MUSEUM AS AN ASYLUM - social inclusion

Several museums in Finland have organised activities and participatory projects involving migrants or asylum seekers during the recent years. One of the biggest initiatives has been a project called “Museum as an Asylum” coordinated by the Helinä Rautavaara ethnographic museum based in Espoo, Finland.

Altogether 15 museums all around Finland partnered in the project between 2016 and 2018. The objective of the project was to provide activities for and improve the well-being of asylum seekers under 25 years old and their families. In the second stage migrant youth who were not asylum seekers were also involved. Almost 10.000 people took part in the project activities.


The museums organised guided tours in the museums, various types of arts, sports and creative workshops were organised, where the participants could make handicrafts and art works using different types of techniques. Several exhibitions and events were organised in collaboration with migrants.

Many museums planned and implemented activities based on the wishes of the participants. At Sagalunds Museum female participants made an initiative to organise a Syrian wedding themed party event, which became an effective way of reflecting the differences and similarities between the Syrian and Finnish cultures. Also Helinä Rautavaara museum has experience of several participatory projects related to annual festivals and lifecycle celebrations. The museum considers them to provide a fruitful context for projects, as they are occasions that bring people together while involving several social, cultural and religious facets that relate to key aspects of  cultures and their change in general.


Tampere museum collections, Cultural education unit TAITE and Postal Museum also implemented a project @Tampere#home? during 2016-2017, that involved photography with asylum seekers. The asylum seekers documented their everyday life, celebrations, people, nature and important moments, and a photographic exhibition “Not just a piece of paper” was created in a participatory manner in the end of the project. The participants considered it important that the museum was not pushing its own agenda in the project, but it involved genuine interaction and listening. The message of the exhibition was to maintain hope through encouraging to see the shared humanity. Humour was also an important aspect in bringing people together. It unites and helps to find joy in the midst of difficulties – it is a part of being a human.


Good practices for CultureLabs

In the Museum as Asylum project what was planned in many cases differed from what was realised. Working with asylum seekers requires flexibility and readiness to constantly assess the needs of the participants and to change plans as the project progresses. Understanding and flexibility from the side of the funding organisation is appreciated in these situations. When the number of the participants at the museums was low, the reasons were examined and solutions such as change of timing or increased collaboration with the staff of the reception centres were sought after. The museum staff also organised activities in the reception centres. New collaborators such as schools and NGOs were contacted as the project evolved. Some asylum seekers were also employed as guides and in other roles during the project.

The cooperation between the museums and NGOs were seen as fruitful, as the museums could provide their contents and pedagogical expertise while the NGOs had experience of handling relevant social issues or discussing with the families of underaged participants. Museums were seen as a good collaborators, as they were considered neutral.


Several museums developed visual tools to facilitate communication. For example emojis are well-known symbols globally and young people use them a lot, as was discovered by Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova. Technology can be used creatively, like the participants at Aine Art Museum, who created videos using the photos saved on their phones or the participants of an art workshop at Serlachius Museums, who explained contexts and meanings of their paintings by showing photos of their home countries from their phones.


When organising art workshops with migrants, it is important to bear in mind that ideas and conceptions of art vary in different cultures, as Helsinki Art Museum pointed out after the project.  All in all, the museum exhibitions were seen to provide constructive contexts and places for intercultural dialogue. The project coordinator Riika Huitti-Malka writes about the meaning of culture to people: “in the most difficult situations, culture may be the only thing that people have left. A visit to the museum can save the day, or even the whole life”.


The publication of the Museum as an Asylum project (in Finnish) will be added as an ingredient on the CultureLabs platform. You can download the publication through this link:


Talking with the chef: Merel van der Vaart (Stedelijk Museum)

Talking with Merel van der Vaart – City History Curator at Stedelijk Museum Schiedam

Merel van der Vaart (City History Curator at Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, The Netherlands) is the second guest of the new column “Talking with the chef“, following the launch with Eike Schmidt.

CultureLabs investigated what is the role of a city history curator and her recipes about social and cultural innovation.

“My job is to work with historic collections but also to meet people in the city and find out the histories they would like to see represented“.

In the last two years the museum has decided to focus more of being a museum of people of Schiedam embracing a more participatory approach, working more on the historic collection and working with lots of partners.

This journey started with an exhibition about banners to the recently open “Post/delete”, a project started by two seventeen-years-old students from a local high school that could not assume the museum said yes to a body and selfie images exhibition.

What are the advices to work with a participatory approach? Be very open in your communication, be very open in your expectation, and mind the languange you are using because it could not have meanings outside the museums.

Follow this and much more in our conversation with Merel van der Vaart!


CultureLabs at Communities & Technologies 2019 - Wien

In June 2019, Danilo Giglitto, postdoctoral researcher at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), presented a paper called “Bridging cultural heritage and communities through digital technologies at the 9th International Conference on Communities & Technologies – Transforming Communities held at the Vienna University of Technology.


The theme of this edition of the conference was “Transforming Communities”. The conference encouraged submissions around the role of technology and technology design in the “making” of communities. Around 100 people from academia and industry attended the conference.


The paper – which was co-authored by Danilo Giglitto, Luigina Ciolfi, Caroline Claisse, and Eleanor Lockley – was included in a thematic session called Heritage and Future. The talk given by Danilo focused on the role that technology can have in facilitating the participation of communities at risk of exclusion (in particular migrant and refugee communities) in cultural and heritage related activities. The draws from the research led by SHU aimed at gathering the functional requirements of the CultureLabs platform from the perspective of people involved in the cultural heritage sector as well as people working with migrant groups in a variety of participatory settings.


The highlight of the talk was the presentation of key findings of the research, which revolved around the use of digital communication tools to tackle the barriers to participation in cultural heritage engagement projects, the implementation of a centralised digital platform to improve collaboration across entities and sharing best practices, and the characteristics that any technology should have to bridge cultural distances in participatory processes.


The presentation was followed by a very brief Q&A sessions, during which Danilo had the chance to discuss with members of the audience, including the extent of the ambition behind CultureLabs as a platform, the different perceptions around cultural heritage and its safeguarding by different communities of participants, and the potentially different conceptualizations of ‘co-design’ among the partners of the projects.


The paper has been published on the ACM Digital Library as part of the conference proceedings.

Dimmi Multimedia Migrant Diaries

What is DIMMI?

DIMMI “Multimedia Migrant Diaries” is an annual national competition organised by the National Diaries Archive, supported by the Tuscany Region, aiming to raise awareness and involve citizens on the issues of peace, memory and intercultural dialogue through the collection and the dissemination of stories of people with foreign origins (or background) that are living in Italy and in the Republic of San Marino. The winning stories are announced during the annual event on human rights “Premio Pieve Saverio Tutino” and published by a national publishing house.


Specifically, DIMMI intends to achieve two main purposes: to bring together and preserve a cultural heritage that risks to be lost; fight the stereotypes about migration through the collection of voices or experiences of people that lived those stereotypes (or are living it).

DIMMI is also part of a broad framework of activities realised by “Stories Of Migrants” project, carried out by the National Diaries Archive and co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Tuscany Region.


How does it work ?

As DIMMI wants to involve as many people as possible, according to the parameters of the Competition, it accepts and contemplates a wide range of materials allowing foreign people to narrate their own experiences and real life stories. The materials admitted are:

  • drawing and graphic arts
  • a video
  • a written story
  • an audio file
  • photos
  • e-mail and postcards


Moreover, it is possible to combine this parameters producing a “composite narration”, mixing materials such as: writing a story and enriching it with pictures or drawings, or sending audio files attaching photos of some significant passages of the autobiography.


What matters is that materials produced are authentics stories, without corrections and changes, and realised in italian language (if produced in a foreign language it is necessary to attach an italian translation). For this reason a Scientific Committee examine the autobiographies, verifying their authenticity, admitting the first 150 stories received.

However, the other works excluded from the Competition 2019 will be stored in the National Diaries Archives.

In any case, peoples can download a participation form and guidelines from the project website.


What can CultureLabs learn from DIMMI?

DIMMI represents a significant and remarkable multimedia storytelling initiative combining a bottom-up and a participatory approach with the urgence to “rescue” and preserve the historical memory of foreign people.


In this case the collection of the material is not a simple “data transposition process” but a preservation of the lives and experiences that otherwise would have to be forgotten and lost.

In the age of “fluidity” and “frenzy”, being able to preserve these small but important pieces of life is a relevant means to promote integration and build a collective memory.

The added value of DIMMI is represented by the authentic and unique personal experiences that goes beyond the mainstream narrative and seeks to highlight the unique element of each life.


CultureLabs can take inspiration from some remarkable features of DIMMI project, especially from:

  • the focus on the effective personal experience through the production of a story through conventional and unconventional tools (also with digital and multimedia tools)
  • the user-centered approach: DIMMI collects authentic and strictly personal stories that have never been published before. Thus, the “subjective” element is preponderant and therefore the stories must be strictly autobiographical (i.e. referring to themselves)
  • the involvement of a large number of national and international stakeholders: from cultural heritage institutions to NGOs, from social cooperatives to public administrations, from archives and libraries to civil society organizations
  • the possibility of bringing people closer to cultural institutions and CH by creating a real community that promotes integration and social inclusion
  • Respect for the different point of view, which is one of the main aspects of participatory


DIMMI is one of the many projects that CultureLabs wants to bear in mind for the development of its project and future initiatives: user centred approaches, multimedia storytelling, interaction between people of foreign origins and a wide range of stakeholders are the characteristics that we want to carry forward for CultureLabs.


We welcome all your feedback, ideas and involvement in any aspect of our project.

CultureLabs was back in Sheffield!

On 22nd and 23th of May 2019, a new meeting of the CultureLabs consortium has taken place in Sheffield (UK), hosted by the Sheffield Hallam University, one of the partners of the project.

Besides the periodic appointment to monitor the state of the art of the project, the results achieved and the new steps to take, the meeting in Sheffield was a crucial occasion to analyse our four pilots with the help of external stakeholders that cared about actively discussing our methodologies and progress. We invited representatives of cultural institutions, NGOs, civil society organisations, to work with us adopting the Wotify methodology, under the direction of Platoniq.

It was fundamental to compare their strategies and approaches with ours and receive their hints, recommendations that help us to enhance elements of strength and identify possible risks to overcome.

So, special thanks to:

Ronan Brindley – Manchester Art Gallery

Anne Louise Kershaw – HOME – Centre for contemporary theatre, film, art, music

Rachel Drew – Migration, Refugee and the University Group at Sheffield Hallam University

Nick Roscoe – Bishops’ House

Karen Hough – CENTRIC Sheffield Hallam University

Fidel Budy  – CENTRIC Sheffield Hallam University

Ghazaleh Oshaghi – ORAMMA project

During the second day of the meeting, the consortium actively worked on the value chain analysis and how to lay the ground to measure the efficiency and the impact of future recipes. A very fruitful discussion on how to establish a value chain analysis, which matches the needs of stakeholders of the CultureLabs to concrete innovative participatory approaches to social innovations through culture!

This is a just started process, but which has already proved to be a very interesting challenge!

Video interviews with people involved at the Sheffield workshop are coming soon! For further information about Culture Labs project progresses keep following our Magazine section!

Talking with the chef: Eike Schmidt (Uffizi Galleries)

Talking with Eike Schmidt – Director of the Uffizi Galleries

Eike Schmidt (Director of the Uffizi Galleries) is the first guest of our new column “Talking with the chef” where CultureLabs meets big players and professionals to know their recipes about social and cultural innovation.

We start with a very special guest: the Director of the Uffizi Galleries, one of the main cultural istitutions worldwide, based in Florence cradle of the Renaissance and one of the most important collections about humanistic culture.


For this, the Uffizi Galleries have a long history about user-centered approach. This has now become an international trend, but in the Uffizi it dates back to the 1950s but nowadays there are such huge opportunities that did not exist before. And this is not related to the new technologies only.

Eike Schmidt explains how an international museum such Uffizi Galleries deal with new audiences and new challenges, keeping the human element at the centre. “For instance, digitally speaking VR is certainly interesting but what is really excting is the AR because we can focus on what we do already have“.

Again, it’s not only about technologies but also about human interaction is fundamental, we founded a department of accessibility and cultural mediation which offered almost 200 hundreds of special tours, or actually, workshops. This is increasing, in fact it is a very important part of our strategy“.

This newly funded department aimed at fully integrating new audiences: “every visitor is different from each other and we can not have even today a clean group in our minds that studied art and have a university degree. This is not our audience anymore“.


In order to avoid that the Uffizi one of the greatest museums in the world is downgraded to a simple attraction is truly important to open up and to think to the variety of approaches, a very wide range of potential approaches for people with different cultural, social, educational background“.

What is crucial even using technologies is always to keep the human element at the centre, important to build a platform not technology-driven, but driven by human needs, to exchange ideas and to learn.


So, the challenges are clear, what are the solutions implemented by the Uffizi Galleries? If you would discover it please see the interview here below.

What is the Academy of the Art of the Gesture?

The Academy of the Art of the Gesture is part of the “National Centre of Dance Production of Virgilio Sieni”. Based in Florence, the Centre is one of the four Italian hubs of dance production.

Created in 2007 by the professional dancer Virgilio Sieni, the Academy aims at establishing participative and inclusive programmes, combining professional dancers and amateurs of all ages and conditions, from children to the elderly to the visually-impaired.


The Academy regularly organises urban dance projects through the direct involvement of citizens. These consist of a series of training and participatory workshops that give life to a public dance performance. In these projects, citizens are the real protagonists as they are the agents that contribute the most to the whole process: from the engagement of people to the performance itself. Guided by artists and academics from different disciplines, participants are invited to explore and experience the body languages with the aim of producing a collective choreography that arises from the interaction between them.


The resulting performances are played in unconventional places such as urban streets, undervalued museums, abandoned buildings and peripheral areas (in Italy or the rest of Europe).

The dance becomes a means for cohesion and active participation as well as an element of cultural and social empowerment for the people involved. Besides, the location for the performances can represent a strategy to let people (re)discover places and custom such as  urban venues (e.g. the “Ballo 1945. Grande adagio popolare” project that took place at the big factory Fiat Mirafiori in Turin), abandoned social traditions (e.g. “Cammino popolare”, a series of y site-specific performances carried out along streets or squares of a city for their historical, cultural or social value) or local culture (e.g. the series of “Cenacoli Fiorentini” that take place in venues hosting representations of the Last Supper).


By creating a space where different generations can safely dialogue together, these projects allow participants to gain confidence in their body and in their ability to convey emotions.

Moreover, they can also experience the opportunity connect with arts and approach dancing for the first time. In doing so, they potentially become new audience at other dance performances.

The most difficult aspect is to create an active community that feels to be part of a project” – Daniela Giuliano (the Centre’s director) says. “For this reason – she explains – it’s necessary to work at the territorial level, engaging local administrations as well as local cultural associations that allow Virgilio Sieni staff to enter in direct contact with local communities”.


Recently, the Academy has taken the habit to film the whole process of the projects, from the initial involvement of the territorial actors to the final performance. In this way – Daniela explains – “we are able to better describe our procedure and work methodology at new potential participants”. Documenting and filming the projects also allow Virgilio Sieni Centre staff to more effectively clarify the kind of involvement required from participants as well as the expected impact and the benefits for people and places. In a way, the most important part of each projects reside in the process leading to the performance rather than the performance itself.


What can CultureLabs learn from the projects of the Academy of the Art of the Gesture?

The methods for engaging the citizens in the arts represents an interesting source of inspiration. These projects can show many examples on how to produce benefits such as the revaluation of abandoned places and traditions through the unconventional display of dance performances.


Another relevant aspect to CultureLabs is the way in which the Academy aims to create a safe space where all people are legitimated to belong and participate, regardless of their age and dancing skills. The strive for inclusiveness is in line with the concept of “democracy of the body”, on which the Academy’s projects are based, and according to which everybody has the same right to exist and participate in the artistic space. This is an important metaphor of the participatory and co-design work: every difference (physical, cultural, social, economical and whatnot) brings richness to a project and contributes to its success.

In a participatory context there aren’t unimportant people! On the contrary, all participants give an important contribution and benefit from sharing the experience with others.


The Academy’s projects are also possible thanks to effective strategies to engage with stakeholders.

Before starting a local project, the Virgilio Sieni Centre staff establishes close relations with associations, public administrations and citizens to better understand a territory as well as the interests and needs of its inhabitants. The Academy performances are not designed for, but with the communities that participate.


Do you know other participatory project? A project that can help CultureLabs progress?

Tell us your story and experience. We welcome all your feedback, ideas and involvement in any aspect of our project.

You can contact us at!

Methodology by Platoniq

Over the past months, Platoniq has hamonised the inputs emerged from the CultureLabs meeting in Barcelona, where the team identified ethics and principles that will be leading the CultureLabs project.

Elena Silvestrini (methodology developer at Platoniq) describes the project methodology, that has been set and inspired on Platoniq expertise but also on “Design Justice” principles, by adopting a community centered design approach. What does it mean for CultureLabs?
– develop project WITH, not for
– be a bridge for participation
– go beyond your assumptions
– the power of story to create connections

and much more…

The role of the facilitation is to manage the relations and to create a safer space where the different communities can work together and shape directions that would be taken, an encounter based on storytelling and participation.

CultureLabs meeting in Athens

CultureLabs was back in Athens!

On 5th and 6th of March 2019, after the kick-off meeting, CultureLabs went back in Athens. The meeting was held at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) by the project coordinator with representatives from all project partners.

During the meeting in Athens, the partners had a constructive discussion, covering all the aspects of project implementation and presenting the first results of the sharing knowledge, experiences, expertises and analysed the next steps. Partners focused on the first results of needs analysis of stakeholders in relation to the first structure of ingredients and recipes which will be the structural data of the digital platform.

The upcoming four pilots (and other planned activities) had a leading role: pilot organisers explained the methodology that will be followed in order to identify the target groups and their needs and the requirements of digital tools. The needs and input of participants should be taken into account from an early stage on; the pilots activities are expected to “fit” under the collaborative/co-creation/hosted approaches.

The partners continued discussing about the first reporting period to European Commission (EC) and furthermore they discussed about the first main dissemination event of CultureLabs project which will take place during the Internet Festival in Italy (October 10-13th).

A very fruitful discussion due to the active participation of the partners in an open discussion where each one could give their impressions on each particular activity, offer solutions and collaboration and work together on common implementation issues.

For further information about CultureLabs project progresses keep following our Magazine section!

Surprise participatory project

What is Surprise?

SURPRISE is an art festival, a physical and digital art exhibition, and a participatory project at the same time that employs the power of contemporary art for social innovation purposes. SURPRISE is an international campaign that counts on the participatory and collaborative efforts of the artistic community, the private as well as non-profit organisations, and engages the public and art as a way of solving serious social problems. In this case, the social innovation efforts target the support of the homeless of Greece and KLIMAKA NGO’s relevant programs for the homeless.

Every year, around 300 small format artworks are collected by the organisers of SURPRISE and then made available to the public for the amount of 50 € per piece. The price is deliberately set at an affordable range to allow everyone to support the effort. Participant-artists cover the entire spectrum of artistic practice: from discovery artists to globally established, as well as a significant number of international artists. There is, however, a catch: the artist’s identity remains secret. The artworks are signed on the back, thus encouraging the audience to decide solely upon instinct and personal taste. While contributing to the cause, online and on site visitors of the SURPRISE exhibition of art have the opportunity to acquire an already valuable artwork or one that will increase in value over time. Either way, they will walk away with an artwork of their choice.

The SURPRISE project takes place every year and the earnings from the artworks’ sales are donated to the Homeless Support Program of KLIMAKA NGO. The participatory project was first realized in 2009, and since then, more than 2,000 artists from around the world have joined the campaign, contributing their artworks to support our fellow humans.

How does it work?

The citizen interested in supporting this effort can visit which hosts the online exhibition every year to study the artworks online and note down the code numbers of their choice. New artworks are added on a daily basis up to the physical exhibition’s opening.

For instance, in 2018, the physical exhibition of SURPRISE IX took place between 23-25 November at the «EARTH K44» space in Athens, Greece for the live viewing and sale of the artworks. The artworks are sold on a first come – first served basis. Several parallel events also take place during the physical exhibition, such as a silent auction of larger scale artworks that feature in the exhibition list, art games making available artworks, book sales and more.


Surprise X, 2019 – How can I participate?

Surprise X 2019 - Call for artists

SURPRISE X physical exhibition will take place in Athens, Greece, on Friday 18 October 2019.

There is currently an open call to artists interested in using their talent to bring positive change for donations of artwork to support the cause (help the homeless of Greece). Prior to the exhibition at the physical space, the artworks will be exhibited online. The online version of the exhibition starts the 15th September 2019.

Samples of artwork can be sent at, while more information about this can be found at

Each edition of SURPRISE features around 300 artists but the 10th (2019) anniversary edition is going to be even bigger by establishing artwork collection stations internationally and inviting artists from across the world to join the cause.


What can CultureLabs learn from Surprise?

SURPRISE is exactly the kind of participatory project that CultureLabs aims at enabling, facilitating and promoting. It is inspiring for the CultureLabs team because:

  • it provides an excellent best practice example of a participatory approach and a collective effort that is realized thanks to the involvement of a number of stakeholders (NGOs, private supporters, contemporary art community, citizens); this is the kind of “recipes” that CultureLabs aims at collecting, featuring and promoting;
  • just like CultureLabs, it is using cultural heritage (in this case contemporary art) to fight adversity and support social innovation and inclusion; this is exactly the kind of “marriage” between cultural heritage and societal causes that our project is supporting;
  • just like CultureLabs, it is using a digital cross-cultural platform and digital tools (i.e., the online exhibition of the project) to enable participation of all involved artists and make their artwork widely available to a broader audience, while creating bridges between art scenes around the world.


In CultureLabs, we are exploring approaches, methodologies and we are implementing digital tools to facilitate the organization and implementation of projects like SURPRISE and enable new similar participatory projects to be carried out even by non-experienced but willing organisations. We welcome all your feedback, ideas and involvement in any aspect of our project.

You can contact us at!