Pisa pilot activity - so distant incredibly close

Customs, practices, beliefs, traditions, lifestyles, values, memories, stories constitute an important part of the cultural heritage as well as instruments of a self-representation.

For this reason, So distant, Incredibly Close pilot solicits the migrants involved to reflect on their idea of cultural heritage. What does cultural heritage mean for them? And again, which piece of cultural heritage would they take along with them for representing their roots, for not forgetting their cultural identity and not feeling alone?

Who is involved in the activities?

Fondazione Sistema Toscana is currently working with two groups of migrants: a group of about 15 women coming from different countries, such as Brasil, Poland, Iraq, Iran, and a small group of young people coming from Africa (specifically Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso). Creating groups from scratch would have been difficult, so we relied on the professional experience of associations already working with migrants, investigating their interest to collaborate with us for the project purposes, and inserting So distant, Incredibly Close pilot in their already existing cultural offers and social services.

Casa della Donna (https://www.casadelladonnapisa.it/) is a historic feminist association, founded in 1990, that sustains women’s rights against any kind of violence. Among its activities, Casa della Donna is now providing migrant women with free Italian language courses, and our project So distant, Incredibly Close has been integrated into the linguistic offer of the Casa della Donna association, thus increasing their occasions to speak Italian with natives, to put into practice the learned lesson and measure their linguistic competence in different contexts.

ORISS Onlus (http://www.oriss.org/) is a non-profit association consisting of an interdisciplinary group of experts coming from different fields and promoting processes of mutual knowledge and kicks off processes of wellness, with the objective to contribute to the development and health of the human community. We are now working with a small group of migrants, that previously took part of ORISS activities, to experiment museum visits as a form of self-confidence (o empowerment) and social inclusion.

What do the activities consist of?

Museums’ contents become a stimulus to trigger memories and stories of/from migrants visiting museums’ collections. Historical, artistic, naturalistic and scientific heritage, conserved in 4 museums of the Pisa University Museum System, take part in this game of memory:

Museum of calculation and computation instruments, whose rich collections offer a fascinating journey through the history of the European computation methodology, and more generally through the history of European cultural system, that has given rise to the contemporary western technological system.

Gipsoteca of Ancient Art that houses faithful copies of some of the most famous and significant works of Greek, Etruscan and Roman art, today preserved in different national and foreign museums or unfortunately lost in some cases.

Museum of Natural History that collects and exhibits more than 400 years of history in the scientific and natural science research of the Pisa University. Its permanent exhibitions include mineralogical, paleontological and zoological exemplars, organized according to thematic criteria and displayed on over 4,000 m² of halls and galleries, arranged on 3 floors.

Botanical Museum and Garden that hosts plants from the 5 continents and of a wide variety: wild plants for food use, officinal plants, a rich collection of different types of camellias and hydrangeas, bamboo forest, wild orchids and ancient trees.

The collections of those museums attest the outcomes of the researches and studies conducted by the University academics, witnessing important stages of the evolution of the scientific thought and of the European culture. The University Museum System has the main purpose of enhancing and preserving the scientific and cultural academic heritage.

The objects exhibited in the Pisa museums represent an entry door to bring the remembrance back to a custom, practice, belief, tradition, lifestyle (etc.) of the migrants’ cultural background and lay the ground for creativity.

Each museum, depending on the typology and characteristics of its collections, is providing people with different opportunities to share ideas and interests, in order to contribute to the collective cultural enrichment.

A glimpse into the future

So distant, Incredibly Close is basically composed of 3 main pivots:

  •     Guided visits at the museums’ collections with the tutoring of the Pisa University scholars.
  •     Emerging of stories and memories with the collaboration of cultural mediators.
  •     Transformation of the stories and memories collected in sketches and illustrations with the collaboration of artists.

Indeed, migrants will be able to enrich the museums with their knowledge and cultural contribution, thus demonstrating that museums can constitute a platform for kicking an intercultural understanding. The stories and memories collected as illustrations will be exhibited during an exhibition that will give us the opportunity to organise a final event, involving the general audience too.

The illustrations might be collected in an online exhibition at the end of the pilot activities.


Discover further details of the pilot on CultureLabs platform: https://recipes.culture-labs.eu/#/workspace/recipes/647

The Culturelabs platform, which is being developed to help users organise participatory projects tailored to their needs as the ultimate goal, is online!

Our internal team have been testing the first version of the system, which only include basic functionalities, by creating profiles and uploading relevant content. Now Sheffield Hallam University is seeking to gather some further external feedback about the platform, in order to improve and further develop it.

This evaluation of the CultureLabs platform will be carried out through two distinct evaluative rounds – to be delivered respectively in March and December 2020 – with a consideration for the evolution of the design and development process.

Do you work in Cultural Heritage? Are you working for a GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums)? Do you work with migrants / refugees / disadvantaged groups? Are you generally interested in participatory projects? If so, we need your feedback!


Test the plaform at the following link: https://recipes.culture-labs.eu/


We have developed an online survey which will guide you whilst accessing the platform. The survey asks a number of questions about the basic functionality of the CultureLabs platform to gather your feedback about its usability.

If you think you could help the CultureLabs team to evaluate our platform, please fill in the following survey: https://en.surveys.crowdvocacy.org/::Bg6szJHP

For any further information or clarification, please contact us or our postdoctoral reasercher Danilo Giglitto (d.giglitto@shu.ac.uk), we’ll be happy to discuss this further with you.

In 2020, 70 million of people worldwide are still forced to leave their original country because of conflicts, violence and persecutions. Of these, around 26 million have found refuge in a safe country, thus becoming “refugees”[1]. The Geneva Convention (1951) establishes safeguards in favour of refugees, trying to guarantee housing rights, public support and education to these people. But what the Law protects, the Reality sometimes overturns.

Particularly, international protection holders encounter difficulties in accessing education, especially higher and university education. Thus the Manifesto of Inclusive University of the UN Refugee Agency was born, with the aim of supporting refugees’ admission to the university education and research, promoting social integration and active participation in the academic life. Universities and research centres signing the Manifesto commit themselves to take concrete measures for the inclusion.

This Manifesto lists several measures to be taken to guide and protect students in different phases of their university career: such as application phase, recognition of qualifications obtained abroad, tutoring during courses and/or internships’ activities, scholarships and other incentives oriented to support the study and urban mobility, humanitarian corridors for selection and enrolment of refugee students that are resident in a third country.

The University of Pisa has always been aware that cultural, practical and intellectual experiences of refugee students and scholars can be a big resource for Italy, contributing to the society’s development. Thus, the University of Pisa has subscribed the Manifesto, with the aim to foster refugee students and scholars’ participation to the academic life and projects. This step is fully in line with other initiatives taken in the past and currently active (such as the drafting of dedicated provision for facilitating enrolment of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Italy, the Observatory on European Migration Law, the specialization courses organised by the Centro Interdisciplinare di Studi per la Pace-CISP, the institution of a curriculum on migration in the Master Programme in International Studies-LM52, the Centro di ricerca sulle Nuove Migrazioni e Mobilità Qualificate–UbiQual), as well with the recent launch of the Network of the Universities for Peace.

CultureLabs and the University of Pisa

In addition to that, it is worth underlining that the University of Pisa is active with innovative projects on several fronts of the cultural and social inclusion. Currently the Museum University System (SMA) of Pisa opens its museums’ doors to people who participate in the pilot “So Distant, Incredibly Close” of CultureLabs project. Under the coordination of FST, people coming from different parts of the world, are visiting 4 museums of SMA, and they will contribute to compare and blend together different cultural heritages and experiences, creating a new storytelling (published as comic or graphic novel) that will taste of ingredients never mixed before.

Specifically, the museums that have been involved in the project are: Natural History Museum, Botanical Garden, Calculation Instruments Museum and Gipsoteca of Ancient Art. Their collections of animals, plants, calculation instruments and copies of ancient pieces of art that testify our cultural, scientific and natural heritage, represent a key to generate empathy, curiosity in the pilot participants that will be invited to enrich collection bringing new contents and points of view.

[1] From the UNHCR report Global Trends of Forced Displacement in 2018:


Culture Labs at Internet Festival 2019 - Our video collection

Did you miss the CultureLabs event at Internet Festival 2019? Would you like to explore more the key-concept of social innovation, participatory approach and co-design?

There is good news! You can relive the best moments in our video collection, the contribution of the speakers is now on our Youtube channel. Subscribe here.



A good opportunity to talk with chefs!

In collaboration with Internet Festival – Shaping Future, CultureLabs organises the event entitled Labs of Cultures. Processes, strategies and good practices for the challenges of contemporary society.

It will be an occasion to listen to the voices of some social innovators, actually our Chefs (both Italian and foreign), who every day implement models, strategies and techniques, with which they respond to concrete needs of a community and promote its social development.
It will be a good opportunity to learn about international examples in which digital innovation is at the service of social innovation, and participatory approaches trigger effective paths of inclusion.

Why at Internet Festival?

Internet Festival is the most important Italian event devoted to digital innovation. Since 2012 it has addressed a large and heterogeneous audience, introducing the most recent and interesting technological results, and showing how the digital innovation impacts diverse areas of our life: from culture to health, from school to economy, from music to food…

The event of Saturday 12 of October will be the occasion to explore how digital innovation serves social innovation. After the introduction of the day and the greetings from Tuscany Region, Victoria Barnett and Wesley Taylor will bring the experience of Design Justice, an international network, born in the United States, which has been involved for many years, striving to create design practices that center those who stand to be most adversely impacted by design decisions in design processes, such as: indigenous peoples, communities of color, poor and working-class people, the sick and disabled, migrants, LGBTQ people, women and femmes.

Then, Mario Tronco will talk about the Piazza Vittorio Orchestra, a project born in 2002 and driven by artists, intellectuals and cultural operators who revived through the music the Piazza dell’Esquilino, namely the multi-ethnic district of Rome. Piazza Vittorio Orchestra is a multiethnic orchestra that has been able to enhance the cultural richness of a degraded district using music as an effective glue. Since 2002 the Orchestra has represented a successful example that mixes musical languages, being aware that mixing cultures produces beauty.

Then, it will be the turn of Nadia Pantidi. She is a lecturer at the School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork (UCC) and a member of the People and Technology Research Group. Her research spans the areas of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Design and Psychology with a particular focus evaluating and designing interventions and technologies that are sensitive to values, practices and experiences of end-users. Nadia will explain how digital technologies and services can support new forms of community engagement.
Labs of Cultures will be also the occasion to present the latest progress of the CultureLabs digital platform and launch the upcoming pilots starting in October, in Italy, UK and Finland.

The public attending the event will be allowed to interact with the guests, stimulate reflections using the Mentimeter app.

Here the detailed programme of the event

15.00 – Welcome greetings – Roberto Ferrari (Tuscany Region)
15.15 – CultureLabs. Digital technologies and cultural heritage at the service of social inclusion – Eirini Kaldeli (CultureLabs)
15.45 – Links, connections and differences between CultureLabs and other best practices and projects
15.55 – Design Justice Network – Victoria Barnett and Wesley Taylor (Design Justice)
16.35 – The Piazza Vittorio Orchestra – Mario Tronco (Piazza Vittoria Orchestra)
17.05 – Digital Futures For, With, By the People – Nadia Pantidi (UCC)
17.25 – Final discussion / Q&A – with the journalist Claudia Fusani

Further information on: https://www.internetfestival.it/en/-/labs-of-cultures

ABF collaboration

What is ABF?

ABF is Sweden’s largest adult liberal education association, whose activities promote democracy, justice and equality. ABF’s organization works comprehensively in the fields of culture, integration, health, politics, international studies and disabled issues. It has 100 years of experience in liberal adult education with different target groups and a wide range of topics, and is open to share experiences with organizations in other countries.

What was our role? (COOSS partner)

A delegation of 4 ABF Swedish professionals was hosted in Ancona for a 3-day study visit, aimed at presenting COOSS services and approaches for the integration of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The CultureLabs project was presented and ABF guaranteed its collaboration to the needs analysis and recipes collection.

Common issues with CultureLabs

ABF is engaged in activities near to CultureLabs interests and objectives, among which:

  • Integrating migrants and refugees: cities are places where integration happens, as they offer great opportunities for migrants and non-migrants to interact, but they are also faced with challenges regarding integration and inclusion. For the last three years, ABF has been working together with the national government and the civil society organizations to develop ideas and concrete actions to support the integration of refugees and other migrants.
  • Fighting marginalization: Europe is home to groups of people that regularly encounter severe discrimination and prejudice, among which immigrant communities. As well as offering education and training opportunities, ABF helps to break down the multiple barriers they face to getting work and being part of everyday European society.
  • Promoting inclusive approaches: some groups in society face discrimination in finding work, as well as in the workplace. They include women, older workers, minorities, and immigrants, among others. To help such groups, and others, ABF promotes active inclusion measures which involve a series of steps to accompany them towards employment.

Further information from the COOSS voices video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpdIbyVovWs&amp=&feature=youtu.be

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: http://helinamuseo.fi/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/turvapaikkanamuseo.pdf


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!


Giornata Mondiale del Rifugiato 2019 - COOSS

For the “WorldRefugeeDay”, COOSS – one of the partner of CultureLabs – organised three free events that took place on 19, 20 and 21 June in Camerano, Falconara and Jesi thanks to the support of other cooperatives working with and for migrants, Associazione ATGP and Municipality of Jesi.

During these days, workshops, photographic exhibitions, football tournaments and show events were organized to bring together local people (adults and children) and migrants. Moreover, Camerano held the Human Library where the migrant guests were able to tell their life stories to the citizens.

What is the contribution for the CultureLabs project?

  • Promoting awareness of the meeting and reception of migrants;
  • Creating bridges between communities by giving local citizens and migrants the opportunity to cooperate together in the proposed activities;
  • Direct participation of migrants in the community, as they are the tellers of their stories, which they offer to whoever wants to listen to them;
  • Co-creation example, as the original stories where proposed by migrants but elaborated and
    refined in collaboration with the artist in charge of the event.



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.