Museum API Study Trip to Florence

Over Spring Break students from the MuseumAPI class travelled to Florence, Italy to face their latest design challenge: redesign the museum experience to bring more visitors using technology while preserving the historic nature of the experience. A collaboration with SACI Florence and the five major museums of Florence, students gained a first hand look at issues facing museums today.

One of the main goals of the MuseumAPI class has been to become more observant museum visitors, both in Paris and Florence. The subgroup from the class composed of students from the MA Design & Technology, MA History of Design & Curatorial Studies, and MA Fashion Studies that traveled to Florence was accompanied faculty members art historian Stephanie Nadalo and artist/technologist Chris Sugrue (who studied both at Parsons in NYC, and at SACI). Parsons School of Design (NYC) student Dylan Negri is spending his Spring semester abroad at Parsons Paris pointed out, “As student of Design and Technology, it is a humbling experience to spend time in place like Florence, where the city consciously tries to maintain its historical essence. It reminds you the importance of taking into consideration the preservation of cultural monuments when coming up with methods for keeping the city up to contemporary technological standards.”

The trip involved an encounter with Studio Arts College International (SACI), who has has established a partnership with Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia working side by side with museum leadership and administrators to improve the overarching visitor experience. Many Florentine museums are suffering from overcapacity and insufficient budgets, as well as being challenged to meet the demands placed on them by visitors.

Parsons Paris students presented to the president and dean of SACI, as well as graphic design and museology students, who also pitched their ideas. MFA Design & Technology student Paolo Villanueva described the setting: “The room was really international, but it was most useful to have Florentines in the room to have the local perspective to be our culture translators,” adding, “Did you know in Florence there is only 1 Florentine to 27 tourists?! There were 13 million visitors in 2015.” Karla Poro pointed out “I think this experience was beneficial for us because we got feedback from people who have been involved with the Museum and the Florentine context for an extended period.”

MFA Design & Technology student Zahra Sadjadi she gained insights into how different fields approach problems. “Their [SACI] approach to data-driven, demographic research as well as primary source historical materials impressed me.  Many times in MFA DT we are producing and iterating very rapidly without a great deal of time to build upon reference material,” noting, “It was nice to see how the graphic design and museology students at SACI were able to delve into problem-solving techniques based on layers of context-based research.” Students also learned a lot from SACI professors Camilla Torna and Maria Antonia Rinaldi. 

Students visited several museums while in Florence, including the Accademia, which is home to Michaelanglo’s David, but the lesser visited Bargello Museum was the focus of the Parsons Paris project. The endeavor not only became a learning experience, but a real-time practical encounter which hopefully will have an impact on the museum. While in Florence students worked documenting the impressive museum for their final projects at the end of the semester.

Student Karla Polo reflected on her visit to the Bargello, which was “bigger than I expected, with an amazing courtyard that made me wanted to spend the whole day just sitting there. The collection was so vast that we were exploring the different rooms almost until the time it closed [at 13:50].” Dylan pointed out “it became clear to me that to anyone who has the chance to visit the museum appreciates it for its atmosphere. The open courtyard is of tranquil proportions and the interior is beautifully constructed even though the exterior does it little justice,” noting “it will be important to maintain these elements of Florentine authenticity in future projects.”

“The Parsons Paris Florence trip didn’t only teach me so much about the great, breathtaking art history, but it also made me fall in love with the beautiful city and the rich culture upon which the city was built,” Lucien Huang reflected. “The collection in Bargello is great; the history of the museum and the building is very interesting; And the museum is so tightly connected to the city, Florence.”

History of Design & Curatorial Studies student Nadia Jihad described the Bargello saying “this often overlooked institution offers a nice contrast to the more known ones; we experienced for ourselves as well as heard firsthand from locals that the Bargello is appreciated for its small and peaceful setting, along with its lovely courtyards.” Nadia also pointed out “as we finalize our pitches and final projects, we cannot help but bear in mind that perhaps the Bargello should not change too much.”

How does one sum up a one week with students and teachers? According to Karla Polo, “the experience, in general, was fantastic. The group that traveled from Parsons Paris became tighter, building a positive space for collaboration.” For faculty member Stephanie Nadalo, she said, “Before joining Parsons Paris as a professor in the Art & Design History & Theory department, I spent several years conducting research in Florence for my doctoral degree. It was really exciting to return and share the city’s art and culture with such a motivated and creative group of students. I can’t wait to see their final projects!”

So what’s next? The students started in small teams and pitched their preliminary ideas in Florence. Now that they’ve narrowed them down to two, they’ll be finessing their pitch to present to the Director of the 5 major museums in Florence later this month. Stay tuned…

And if you’re Florence bound, Fashion Studies student Tala AlGhamdi has a few recommendations to avoid the crowds:
“The best spots were actually all random suggestions from different people and were not on the top of TripAdvisor’s suggestions. The Gucci Museo which was small but beautifully set up to give visitors the ability to take as many photos as they’d like (know your market!), The Scuola del Cuoio is a traditional leather school that’s been around since the ‘30s (and will emboss your initials onto anything you buy, like for example an obnoxious red croc card holder for 50 Euros), and the creepiest of them all, Le Specola, a natural science museum with the biggest collection of anatomically correct human wax figures (a famous one is titled Venus De Milo in Ecstasy, it’s as weird as it sounds).”


For more on this trip check out #parsonsparisxSACI and #parsonsparisgoestoFlorence on Instagram!

Photos by Paolo Villanueva.