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Comparison between Uffizi and SAMA: two opposite experiences

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

As a graduate student in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation specialized in Museum Management, two important internship experiences have marked my course of study and helped me understand how to implement the theory acquired over the years: one during the degree in my own country at the Uffizi Galleries and the other one post-graduate, abroad and currently in progress, at the Street Art Museum Amsterdam.

As far as the opposite museums are concerned..

In the previous article Climate & Eco-Museum, we have already explained the difference between Eco-Museum and Classical Museum and this current essay will highlight a concrete example of these opposite poles. The first great difference between the two galleries is that, on one hand, the Classical Museum in Florence has its well-known high-end and ancient collection - belonging to Medici, Habsburg, Lorraine and Savoy families - inside three main historical buildings called Uffizi, Pitti Palace, Vasari Corridor and also in Boboli Gardens. On the other hand, SAMA has had its huge international grassroot collection outside its tiny humble headquarters - where Urban Art should be - since 2012, spread throughout the Nieuw West neighbourhood and other Amsterdam districts.

This main dualism also leads the museums to have different missions which are clearly explained in both their websites:

"The Uffizi is a parade of intellect, a gallery of wonders, a compendium of absolute masterpieces from western painting, set out in chronological order, from the 13th to the 18th centuries, with the addition of an archaeological collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures” - Uffizi website

As a consequence of that, their purpose is to research, preserve, restore, communicate and exhibit their long-term heritage of humanity for the aims of education, study, archive and enjoyment.

On the contrary, Street Art Museum Amsterdam is a community-based, contemporary eco-museum that focuses on:

“the identity of the immediate environment in connection with local participation and aimed at improving the development and quality of life of the local community, using art as a tool to social dialogue”- SAMA website

Actually, SAMA’s mission is directly related to the socio-political engagement of street art itself which is usually establishing a democratic communication with its audience, in this case both with visitors and the foreign neighbourhood of Nieuw West.

“Street Art is a distinctive art form, which challenges assumptions of legality, artistic ownership and preservation of tangible and intangible art and heritage” - SAMA websit

As we can easily infer from the previous quote, this artfield is provoking the established socio-political order and it also explains its ephemeral nature: artists have to be fast in the realization of the work and careful about the municipality, but then their artworks are safe from classic restoration principles and there are neither security nor barriers to prevent the visitor from approaching. That's why anyone can feel free to interact directly with each of the 300 artworks of SAMA, varying from small pieces to monumental murals.

As far as the traineeships are concerned..

As an intern at the Uffizi Galleries, I supported activities for the Public Relations Office and experienced what an actual mediator does in the artfield: speaking Italian, French, Spanish and English with visitors, as well as doing written translation in the previous languages, managing data reports, questionnaires and institutional email, with the addition of monitoring activities. It was more about bureaucratic and administrative tasks, but during hard Corona times the museum was frequently closed and I still had the opportunity to reply in detail to a lot of emails with artistic content requests, as people had more free time to ask about curiosities and anecdotes. In this way I also had the chance to exploit theoretical skills on Modern Art and the Classics acquired over the years from high school to university.

My personal experience at SAMA is completely different, since I have studied Contemporary Art before but never Urban Art in detail. Documenting myself from the material provided was inspiring: before arriving at SAMA I was attracted by the extreme opposite artfield, by learning something different from my formal comfort zone and by the fact that you have the opportunity to handle each situation both on your own or with the team's help; and in the end, I pleasantly discovered one of the artfields that - with its mission - best reflects my interests. In this museum I am carrying out various tasks: mediating among my colleagues as we are an international team, as well as doing written translations, working as a tourist guide all around Nieuw-West in French, English, Italian and Spanish both for private tours and schools, working on the GPS app and audio guides, writing articles and managing the social media. But I’m also working on Excel and email answering, so I didn’t lose my bureaucratic habits too.

To sum up, these are two opposite internships extremely useful for maturing one’s working skills, both from a practical and theoretical-programmatic point of view: Uffizi were fundamental for me since it was my first experience in a big museum, namely the first time I was truly introduced into this world. Moreover, SAMA is also a great life lesson for me being itself part of my Erasmus program and allowing me to understand more closely and concretely how company and gallery management work.

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Estella Tongwei
Estella Tongwei
Sep 29, 2021

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