By Roberto Cellini, Tiziana Cuccia and Domenico Lisi

Museums have experienced great changes over the past years. The weight attributed to traditional functions (collection, conservation, research and exhibition), and the way in which these functions are perceived, have been changing. Complementary services have been gaining importance, contributing to enlarge the audience and to lead visitors into “edutainment” experiences. In Italy, we find significant spatial effects (i.e., influence from the neighbours) in the provision of complementary services by museums. However, their relevance is different for public and private museums, and across types of service. From these pieces of evidence, we can learn something about the nature of competition among museums in Italy.

We base our empirical analysis on the census data provided by ISTAT (the Italian Statistics Institute) in 2015, concerning museums and the services they provide: presence on the web and telematic services; accessibility (e.g., evening openings, upon-request openings, etc.) and supporting activities to improve the collection fruition (e.g., brochures, guided tours, audio-guides, childcare activities). These services contribute to increase the reputation of museums and their attractiveness; they could also represent sources of revenues that are important in times of stringent public budget constraints. The awareness of the role of these services in the proper management of museums and in terms of attractiveness may enhance competition at different levels: competition among museum directors; among private enterprises supplying these services; among policy-makers interested in the development of the area where museums are located.

Our study investigates whether the services offered by museums are affected by the choices of neighbours, that is, whether there is spatial dependence in museum services’ provision; whether the spatial dependence differs among different categories of services; and whether the spatial dependence differs among public (i.e., governmental) and private museums. The analysis has been carried on both regional and provincial data.

Case study and main results

Italy has nearly 5,000 museums, including monuments, archaeological areas and parks. These sites are very different in size and visitors’ number: most of them are very small; others, like Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, are world-level superstars. Governmental (State, Regions, local public administrations, schools and Universities) museums represent the majority (63,4%, in 2015), and coexist with private (profit and non-profit-oriented) institutions. Governmental museums are endowed with different degrees of autonomy: in 2014 a national reform provided only the thirty most famous museums (and archaeological sites) with large financial and managerial autonomy. All other museums and cultural sites are directly or indirectly managed by “regional museum hubs” (Soprintendenze) and do not benefit from any real financial autonomy (Zan et al., 2018). There are not incentive or financing schemes that promote visitor-oriented choices: e.g., the entrance fees go to the central government. The possibility for governmental museums to outsource complementary services to private providers was introduced in Italy in the mid-1990s but it took some time to be really implemented. Therefore, in first approximation, this institutional framework does not lead museums to compete in services.

In our research we consider a large and representative sample of the Italian museums (2165 out of the 4976 in the 2015 census) and we consider 37 possible services related to museum accessibility, visitors’ experience support and web presence. On average, each museum offers 14 service, with a large variability across museums and across the kinds of services.

We use a Spatial Auto-Regressive model to evaluate whether the number and type of services provided by museums are affected by the choices of the neighbouring museums. Of course, we control for a large set of individual and environmental factors. The analysis is carried out at the level of region and provinces; and it is carried out for the different categories of services, and for different types of museums.

Supporting services show a more limited spatial dependence, as compared to web and accessibility services. Galleries and art museums provide more services than monuments and archaeological areas or parks, and private museums offer a larger number of services than public museums (as one would expect due a stronger competition for visitors). Among public museums, autonomous and outsourced museums provide more services (as already found by Bertacchini et al., 2018, on the 2011 census data).

However, the key (and most surprising) result of our investigation is that spatial effects, that is the influence of neighbours, hold for public, not for private, museums. How can we explain this result?

Results’ interpretation and comments     

The empirical result that spatial dependence in Italy matters for public, not for private, museums drives us to interpret the spatial dependence as a phenomenon not strictly linked with the competition for visitors, but basically related with reputational concerns and/or common institutional factors.

The fact that the spatial dependence is stronger in web and accessibility services than in supporting services confirms that competition among public museum managers is more based on the reputation among peers, potentially increased by on-line visibility. 

Moreover, consider that public museums have small size; thus, the spatial dependence could be explained by the behaviour of private firms offering the outsourced services: to be profitable for private enterprises, due to economies of scale, the supply of such services has to be sold to a large number of museums. Not surprisingly, we observe a concentration of the outsourced services in the hands of few private providers. This is not a problem per se, but surely it is a sign of limited competition. If in the long run, the grants for service provision are always attributed to the same private firms, as it happens in Italy since 2009 (and repeatedly noted by the National Court of Auditors) some problems can arise in terms of service quality and contractual agreements. Both the contracting museums and the contractors (private service providers) have to benefit from the agreement. This is a case of public and private cooperation, typical in the supply of public services.  Thus, attention has to be paid on these contracts, keeping in mind what are the functions of museums and cultural institutions.       

This article is based on:

Cellini R., T. Cuccia, D. Lisi (2020). Spatial dependence in museum services: An analysis of the Italian case. Journal of Cultural Economics, 44(4), 535-62.


Bertacchini E.E., Dalle Nogare C., & Scuderi R. (2018). Ownership, organization structure and public service provision: the case of museums. Journal of Cultural Economics, 42(4), 619-643.

Zan L., Bonini Baraldi S., & Santagati M.E. (2018). Missing HRM: the original sin of museum reforms in Italy. Museum Management and Curatorship, 33(6), 530-545.

About the Authors:

Roberto Cellini is Full Professor of Economics at the University of Catania and Director of the Department of Economics and Business. []

Tiziana Cuccia is Full Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Catania. Her scientific interests concern cultural economics, local development, and evaluation of public goods. []

Domenico Lisi is Researcher and Appointed Professor at the University of Catania. His scientific interests concern labour economics, health economics and cultural economics.

About the image: Petar Milošević (2014) Daughter of Niobe bent by terror.

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