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Best practice for sustainable culture miles in Venice and London

Image: The late Laura da Santillana who was born in Venice in 1955 and whose glass works of art are to be displayed at the Galleria dell/Accademia, Venice. Image courtesy GAve photographic archive 'courtesy of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, National Museum Galleries of the Academy of Venice.

How do cities attract new cultural audiences and sustain interest in historic buildings and art collections? How can cities increase visitor numbers post-pandemic and - simultaneously - manage over-tourism? Future Cities Forum is looking at best practice in creating culture miles both at its Venice and London forums this September.

London is developing a culture mile through the Corporation of London, with the construction of a new museum in West Smithfield, while curating a programme of events as well as improving public realm to build the day to night economy. The City of London was left as a ghost town during Covid, and with large numbers of employees working from home now, shops, bars and restaurants have taken a hit in income. Some offices are being converted into homes and there is a campaign to encourage families back into the City at weekends for cultural activities.

Venice is struggling with too many visitors and some residents would like to feel that once again, squares like San Marco, resonate with them, rather than being solely for tourist enjoyment. The Human Safety Net which is based in Procuratie Vecchie, San Marco, and is hosting Future Cities Forum in September, states that with the conversion of the building by David Chipperfield Architects, to allow public access, local people are beginning to feel it is a place for them to come and look at exhibitions and mingle.

There has been a concern in Venice for some time that day trippers from cruise ships arrive with packed lunches just to wander the streets, failing to spend money in restaurants or enter museums. In 2015 the concept of a cultural mile was created to tackle the potential lack of awareness of the many outstanding museums in the city. Called the Dorsoduro Museum Mile, it includes eight museums, among them: The Galleria dell'Accademia, the Galleria di Palazzo Cini, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and Palazzo Grassi - Punta dell Dogana. Visitors can view masterpieces of Venetian painting from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as well as well as the homes of the city's great art collectors.

Director of the Gallerie dell'Academia, Giulio Manieri Elia explains:

'“The relaunching of the Dorsoduro Museum Mile is based on collaboration between cultural institutions that are very different in nature but active in the same context and united by the common aim of satisfying the new needs and interests of the public. Continuously updating communications and promotion strategies and constantly improving customer care, together with the quality of the cultural experience, especially in these fast-changing and complex times, are a priority in our cultural offering”. This September the Gallerie dell'Academia is hosting the works of artist Laura de Santillana, a leading exponent of the Murano tradition and the art of glass processing. It is being held during Glass Week 2023. The Venice Glass Week is an international festival founded in 2017 to celebrate, support and promote the art of glass.

It states:

'On the occasion of The Glass Week 2023 and four years after the artist's death, the Gallerie dell'Accademia and the De Santillana Foundation Stichting present over forty works, emblematic of the experimentation of the last years of Laura de Santillana's activity. For the first time the foundation that preserves her memory promotes a posthumous exhibition within a museum, choosing the Galleries as the ideal place for the creations of Laura de Santillana.

'Born in Venice in 1955, Laura de Santillana began her career in the renowned Venini glassworks before deciding to devote herself completely to art. On display you can admire a selection of precious sculptures, made between Murano and the Czech Republic using different methods of glass production.

'The exhibition is a journey into the heart of an ancient art that Laura de Santillana has been able to transmit in a contemporary key, combining the knowledge handed down on the island of Murano with her tireless desire to discover new expressive languages.'

Above: Image from the exhibition 'From Vivarini to Tiepolo' (GAve Photographic Archive - "courtesy of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, National Museum of Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice".)

The gallery has also been showcasing newly acquired works bought by the State in an exhibition 'From Vivarini to Tiepolo', in the newly restored Palladian Lodge. The gallery says:

'The public will be able to admire ten new unpublished works, recently bought by the State for over one million euros, from private collections, inaccessible to the wider public. The acquisitions will be presented in room XVIa, in the newly restored and reopened Palladian Lodge, which the museum reserves for exhibitions dedicated to specific themes of the collections. The cultural heritage of the Galleries is thus enriched with new masterpieces such as the painting Samson and Delilah by the extraordinary Venetian painter Giulia Lama; the three tables by Bartolomeo Vivarini that are added to those already in the collection of the Polyptych of the Tagliapietra and a drawing by Giambattista Tiepolo, the first drawing acquired by the Gallerie that depicts two fantasy heads.

In addition, the Gallerie dell'Accademia has become the owners of the Couple of Lovers (The Declaration) by Bonifacio de' Pitati; of the canvas of considerable size with Christ before Caiaphas by Pietro Ricchi; of a Scene from the life of St. Peter Martyr by Antonio Vivarini and of an unpublished and small canvas by Francesco Fontebasso.

'The works were acquired thanks to the funds allocated to the Directorate-General for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape and the Directorate General for Museums in the three-year period 2021-2023 for a total expenditure of more than one million euros. Among the most significant sums there are the three tables by Bartolomeo Vivarini, probably belonging to the upper register of the Tagliapietra Polyptych, already preserved in the Galleries, purchased by private negotiation for 500 thousand euros.

'The unpublished canvas by Giulia Lama depicting Samson and Delilah, was instead bought as a forced export purchase for the value of 90 thousand euros. The beautiful recto/verso sheet by Giambattista Tiepolo, the first to enrich the Museum's Prints and Drawings Department, has a value of 34,800 euros.

'Each of the works brings with it a unique and sometimes singular story, such as the painting by Bonifacio de' Pitati and the small canvas by Francesco Fontebasso, acquired by the Gallerie dell'Accademia from a bankruptcy inheritance, but previously the subject of an investigation by the Carabinieri of the Artistic Heritage Protection unit.'

One of the most widely publicised and newly acquired works of art for The National Portrait Gallery in London was Mai (Omai) (c1753 -1780) by Sir Joshua Reynolds and is of the first Tahitian to visit England. It is displayed in the newly opened galleries following a £42.3 million and three year re-development of the gallery by Jamie Fobert Architects, where spaces have been 'pierced' to create 20 per cent additional space for the public and a much wider entrance to the gallery as a whole. A newly refurbished top floor restaurant and a complete re-hang completed the project.

The story of the post-pandemic recovery to attract visitors back to museums can also be seen in exhibitions such as the V&A's 'DIVA' in South Kensington, celebrating the power and creativity of iconic performers, exploring and redefining the role of 'diva' and how this has been subverted or embraced over time across opera, stage, popular music and film.

Above: CGI from Stanton Williams of the new Museum of London at West Smithfield, with view to the 'Cocoa Rooms'

In the City of London, the re-location of the Museum of London and its new design and construction is adding strength to the idea of a sustainable culture mile. The Director, Sharon Ament, spoke at our March forum this year held at the British Film Institute:

'The city surveyors approached me offering a new site at Smithfield to give me a new front door. We started out planning this move, thinking about how visitors can get into us and then considering the full re-imagination of what we will become. You have to be more creative when dealing with old building that had a different purpose than when working with new ones. What do you do with an (underground) train line running through the site? How do you work with Victorian beams, how do you inhabit the spaces? So we went back into our DNA of over seven million objects and our standard for community engagement with children's voices, collecting the common person and understanding London. We have fifty museum curators but also ten million people out there who are also our 'curators'. We cover thirty three boroughs for our audience and connect across the world too. It is a museum of the street and we are working to bring that street inside. We want to be 24 hours and that means deep time, night time, real time - even 'tea time'. We are going to sit in the middle of a neighbourhood and on the Elizabeth Line and we must make the best of it, but we are also - I say - only two stops from Paris.'

Sharon was asked whether there is any sense of guilt in still celebrating London, when there is so much of a new focus by central government and politicians on levelling up the North and Midlands?

'I lived in Liverpool for most of my early life, but no I don't think we should feel guilty about celebrating London. I see people flowing in and out of London to live and do creative projects. There is culture going out from London. We do really need to re-frame our arguments. London has some of the poorest boroughs in the country, and London itself needs to level up. My job is to show, despite living in dense conditions, how millions of people have lived and rubbed along together over the last 2,000 years and long may it continue. I think the levelling up argument is despicable and I won't put up with any divisive rhetoric between London and the rest of the UK.

Above: wildflower planting in the Barber-Surgeons' Gardens, City of London (Courtesy City of London Corporation)

Creating a sustainable culture mile in the City of London has also involved a focus on climate change and green spaces. Residents, workers, visitors and students in the City of London are being asked to give their views on Barber-Surgeons’ Gardens to help plan improvements to the site.

The historic garden is located between London Wall and the Barbican lakes and is one of the largest green spaces owned and managed by the City of London Corporation in the Square Mile.

Chair of the City Corporation’s Natural Environment Board Caroline Haines said:

“Barber-Surgeons’ Gardens provides respite and tranquillity, just metres away from the bustle of the Square Mile.

We want to hear from everyone who uses the gardens to ensure they are welcoming and inclusive, recognising the importance of green space to our health and wellbeing.”

Barber-Surgeons' Gardens is one of ten livery company gardens remaining in the City and is rich in historic features, containing part of the Roman London Wall - Built around AD 200 - and the remains of the London Roman Fort.

Although there has been a garden on the site since approximately 1555, the present garden was created in 1987 on a derelict bombsite. It contains a physic garden with over 45 species of plants traditionally used in medicine.

The City Corporation manages over 11,000 acres of open space in London and southeast England, including Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath and over 180 smaller sites in the Square Mile, investing over £38m a year. The City Corporation’s green spaces, most of which are charitable trusts, are run at little or no cost to the communities that they serve. They include important wildlife habitats, Special Areas of Conservation, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and National Nature Reserves. They remove around 16,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere a year, equivalent to 44% of the City Corporation’s annual carbon footprint. They are protected from being built on by special legislation.

Future Cities Forum looks forward to welcoming all its contributors and guests to our forums in Venice, London and Oxford this September.

Below: City of London Corporation 'Culture Mile' bollard by Smithfield Market


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