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!

Homepage, Our Migration Story website

What is “Our Migration Story”?

“Our Migration Story” is an online teaching resource, launched in 2016, to provide teachers with resources and tools to engage students with lessons on migration in Britain. It uses unique open source technology to widen access to original academic research and be used by anyone interested in learning about Britain’s migration history.

The information on this website is clearly organised in four historical categories:

  • AD43 – 1500: Early and Medieval Migrations
  • 1500 – 1750: Early Modern Migrations
  • 1750 – 1900: Industrial & Imperial Migrations
  • 1900 – 2000s: 20th & 21st Century Migrations.

Each category is introduced through a short video and an overview text that covers the general characteristics and the major movements of that period. This is followed by a collection of untold stories of specific communities and individuals arranged in the form of a timeline. Each story is written by one of the collaborating historians and is supported by images and personal stories and provide links to additional references.

One of the most interesting aspect is the Questions and Student Activities section at the end of each story which provides provocative questions and classroom activities that are, in most instances, related to contemporary issues that students can relate to. Additionally, the Teaching Resources area provides teachers with lesson plans and classroom activities.

The “Our Migration Story” project is a collaboration between the Runnymede Trust which is an independent race equality think tank, the University of Cambridge and the University of Manchester. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and builds on previous research and two other projects – Making Histories and Bangla stories.

These projects involved engaging with young people to explore, collect and document stories around migration. “Our Migration Story” was created as a response to the questions that arose around race and inequality in education in contemporary Britain and more specifically with the content of the current national curriculum. Despite its straightforward approach, the project uses innovative methods to tackle the exclusion of minor ethnicities and communities from migrant backgrounds.

What can CultureLabs learn from “Our Migration Story”?

In order that CultureLabs gain a deeper understanding of the project and learn from the experience of its organisers, Abir Tobji (CultureLabs Project Manager at People’s History Museum) met with Professor Claire Alexander, from the University of Manchester, one of the leading researchers in the “Our Migration Story” project. Below, it’s possible to find the key elements of the “Our Migration Story” that will be relevant to CultureLabs methodology:

Participation and engagement

Throughout the different project stages, the team worked collaboratively with both individuals and stakeholders; teachers, academics, local historians, policymakers, exam boards, teachers’ unions, and teachers’ training boards. The topics included in the website were chosen through round table discussions. In addition, the team worked directly with schools to engage students to build the content and test the developed resources. This was critical in building a sense of ownership and will make the project sustainable beyond its expected timeframe.

Identifying end users’ needs

The long term aim is to change the national curriculum to include mainstream race and diversity however the organisers acknowledged both the complexity and time required to achieve this. Their initial aim was to encourage teachers to work within the existing boundaries, while continuing to advocate for a systematic change. As a result, the needs of the end users were identified in order to be met in the best possible way. Surveys and focus group discussions with teachers revealed that many teachers had the motivation to be part of the change but did not have the time or the capacity to do all the research required to develop teaching resources. As a direct result, the project provided ready-made resources for teachers to use.

Culture Heritage

The website uses digitised museum and archive collections as resources and links those objects with personal stories in an interesting way that brings those collections to life and in context.

Dissemination and sustainability

The addition of additional content to the website is something that the organisers are considering, however, their priority is to focus on the dissemination and promotion of the current resources.


“Our Migration Story” project constitutes an excellent example of innovation in its use of technology for social inclusion. At CultureLabs we are looking forward to launching our platform, where we will be able to add the “Our Migration Story” project as one of our ingredients; it is a great example and a useful resource!

We are very much interested in learning about your experiences. If you have been involved in any similar initiatives please get in touch at

Requirements Analysis

Over the past few months, Sheffield Hallam University led an investigation to identify the functional requirements that the CultureLabs platform should have. The perspectives of both the members of the consortium and of relevant external stakeholders were gathered. The study comprised of a survey and interviews.

Even though internal and external stakeholders have different needs, motivations, and previous knowledge, the investigation revealed a common vision on four distinctive features.

First, searching for and accessing useful data were mentioned as one of the most important characteristics for a digital platform, especially one that allows users to find methodologies, tools and possible collaborators. Moreover, both groups emphasised the need for a highly interactive way of sharing, editing, and presenting data and content. This should be underpinned by a principle of reciprocity: taking and giving back.

A second important feature is fostering better communication between collaborators. In the context of managing participatory activities, this stood out as a means of building a network of collaborators and partners more efficiently.

Thirdly, gathering feedback is confirmed a crucial part of managing and conducting participatory projects, and CultureLabs has the opportunity to propose digital solutions that can overcome the limitations of existing established methods of getting feedback, such as online surveys.

Finally, both internal and external stakeholders noted that support for decision-making would be appreciated. This could include the use of voting and scheduling features in the platform. This was seen as a means of facilitating collaboration and gathering participants’ opinions as well as a way of having a centralised platform to keep track of a project and not relying on a variety of external tools (e.g. Doodle, Skype, etc.).

Whilst the two groups of participants represented different perspectives, their answers and elaborations highlighted key features to facilitate interaction, collaborative processes, and the management of participatory projects that CultureLabs will attend to.


There’s an alternative “Black Friday” from which CultureLabs may be inspired

If we say Black Friday the mind goes to the hectic, and sometimes compulsive, shopping day of the fourth Friday of November.

But this year we collected an alternative, that took place the third Friday of December. A way to escape from the Christmas hustle and bustle, a peaceful moment to listen someone else stories: that’s our favourite “Black Friday”, organised by MALTE – Musica Arte Letteratura Teatro Eccetera, Hexperimenta and Casa delle Culture in Ancona.

The last Friday 21st December, in the main pedestrian and crowded shopping street of Ancona, a group of migrants decided to give as presents to the interested citizens their Christmas stories. 7 locations were positioned at 100mt distance each other, with two facing tools, one for the migrant and the other for visitor. Who sat there could listen a short recorded story through cuffs, without interacting with the silent teller.

Black Friday in the United States is the day that starts Christmas shopping. We have also decided to invent a Black Friday, made of gifts, packages and reciprocity. The difference is that our Black Friday is really black. And that for us the gifts are not objects, but people, real people, of flesh and blood, who tell us their Christmas, their Christmas, and they do it without asking anything in return, as a gift” said the organisers.

What does CultureLabs can take from this experience?

  • the event aims to share how Christmas is in different countries, cultures and religions, thus making migrants’ cultural traditions known;
  • it is a way to reformulate the concept of “gift” giving the citizens a story as a Christmas present;
  • it represent a co-creation example: migrants are directly involved as they are the tellers of their stories, which they offer to whoever wants to listen to them;

… so it is a perfect recipe for our CultureLabs platform!

If you would know more about it, just following our upcoming pilots activities.

What can the visit of a Maasai delegation to the Pitt Rivers Museum teach CultureLabs?

The Pitt Rivers Museum hosts the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Amongst these are displayed more than 500,000 items arranged by object type rather than by time or geographical region. Many of the collections are populated by objects “acquired” by colonial functionaries, missionaries, and anthropologists during the British Empire.

Yohann Koshy’s article “Hey, that’s our stuff: Maasai tribespeople tackle Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum” published on the Guardian on the 4th December 2018 shares a key episode happened recently at the museum when a group of Maasai activists has been invited by the management to participate in a project rectifying the purposing of some of its collections. “Keenly aware of its problematic origins, the Pitt Rivers, like many museums, engages “originating communities” – in the museum-world lingo – to allow them to reclaim the narrative around their objects.

In what Koshy’s defines as part of a “process of cultural decolonisation”, the Maasai delegation has been invited to Oxford to help the museum rectify errors in the cataloging of the Maasai collection and providing more accurate information about the object hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum.

As it can be read more thoroughly in the article, the visit allowed to identify a number of problematic issues within the collection and within the broader museum acquisition procedures. To the great astonishment of the Maasai delegation, within the items in the collection were included fundamental elements of the Maasai culture (for example the orkatar bracelet or the isurutia neckless) which are regularly transmitted within families and never given up to external parties. This suggests that the acquisition process of the elements is likely to have happened through forceful measures, if not violent. Of the 60 objects examined, the Maasai came across five that are sacred, which “they would not expect to find elsewhere apart from within their community”.

This episode left us asking ourselves questions that we consider very important for the CultureLabs project we are part of and for the participation methodology that Platoniq brings forward in this context. CultureLabs intends on developing participatory projects across different European countries (Italy, Finland, and UK) which promote social cohesion through the means of Cultural Heritage.

As the CultureLabs team keeps exploring more and more the Design Justice principles, pushing for a more just, intersectional and accountable project design, implementation and evaluation, this episode and article point at key issues we are and have been interrogating ourselves on, such as:

  • How to account for and try to equilibrate power imbalances between the different parties involved in the co-creation process? 
  • Who gets to frame what counts as “Cultural Heritage” and how will the sense-making work? How to be self- aware of the power in this sense-making process?
  • Who will ask questions framing the development of the participatory projects? How and how often are the protagonist of the projects involved?
  • How to move away from tokenism and neo-colonising and move towards decolonising memory and archiving processes? How to transform Cultural Heritage institutions?
  • How to avoid harm and how to create conditions for safe(r) spaces whilst involving different communities in storytelling and sharing dynamics?
  • How to ensure that the participatory projects are centered on self-representation as much as possible and how to create the conditions for a safe(r) process in telling one’s own story?
  • How can the participatory processes avoid exoticising Cultural Heritage from different countries and fixing them into time?
  • Who is accountable for the responsibility of the project design and how does this accountability process work?

We are exploring approaches and methodologies to answer these questions as we proceed with CultureLabs and more participatory projects. If you have any ideas on how this can be done or would like to chat to us about it, please get in touch with us at! The Platoniq team, that is part of the project, will take care of your feedback!