11.30 Rise of Another Author: Impact of Creative Industries on Communicating Heritage in Croatian Museums
For some time now, creative industries have played a major role in helping museums and galleries in most developed counties to rebrand themselves as active, user-oriented, and modern institutions. Exhibition design and digital media have been used as tools which can help in attracting visitors, increasing physical and intellectual access to collections, and in providing opportunities for constructive engagement, learning experiences and/or entertainment.
As a sector that blurs distinctions between art and entertainment, the elite and the mass, creative industries have recently become a key element in the contemporary discourse of heritage-based income generation in post-socialist countries such as Croatia where private entrepreneurship developed not so long ago, in the wake of industrial decline. Croatia’s inheritance of political capitalism from the socialist/communist period still plays a major role in determining the social and economic reality as the one in which modernization and regression often alternate. Museums and the heritage sector in general function in the hybrid conditions where the past is pulling back and the recent EU membership is pulling forward toward free market capitalism. As the Croatian government has compelled cultural institutions to become independent and self-sufficient, mostly through budget cuts, museums increasingly rely on the creative sector to help raise their own profile and attract people in order to secure funds. Turning to graphic designers and architects to bring an eye-catching quality to museum programs and activities creates a situation in which decisions about approaches to communicating heritage are made by two coexisting authorities: curators and designers.
Set against sociological research on Croatian socio-political circumstances, the research on which this paper is based takes a socio-semiotic approach to communication as the framework for an analysis of two sets of empirical data. The first set represents data obtained from interviews with museum curators on issues related to contemporary circumstances of museum communication while the second set arises from an analysis of the current use of creative industries’ products and programs in museums. The research shows that the use of creative industries indicate a shift toward free-market-oriented thinking according to which the sector has potential to contribute to economic sustainability of Croatian museums. The cooperation between museum professionals and designers on exhibition projects that receive enough funding for the realization of creative ideas results in a considerably large number of visitors, which is of main interest to both founders and funders. However, research results also indicate a situation in which the potential for providing substantial social and educational experiences remains underdeveloped due to the two sectors’ conflicting approaches to communicating heritage. While museum professionals keep their still largely positivist stance and place emphasis on objects and discipline-based knowledge, designers insist on creativity, which, although highly praised by the design profession as innovative and contemporary, fails to support communicative goals of exhibitions. Museum environments created in such circumstances, torn between traditional and modern tendencies, are for the most part merely aesthetically pleasing and they showcase effects of modern-day gadgetry more than they present cultural topics and issues relevant for the communities in which they work. The rising economic relevance of creative workers, and consequently their social importance, supported by European Union documents such as “Promoting Cultural and Creative Sectors for Growth and Jobs in the EU,” might lead to another type of exclusivity—the one based on the authority of creative authorship.