Tafterjournal n. 41 - novembre 2011

The evolution of cultural consumption and successful strategies for sustainable cultural management


Rubrica: Reti creative

Parole chiave: , ,

Festivals of literature, poetry and philosophy, opera performances inside the stadiums and concerts in the archeological sites are only some of the new forms of cultural supply whose success is gradually increasing due to arising demand.

Even museums, the cradle of traditional cultural consumption, are undergoing a process of change as demonstrated by the intensive diffusion of blockbuster exhibitions. In summer 2007, what has been labeled the “Italian exhibition factory” turned out no less than 650 exhibitions that were visited by over 7 million people (Santagata, 2009).

The art fairs, a relatively new form of cultural market, are recording quite a big expansion. The main Italian fairs are held at Verona, Turin, Bologna, and Milan and each of these attracts around 30,000- 40,000 visitors a year in only a few days. A success, for example, is the fair The road to contemporary art held in Rome: six exhibition venues, 50 Italian and international art galleries and more than 35,000 visitors.

Further cases of emerging cultural experiences, diffused worldwide, can be mentioned, from bookcrossing(1),  which gives new life to books avoiding the slow death buried in dust, passing them to new readers (there are currently 963,186 bookcrossers and 8,212,659 books “travelling” throughout 132 countries); community reading, the simultaneous enjoying by the resident community of a certain area(2).
Moreover, cultural production so far reserved to “experts” is being increasingly appreciated by a much wide audience. Recently, some pieces of classical music were ranked for the first time in the Top Chart, competing with rock and pop music: some examples are Die Zauberflöte conducted by Claudio Abbado entered the Top 100 Nielsen Chart (Trimarchi, 2007), and the young Italian pianist Giovanni Allevi reached the eighteenth position in the Italian ranking of the most sold albums (Scalise, 2007).
As the above description suggests, it is clear that the panorama of the cultural consumption is changing rapidly due to the creation of unconventional markets. This requires a new understanding of the phenomenon, so that effective managing strategies can be designed. The discussion should also focuses on the raising enthusiasm of a demand previously related to enjoy conventional cultural supply.
Also cultural tourism(3)  is being affected by such a radical change. Richards and Wilson (2007) argue that cultural tourism is moving towards what they identify as creative tourism: “more experiential forms of consumption, no longer focused only on the past but also the present and the future, with interests ranging from highbrow culture to popular mass culture, fashion, design and architecture”.
The focal role of cultural experience is confirmed by the wide spread sensuality of the cognitive features in determining the value of manufactured products. In such aspect a positive experience justifies the extra price paid by the consumer, strengthens loyalty and above all it encourages word-of-mouth, a fundamental form of marketing.
A comprehensive understanding of the opportunities opened due to the evolution of cultural consumption could be the starting point for a substantial reorganization of cultural supply in order to face the expectations of the emerging cultural demand. The main issue is how occasional consumers may be transformed in habitual audience. Only in such way cultural supply can credibly pursues sustainability.
A substantial redesigned of the management strategy is strongly needed in Italy. It is necessary both to identify the profiles of cultural consumers and to investigate the evolution of cultural consumption.
Our reflection starts from the assumption that the value and, consequently, the utility of cultural products are changing during last decades. According to Trimarchi (2007), in the past, cultural experiences were only driven by emotions (the so called Stendhal effect); today consumers are replacing this ancient approach with a cognitive and perceptive process that implies the more individuals consume cultural products the more they accumulate knowledge.
The cultural addiction theory (Stigler and Becker, 1977) suggests that the fundamental motivation behind cultural consumption is represented by an increasing accumulation of information. By this theory, the learning process starts with a first occasional contact stimulating curiosity and generating an increasingly deeper ability to elaborate critical capacities to choose the cultural products. Once a “sufficient” level of knowledge is reached, the process leads to, on one hand, a growing demand of culture and willingness to pay and, on the other hand, to an enhancement of the expectation of quality.
New cultural consumers seem to seek a cultural production that shifts its core value from certified aesthetic quality and experts’ evaluations to the provision of an intensive informational and knowledge endowment. In this way, cultural products become a complex and wide set of ideas that are relevant to a broader set of participants, leading the need to adjust the forms of promoting and making its various forms more accessible to the public.
Recently, an increasing request for auxiliary services (bookshops, audio guides, guided visits, etc) is recorded, as they allow a grater level of understanding of cultural products. Looking at the Italian experience, anyway, although the institutions are preparing themselves to face the requirements of the public, Italy still seems to lag behind other countries in this field. In 2006, among the 402 state-run museums, monuments and archaeological areas, only 97 had bookshops (Sistan, Servizi Aggiuntivi dei Musei, Monumenti e Aree Archeologiche Statali, 2006).
The Italian cultural sector seems to be more interested in the traditional cultural market and in the international tourism rather than in attracting the emerging cultural demand, even if it definitely demonstrates to suffer from the missing renewal of public sector. According to Deganutto and Trimarchi (2010), for example, the funding system of the performing arts sector is based on parameters that consider mainly the dimension aspect, such as number of tickets sold, instead of having as objective the increasing request of occasional ticketing. The sector, thus, shows a strong aversion to risk and prefer to rely on the taste of consolidated audiences (regular opera-goers season and ticket-holders) and in particular the approval of the public sector which finances them.
The institutional system is characterized by funding system which encourages excellence in terms of quality according to the assessment of technical commissions with consulting power. This produces a long-term drain on the creative fertility of the system, since instead of supporting the development and consolidation of a diversified production system, it simply opts for the large-scale production organizations which obviously follow tradition. In this way over the decades, a closed sector has developed creating considerable obstacles in approaching the emerging demand characterized by a more complex taste.
According to Cognata (2003), the critical relationship between external funding and its influence on the subject funded, demonstrates that public support based on evaluations of quality leads to limit the range of the supply, whereas the prevalence of greater private funding, typical of other advanced countries, encourages diversification and productive innovation.
The Italian conservation policy for the cultural heritage has achieved standards of skills and competence that are envied worldwide. What is less certain is our capacity to produce new culture through museums, monuments and the landscapes.
We have conserved and safeguarded our cultural heritage, allocating a good deal of public and private resources to them. But the time has come to dedicate resources to the production of new culture, to avoid destroying our heritage.
The approach proposed in this paper suggests that a successful cultural management should include the process of creativity – the concept should be intended with reference to the art and the culture economy (Bryant and Throsby, 2006; Santagata, 2007) – integrating different forms of culture activities, such as for example built heritage and the performing arts (Trimarchi, 2004), in order to generate added value. Thus, the cultural heritage acquires a new role becoming an input for cultural production, a resource to produce new experience, new culture (e.g. a Greek or Roman theatre used as the venue of live performances during the summer or heritage building used by Universities, etc…).
It maybe implies a conversion of heritage, which is a controversial topic, as in many cases pass throughout a change of the heritage role and function raising delicate issues such as the ethical need to not violate the identity. According to Lichfield (1988) such a change can be defined either restoration or rehabilitation(4).
The issues of response to scarcity in the supply of venues for either private or public activities should be also considered, as different points of view exist with regard to the dilemma given by the potential cost for future generations of a more intensive present exploitation. According to Trimarchi (2004), this is often a false dilemma, since in many cases, if appropriate regulations and institutional criteria and constraints are introduced, the use of heritage can avoid the irreversible loss of important parts of our cultural stock and guarantee its preservation rather than harming it.
The belief is that a correct exploitation of heritage as input for cultural initiatives, from live performances to thematic events, can produce an interesting change from a static and passive consumption of culture to a more active and complex enjoyment of it, bringing a lot of benefits as it probably satisfy the expectations of the emerging cultural demand in the better way.
As a resource for creativity, thus, the contribution of the cultural heritage positively affects the whole chain, fuelling economic innovation, changes in taste, improving research and techniques for maintaining, safeguarding and restoring cultural goods. In this way, the heritage accumulated by all past generations become an essential part of the cultural contest which, capable of generating positive stimuli, interacts with individuals’ capacity to learn.
In conclusion, the cultural industries, in its all sector, could be the economic macro sector best suited to facing the new challenges of globalised markets and positioning Italy at the top of the international rankings by country as well as making a significant driving impact on the national economic system. Anyway, it is clear that a urgent action is needed to create effective development strategies with the aim of cultural heritage enhancement and valorization and may be seen as a wake-up call by public administrators, cultural institutions and private organisations involved.
We must attain the standards of the humanistic culture of our past without losing touch with the emerging culture consumption behavior and expectations. The Italian model, including the concept of creativity, could mark the transition from policies designed merely to conserve culture (protection, restoration and management) to policies designed to produce new ideas and transform them into new cultural products to be marketed worldwide.

(1) The act of giving a book a unique identity so, as the book is passed from reader to reader, it can be tracked and thus connecting its readers (www.bookcrossing.com).
(2) See the Italian case of Mantova studied by Smargiassi, 2006.
(3) The UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) defines cultural tourism as the movement of persons for essentially cultural motivations, including study tours, performing arts, cultural tours, travel to festivals, visits to historic sites and monuments. The WTO definition also mentions the possibility that a part of cultural tourism is participating in the customs of a people and experiencing its traditions and life style.
(4) Lichfield (1988) defines restoration as the “reviving of the original concept, either or both in relation to the fabric or use”, while rehabilitation is adaptation to any contemporary function which appears to be “capable of sustaining” that unit of heritage. Conversion can be considered a rather comprehensive case, in which the functions of a building change through time in a way which appears to be compatible with both economic and cultural arguments.

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