institutional autonomy and the role of the state in preserving the collections - all these questions and many others are currently the subject of lively discussions in European museums.

    How do architecture museums and architecture centres meet the needs of our new societies? What kinds of new activities, innovative ideas and programmes have been offered by them for professionals and for the public? What tools (economic models, cooperation programmes) have been adopted to make architecture museums active and visible in contemporary cultural life? - these and other questions should be discussed now.

    Copyright © Fausto Pugnaloni 2002.
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