On the cancellation of free-Sundays in italian state-owned museums

In Italy there is a new government and, as any new government, it likes to change everything the previous government did. And this is particularly true for this self-branded “government of the change” that decided to cancel the so-called “free-Sundays”.

The new minister of culture has said he wants to eliminate the mandatory free entrance in the first Sunday of every month in state-owned museums. He announced his decision to let each director to choose the day in which he can set a free-entrance. “The free-Sundays were a great advertising launch, now it is time to overcome them”.

The free-Sundays were a great innovation of the past minister of culture Dario Franceschini since they increased a lot the number of visitors and the sales of state-owned museums. The increase of sales is not surprising because visitors paid for peripheral services, such as audioguides, café, souvenirs. This operation also increased the general image of italian museums, which were seen as an open and public space. This increased the (payed) entrances also in normal days.

Political reactions from oppositions have been harsh. From the left wing the previous culture minister said that the new government want to destroy a winning strategy just for the sake of change: https://www.iltempo.it/politica/2018/07/31/news/musei-franceschini-contro-bonisoli-sbagliato-abolire-le-domeniche-gratis-1081090/. From the right wing Mariastella Gelmini (minister of education in last Berlusconi’s government), said that this government says a “No to the culture”.

But other voices defend the decision. Not just the minister defended his idea saying that greater flexibility will benefit everyone, but also said that in some museum free-Sundays were a nightmare of crowding. The journals near to the government defended the decisions. “No more hordes of people in our museums” https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2018/08/01/musei-bonisoli-ha-ragione-eliminare-le-domeniche-gratis-non-e-solo-una-questione-di-soldi/4530834/  or said that free-entrance create the illusion that you should not pay for culture https://www.linkiesta.it/it/article/2018/08/01/musei-gratis-bonisoli-ha-ragione-siete-voi-che-non-avete-capito-cosha-/39020/ .

My personal opinion is that free-Sundays increased participation in culture and that their elimination will be detrimental for the diffusion of art in Italian population. The simple and straightforward brand “free-Sunday” will be substituted with a forest of different days in which a museum will be open. The costs of communication will increase and the general idea of openness of culture will be weakened.

The argument that free-entrance once a month creates the illusion of “not paying for culture” is just hilarious. Many museums in the world are free, also important ones. Many English museums are free all the year and you can just make a donation. Italy needed an initiative like this to encourage people to come in Italian museums, not just tourists but also locals, those that pay the taxes to maintain the museums. Of course culture is important and people should pay to contribute to its costs, but many people cannot afford spend 10-20 euros to go to the museum, or just they do not think that going the museum is worth 10-20 euros. These people will go just is the barriers to entrance are really low, and good initiatives like these are a way to make the museum open at least once a month (and it is better if it is a stable day every month).

I am aware that it is difficult to manage “hordes of tourists”. But simple rules may resolve the problem. For example:

  • limited number of visitors at the same time
  • free-ticket only for EU citizens
  • more information on cues timing

Free Sundays are a great opportunity fo the Italian museum system and spoiling it may not be a good idea.


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