Antonio Espinosa, Director of Vilamuseu

“Once you start making things accessible, it’s a spiral: you’re bitten by the bug then it simply snowballs”

A professor of archaeology as well as a museologist, the director of the innovative and exclusive Vilamuseu defends the project as a catalyst for local development in Vilajoiosa, which forms one of the facility’s four pillars, along with accessibility, quality and heritage interpretation. “It’s a driving force that is structuring and articulating the whole municipality: the town has been permeated by the Vilamuseu effect”. Citing Henri Rivière, one of the fathers of museology, he affirms that “you have to think about people, not about things; but you have to think about all people”.

Q.- What has incorporating inclusiveness and accessibility given you in relation to the effort and investment it has represented?

A.- The cost increase is around 10%, but many actions cost zero and the financial argument is no excuse because it is people’s right. In return it improves the institution’s image, prestige, motivation and team satisfaction, and opens it up to a market representing 40% of the population… No museum should allow itself the luxury of turning its back on them. We get much more from the public than we give, and the satisfaction of working with these people is invaluable.

Q.- Have you encountered obstacles? What role do the public institutions and the legislation play?

A.- We’ve encountered negative reactions such as “you’re doing a disservice to the rest of the population”, but it’s the usual cliché; today’s generation needs to be imbued with accessibility in order leave it behind. The role of the institutions is fundamental. If we don’t convince the politicians, we have no hope. We need to involve them and give them arguments so that they enthuse and show off about it. The legislation is not very helpful because it represents an obligation in theory, but in practice the regulations are not very effective.

Q.- Is it easy to find experts in inclusive communication and design, with an innovative vision?

A.- There are many experts in accessibility in general, but not so many in applying it to museums and heritage. It is important to implement a major training effort because the role of the technical expert is fundamental. It’s all very well to rely on associations and users, but not sufficient because each has a different, individual perception, and the technical expert is the individual who should know what the ideal solution is based on their experience.

Q.- What role do museums play, especially if inclusive, in generating richness for the surrounding environment?

A.- Cultural tourism is the foremost industry in Europe. It is necessary to build museums that enrich us as people so that we are more critical and free, we get to know the environment, offer opinions and enjoy what we have before us more. Museums must think about their target audience as individuals and experiences, not as figures of millions of visitors. In Vilajoiosa, Vilamuseu has represented an incentive, a magnet for attracting other sectors and facilities, starting with the catering trade. It is a driving force for development because it provides backbone and structure for the entire municipal district. The town has become permeated by the “Vilamuseu effect” and it is incorporating accessibility into all of its actions.

Q.- What role does communication play in all this?

A.- Communication is everything, because if you do something and don’t sell it, you might as well have done nothing. Communication at all levels has to be prepared to attend any person properly. If the guidelines aren’t followed, you generate frustration. If you do something for everyone you have to give it major dissemination and think about them integratively, putting yourself in their place.

Q.- Are accessible museums the natural evolution of museums?

A.- Yes, they are museums 3.0 or 4.0. Anyone who misses this train will be left behind, because society is evolving towards old age and respect for diversity. Once people try an accessible museum they won’t want anything else because accessible museums are pleasant, comfortable, spacious, bright, and easy to read and understand…

Q.- .Does advertising take diversity into account? Could it change clichés and take us towards a new and more inclusive model?

A.- Advertising presents a non-normal, ideal society that doesn’t exist. All communication has to do a turnaround and gradually adapt. If the boom in inclusivity that seems to be occurring develops further, we must create a new accessible aesthetic that becomes the norm.

Q.- .How would you divide co-responsibility between the different actors?

A.- The largest share is in the hands of politicians, who have to legislate and, above all, regulate. But in practice, standards fall short and so training and criteria are required on the part of professionals, who have the second level of responsibility because they have to apply accessibility in any case as a matter of ethics. Universities and professional association should have a major input: they can train, provide guidelines, produce white papers, compile good practices, award prizes… Money is not necessary, simply recognising excellence is sufficient. Associations of users are engaged in criticism and applying pressure, and that’s a good thing. Society should have the role of showing up the institutions.

Image: The fish mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of Roman Valencian mosaics. End of the the 3rd. century AD, more info about the mosaic here.

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