The Italian youth magazine Focus Junior and the MIBAC (ministry for the arts) have come up with an interesting collaboration to promote twelve lesser-known museums in Italy, amonst them the Palazzo Davanzati in Florence for the month of February 2012. In Focus Junior magazine this month there’s a detachable fold-out map and guide to the museum to help 8-12 year olds explore the museum on their own or with the help of a teacher or parent. Furthermore, with this item, the kid can bring 2 parents to the museum for free!
Other museums included in the initiative are the archaeological museum of Naples, Compendio Garibaldino di Caprera, Museo nazionale etnografico preistorico Luigi Pigorini di Roma, Palazzo Ducale di Mantova, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche di Urbino, Museo dei Balzi Rossi di Ventimiglia, and coming up soon in 2012, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia, Museo d’Arte Orientale a Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra in Rovereto, Armeria Reale di Torino and Museo Archeologico Santa Maria delle Monache, Isernia. There is no question that many of these museums are not just undiscovered but downright obscure, whereas Mantova, Urbino, and Perugia are a bit better known. Many Florentines have never been to Palazzo Davanzati, so this is a good opportunity to bring the museum-goers of the future to this space.
A press conference yesterday was a bit of a change from the usual monotonous presentation because 2 classes of well-behaved 10 year olds were invited, and the representative from the Mibac often spoke directly to them, which was cute. The children were asked what they liked best of the experience and one answered “the scarpetta scaldamano”, a maiolica object whose function – warming hands – was explained in the booklet. This is exactly the kind of information – how things and spaces were used – that I have always said make the museum experience, and that need to be made available in Palazzo Davanzati, a museum that has wonderful potential for families. Participants are asked to write their opinions of the museum visit online or on a handout, offering them an opportunity to reflect on and verbalize the experience. The feedback may help museums develop more projects like this in the future.
Another cute element of this booklet is a drawing of museum staff and an explanation of the people who work behind the scenes: director, conservator, curator, education services (!!), guards, security and technology staff. This reminds children that museums can potentially provide careers. It does not mention the government concorsi and complete impossibility of getting IN to a job like that, but children should be allowed to dream!
This booklet is a great idea, but it could be improved. Part (but not all) of the text from this handout is available online, but it sure would be great if Focus would make a free downloadable PDF available for posterity. Another nice thing would be if a few thousand copies were printed and given out to families for free, even after this special is over, directly at the museum front desk. Finally, I know that it is an Italian magazine, but I would like to see a similar didactic tool produced in English. Encouraging museum visits with children is important on a local and national level, but your typical Italian parent also has good visual training and may be able to guide a child better than a foreigner. Helping tourism by the provision of material in other languages is equally important, and would not have a much larger cost (for example, I would be perfectly capable of translating these twelve booklets into English for a minimal fee). That said, didactic visits to some of Florence’s museums are available upon advance reservation (see servizio didattica).
Improvements are being made in Palazzo Davanzati since I wrote about it years ago. New informative texts are available in multiple languages in most of the rooms. A welcome desk has finally been installed in the front room, with a little bookshop area, after many years of these staff members sitting at a card table in the courtyard.
With kids or not, visit Palazzo Davanzati and read along to understand the context of the early modern Italian family, a fascinating experience for adults and kids. If you can’t use the Italian material from Focus Junior, print out my guide to Palazzo Davanzati and bring it with you!