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Digital Invasions have been an energetic blast for the sluggish world of cultural heritage. This all-Italian project, whose fame has spread throughout the world, has reached its fifth edition in 2017. Archeostorie, in conversation with Digital Invasions’ co-founder Marianna Marcucci, takes stock of the situation
Dal Maso, C. 2018. Five years of Digital Invasions, and they do not cease to amaze and innovate. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 2: pp. 141-144.
Culture has no borders is the slogan of the 2017 edition of Digital Invasions, a two- week joyful and playful wave of ideas that for five years has been invading many cultural destinations in Italy. Although inspired by the multiple walls recently built across the world, the slogan embodies the very spirit of the Invasions, an initiative that, since 2013, has succeeded in dismantling the boundaries of art and culture while turning cultural visits into exciting, shareable experiences. The number of ‘invasions’ and ‘invaders’ has been growing exponentially over the years, increasing from the 225 events of 2013 to the 410 of 2016, for a total of 1500 events and 50000 people involved in four years. And in 2017 the total number of invasions organized was 300.
How was this project born? Before the ‘Art Bonus’ decree came into effect in Italy, allowing for the free reproduction of all types of heritage objects, and the ‘no-photos’ signs dominated in museums and galleries, Digital Invasions encouraged people to ‘invade’ cultural sites with their smartphones and share pictures on social media. It was a brave initiative which definitely gave a boost to the sluggish world of cultural heritage. A sort of wake-up call to streamline the museum experience. ‘But there is still a lot to do to reconnect people with museums, and make everyone acknowledge the immense potential that internet and social media hold in the promotion of our cultural heritage’, states Marianna Marcucci, digital strategist working in tourism and culture and Digital Invasions’ co-founder with Fabrizio Todisco.
Why Digital Invasions?
Because, while the phenomenon of social networks was exploding, the cultural heritage sector had very little social presence; in 2013, social communication on cultural sites was just a one-way flow of curatorial expertise, completely lacking UGC, user-generated content. Visiting cultural sites was a passive and boring experience, and people were increasingly losing interest in the cultural heritage. With Digital Invasions we aim to reconnect people with museums, inviting them to participate in digital word-of-mouth marketing and encouraging them to visit cultural sites, take pictures, and share their experience on social media. We entreat them to tell their own story of the site’s visit, which is certainly different from the institutional story.
But they have always been peaceful invasions.
Of course they have. Every visit was, and still is, previously agreed upon. Our regional ambassadors encourage directors of museums and archaeological areas, as well as private citizens, to organize an invasion. Over the years, the quality of the events has improved. We constantly try new actions to engage museum collections with different audiences; no longer simple guided tours, but well-organized events introducing the site visit with an unexpected and creative approach, such as theatre performances, music concerts, games, even food-related experiences. The story of the visit, therefore, is no longer focused only on what visitors see in the museum, but on everything that happens there. Social technologies have also improved: from pictures, to videos, to 3D reconstructions.
As long as they are the result of collective experiences… Digital Invasions have helped people understand that a museum should not necessarily be visited alone and in silence. It can and it should be visited in groups, it can and it should be fun.
I remember the experience of the first year in Perugia, when we took to the museum a group of children equipped with disposable cameras. They took beautiful pictures ‘at a child’s eye level’, and had a great time. They all wanted to repeat the experience. Yes, a museum must be fun. Instead of signs indicating what is forbidden, there should be signs indicating what is allowed. The use of digital tools that we promote is not an end in itself, but has a collective and social purpose. Our invaders do not disengage themselves from the outside world; on the contrary, they live every experience twice by sharing it on the social media.
Even the icon of the Space Invaders that you have adopted, suggests fun and play. How did you choose that icon?
By chance, the first year. Then in the fall we were invited to Marseilles at the International Conference on Digital Heritage, and we brought the Space Invaders with us to emphasize the playful dimension of our Digital Invasions. They have been with us ever since: they are the symbol of our identity, together with the group picture with the ‘Invasion accomplished’ sign, another playful icon.
How has the public evolved over time?
On the first year, most invaders were people from our network, people who worked in the tourism and cultural sectors and were familiar with social media. But soon the circle widened. Because the local press covers and advertises our events regularly, our public includes not only people familiar with technology, but curious visitors as well. And everyone is welcome. Furthermore, over the years we have crossed the national border and now we organize Invasions also in France, Bosnia, Slovenia, Poland, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Australia, Brazil.
How do you support your operations?
We are all volunteers: strategists, ambassadors and organizers as well. Our biggest cost is for website hosting: our busy calendar requires a very complex site. In autumn 2013 we founded a cultural association that organizes events and offers company partnerships in various capacities; we support the website with the association’s proceeds.
What are your expectations for this fifth edition?
I wish for an ever-increasing awareness of the importance of enhancing and promoting events in the cultural heritage sector –and of the necessity to entrust such events to professionals. Many important things have changed since 2013, but we must continue to insist, particularly on having these new professional figures recognized as such. Another aspect that I want to highlight is closely linked to our motto Culture has no Borders: we must tear down not only the walls between culture and people, or between past and present, but also those between cultural institutions, in order to promote collaboration. If a museum does well, other museums should emulate it and perhaps even improve the model by introducing new ideas. There can’t be competition in the promotion of culture, because we all work for the same purpose; namely, to make culture free, open and welcoming. The awareness of this common goal should trigger a mechanism of virtuous competition.
Bonacini, E. 2014. Dal Web alla App. Fruizione e valorizzazione digitale attraverso le nuove tecnologie e i social media. Catania: Maimone.
Bonacini, E., Marcucci, M. & Todisco, F. 2014. #DIGITALINVASIONS. A bottom-up crowd example of cultural value co-creation. In S. Orlandi et al. (eds), Information Technologies for Epigraphy and Digital CH, Proceedings of the First EAGLE International Conference 2014, pp. 265-284. Rome: Sapienza Università Editrice. Bonacini, E. et al. 2017. #invasionidigitali3D: un’esperienza di crowdsourcing per la digitalizzazione museale. In Territori e frontiere della Rappresentazione/ Territories and frontiers of Representation. Atti del 39° convegno internazionale dei Docenti delle discipline della Rappresentazione, pp. 633-640. Roma: Gangemi.
Jenkins, H. 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge-London: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.