Postcard from… Parma

Posted on January 5, 2017

By Amy Mowers, 3d year Heritage and Publishing student at Bath Spa University

The University of Parma is a partner of a museum on the outskirts of town called CSAC (Centro Studi e Archiviodella Comunicazione) which translates as: Study Center and Communication Archive. It was founded in 1968 by a gentleman called Professor Artuo Carlo Quintavalle. Since its founding, it has concentrated on assembling a collection of fine art, photography, architectural drawings, design, fashion and graphics as well as exhibiting and publishing catalogues.

CSAC is where I was sent to work for 2 weeks on a large project of publishing two of these catalogues. Despite its age, CSAC is still quite an unknown archive that houses an important contemporary Italian collection that fewer people than expected know about, let alone have visited. The catalogues/books that Bath Spa will be publishing in partnership with CSAC will consist of a series of 5 e-books: Fine Art, Fashion Design, Architecture, Photography and Graphic Design. These books will be used to promote the collection that CSAC has. I am part of the small team chosen to the publish the Photography and Graphic Design books.

Before I left for Parma, I worked with Gemma, one of the technical demonstrators, to design a workable template on InDesign that I could input images into during my time in Italy. This was the main reason for my visit to Parma: to work with the curators at CSAC to build a portfolio of images that could be published in the books. This work would make up part of my industry portfolio work for my Publishing course.
The placement work for my Heritage course consisted of observing and engaging with heritage in its different forms, throughout the museum and archive and in the city too. Since 2007, CSAC has been based in the Valserena Abbey which is a 13th century Cistercian monastery, therefore heritage in itself.

Upon my arrival at CSAC, I was taken on a guided tour of the museum and the archive. They were in the middle of taking down an old exhibition and assembling a new one, so this was a good insight straight away. Marco, a member of their social media team, took the tour. He introduced me to the various artists I would soon become familiar with working so closely with their work.

My favourite part of the tour was being taken to see the different types of storage in the archive. The collection they house is made up of 12 million objects, of all different mediums, so seeing the different ways in which the objects are archived was interesting from a heritage perspective.
My first day was very overwhelming but I was briefed on what my tasks for the next two weeks would be and I was ready to get started.

A shot from the drive up to the museum on a typical foggy Parma day.


My first week comprised of a lot of trial and error. From making my way into the museum by bus, which in your own language, you take the simplicity of the task for granted, to communicating to curators through a mixture of English and broken Italian.
Working with the curator Lucia for the Graphic Design book was really interesting as she was very keen for my opinion on specific images. This meant that we were handling original works from the likes of Sepo and Nizzoli, two very influential Italian graphic designers of the mid-1900s.
Sepo original from 1930. .

I didn’t have too much hands-on work to do with the photography curators, Paolo and Claudia. They were very efficient in giving me all their images and captions at once so that I was able to work for the rest of my time there on working out how they best fit into the layouts I had designed.
This was a slower process for the graphic design book but by the end of my second week, I had everything I needed and two first draft book layouts finished.

A screenshot from the Photography book.

A screenshot from the Graphic Design book.

I found my second week the most enjoyable as I had been able to acclimatize to the city and felt as though I had become part of the team at CSAC. The building and the city was familiar to me by then and having had a weekend off to explore the tourist sites both in Parma and Bologna, I could put Italian heritage into a much clearer context to then compare to UK heritage for my placement logbook.
My last evening in Italy was spent at the opening of their new exhibition which was quite special. It was a successful night that we celebrated in the museum restaurant afterwards. It was a nice send-off for me too, having made lots of good friends in a short space of time.

This opportunity with GALA has opened my eyes to a wealth of experiences not only outside of graduation, but outside of the UK too. I have been invited back to Parma sometime in the summer to speak at the GALA conference to promote the launch of the two books I will be working on until that point. The experience has been invaluable to me, not only in terms of new knowledge and respect for Italian contemporary art, but a new confidence in my own capabilities.