Triennale di Milano: Italy as the world admires it. Interview with Andrea Cancellato

Andrea Cancellato has a sharp opinion about the superficial chatter that some media have published on the 20-year “silence” or “absence” of the Triennale di Milano International Exposition, which was back with its 21st edition in 2016:

“Actually, there was no silence at all, over the twenty years between the 19th edition in 1996 and the 21st in 2016, which was titled ‘21st Century. Design After Design’. Edition no.20 was held between 2001 and 2004 and dedicated to ‘Memory and the Future’. It was an ‘irregular’ edition that radically changed the Triennale, from cultural institution that focused on organizing an international event every three years to a structure for continual cultural production, twelve months a year. It even opened its own Triennale Design Museum, and since 2002 has organized no less than 59 exhibitions abroad, across all continents, on Italian design’s history and contemporary evolution. There was no absence, for sure”.

Born in Lombardy in 1955, since 2002 Andrea Cancellato has been General Director of the “La Triennale di Milano” Foundation, an Italian cultural institution founded in 1923 to foster architecture, urban planning, design, decorative arts, fashion, crafts, manufacturing and new media, through exhibitions, events and conferences. It is, of course, an international beacon in its field.

We met Cancellato – who in November 2015 was also nominated Chair of Federculture, the Italian federation uniting private and public organizations that work in the fields of cultural management, tourism, sports and leisure – for a few questions.

One year from the end of the 21st edition, what conclusions have you drawn about the experience?
Resuming the regular International Exposition was complicated by the fact that, being recognized by the BIE (Bureau international des Expositions), it had to “wait its turn” after Milan’s 2015 Expo. Having this new beginning was the most important thing, and placed us back on the dense calendar of the periodical expos held every two, three or more years around the world – with no less that 42 events abroad.

How does the Triennale rank on the international level, at the moment?
I cannot answer that myself. But I can point out that during Milan’s Furniture Fair week, organizers of the over ninety “Design Weeks” held in the world come together for their yearly summit at Triennale. The location is beautiful, but there must be more than that…

From your privileged point of view, what is Italian design’s status at the moment? Is it still an international standard and a solid cultural medium to communicate Italian excellence abroad?
International competition in the field of design has certainly become sharper now that many countries – and new economies such as Asian countries in particular – have started seriously investing in young designers’ education. Italy is the natural battlefield. From my point of view, I am sure that the Italian design system is still the gold standard; I believe that is further motivation to work, in Italy and abroad, to strengthen its influence by investing in research, education, innovation and promotion. In 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and we started promoting March 2nd as “Italian Design Day”: an international day to showcase Italian design. This year we had 162 events held in 87 cities around the globe, and I’m sure we will continue to grow the initiative in the next few years.

The Triennale is an international showcase for design as well as for all design-related disciplines: architecture, applied arts, fashion, visual arts, new media… is Italy still considered one of the best in these fields as well?
Applied arts are one of Italy’s great strengths. Our country is one of the few that are able to merge high quality design with high quality manufacturing. For as long as we will continue to make things, Italy will be the “defending champion” in design, fashion and architecture.

Which are the biggest challenges ahead of us in promoting and showcasing Italian creativity?
The biggest challenge is always closing the gap between what we strive to achieve and the resources available to carry out our projects. There is no shortage of ideas, however, and that is always a great start.

Creativity and culture are often described in terms of employment, companies, investment opportunities – especially for young people. What is the outlook in those terms, considering today’s difficult economic climate?
Our country has survived the worst moments of the crisis, but young people have been particularly affected due to their vulnerability. As I’ve said, we must invest in research and innovation: these are the fields in which our new, well-educated and smart generations can bring their creativity and design talent to the table.

Speaking of economy: in the past few years, the Chinese economy seems to have become a required target for any company with international aspirations. What is Triennale’s relationship with China at the moment?
Like Germany and Italy, China is a leading manufacturing nation that is investing in design. The country is very active at the moment, and participated in last year’s International Exposition with three exhibitions – from Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. We are in close contact with China: a few weeks ago we set up for the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage a great exhibition at the Beijing National Museum; stemming from the second edition of our Triennale Design Museum, “Serie Fuori Serie”, it’s achieving amazing success.

You direct the Triennale Foundation as well as chair Federculture: how do these two important institution “talk” to each other?

In the same way that all the other important cultural institutions in our country do. We all strive to improve the cultural offer and to support the State’s will to renew the tutelage and enhancement of our heritage, in both its historical and contemporary components. It’s a task we must undertake to improve the life of our communities, a responsibility we have towards one of our country’s leading factors for development and competitiveness in the international arena – just think of cultural tourism, for example. We see it as a crucial mission to uphold our country’s reputation, as the nation that is most engaged in safeguarding its cultural heritage.

What is the relationship between the cultural institutions you lead and public institutions? Is it one of collaboration?
Working in dialog is essential. Federculture is entrusted with presenting and representing to the government and the Ministry the requests coming from cultural organizations such as museums and foundations, as well as from the networks of local institutions that work in cultural management directly. Our words, undertakings and actions are all proof of an underlying dialog. We recognize current minister Franceschini’s efforts to bring culture back at the center of the country’s political agenda. These efforts must continue in the next few years in order to consolidate a positive result – for example by extending one of Franceschini’s best ideas, the so-called Art Bonus (translator’s note: a tax break for patrons of Italian culture), or strengthening areas such as cultural consumption (also as a remedy against terrorism). We are sure the minister will agree.

Andrea Cancellato
Andrea Cancellato

Triennale di Milano: Italy as the world admires it. Interview with Andrea Cancellato

Palazzo della Triennale, viale Alemagna, 6
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