"The Museum Director must constantly take the pulse of its constituencies to anticipate their expectations"

13 March 2023

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François Giannesini, CEO, SHERPA21, Management des institutions culturelles.

François Giannesini became a Supporter of CIMAM in January 2023.

He holds a master's degree in public law. He is also a graduate of the Political Institute of Paris of which he was later a lecturer.

During the first part of his career — as Director and Senior partner of the Fleishman-Hillard consulting group — he worked as a consultant in strategic communications advising senior management of multinational corporations. He has spearheaded the development of innovative services and program in venture philanthropy, sponsoring and charity, by creating an international practice group across offices.

During the second part of his professional career, he has created his own consulting firm, now branded STUDIOLO-F-GIANNESINI, which generated studies [1], reflections and actions to promote art and culture.

François claims eclecticism, curiosity, and a strong attachment to human adventures as his key drivers in the field of art and culture.

[1] In the context of the pandemic and its short-term and long-term impact on museum traditional models, he initiated a pro-bono study “Museums in global crisis” conducted with members of the CIMAM Board

You hold a master's degree in public law and graduate of the Political Institute of Paris. When and why did you start working with the world of art and culture?

I started to really concentrate all my art and culture consulting and content production activities only ten years ago. But in a way art and culture have always accompanied me. I gradually made the transition from a hidden passion in a secret garden to a full-time activity, using cultural opportunities on my way. Since the beginning, all my vacations were devoted to the exploration of art in Italy with a particular attachment to Sienese painting and the Florentine quattrocento. I can say that Siena has been the epicenter of this art passion that led me to become a member of one of the city's most famous districts, the shell (Nicchio).

As Director and Senior Partner of the Fleishman-Hillard consulting group, you developed innovative services and programs in venture philanthropy, sponsorship, and charitable giving. How have these practices evolved over the years, and what are the main current trends?

Initially philanthropy was mainly the business of great patrons who, often by family tradition, wanted to give back to society what they had received or to share their passion for art and to show their private collection. When I started my consulting career, I observed the rapid development of corporate philanthropy. My job then was to help client structure their philanthropic approach, differentiate it from cause related marketing or pure sponsoring and link it to their reputation management policy. Then giving was not enough. The company’s stakeholders were watching consistency between the philanthropic focus and the company competencies and values. Consistency became the key driver. Then in the 2000’s I saw the notion of impact emerging. I remember that in the context of the reengineering and international development of a corporate foundation, I offered my client to conduct a benchmark to compare best practices of the most innovative foundations in the world. One of the most interesting findings was that the leading foundations did not wish any longer to give for the sake of giving but wanted to establish reliable measurement model (including KPI’s) to evaluate the real impact of their giving on the causes they had embraced. Since then, I have observed the strengthening of the concern for impact and some convergence between traditional philanthropy and the notion of venture philanthropy issued in the US[1]. As another key emerging trend, I have strongly supported is the growing involvement of staff and in some cases distribution networks in philanthropic programs. It has become a high-value and motivating way to involve volunteer teams or individuals. Even more for the younger generation who are looking for meaning in their work.

Your current consulting firm, STUDIOLO-F-GIANNESINI, advises private and corporate foundations, cultural institutions, and museums on governance issues, among others. How do you think a museum director should function today in a rapidly changing context where social and environmental values are becoming highly relevant?

I believe that in this rapidly changing environment where social and environmental requirements are becoming almost pre-requisites, the key competencies of a museum Director are LISTENING and AGILITY, and the two are inter-related. Listening to museum key stakeholder’s opinions is paramount. Among them, the museum staff is essential as it is both the driving force and the ambassador of the institution towards its communities. Using a daring metaphor, I could say that the museum of the 19th century was a SACRED TEMPLE, relatively hermetic; today it has become an AGORA whose walls are porous. According to me, the Museum Director must constantly take the pulse of its constituencies to anticipate their expectations. The covid had an accelerating effect on the inclusive and interactive approach to the museum experience and the need to put a greater emphasis on community involvement and collaboration.

Listening is not enough! A Museum leader must react and adapt quickly to match stakeholders’ expectations. Having said that, the temptation to react too quickly to key audience’s emotions in an emotional way can be counter-productive.

Let’s take the example of environment. The need for sustainable museums is no longer a concept or a motto. The focus is key on reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Through a range of measures, such as using renewable energy sources like solar panels, implementing energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, and adopting practices like waste reduction and recycling is essential. In the same way that it is essential today for an innovative museum the use of sustainable materials and practices in exhibitions and displays. This can include using materials that are recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable, as well as reducing the use of plastics and other non-renewable materials. It also implies adopting sustainable exhibition design practices, such as modular and reusable exhibit systems, and using digital technologies to reduce the need for physical materials. But the question as important as WHAT to do is HOW to do it?

I believe that the vertical top-down inhouse approach is outdated. Now to come up with effective environmental solutions you need to sound out opinions of surrounding communities to design sustainable and effective solutions. Therefore, it is key to include representatives of the constituencies in their coproduction: artists, scenographers, friends of museums, donators, visitors, interest groups, etc.

In your consultancy, you also advise artists of all disciplines on professional development, international exhibition, and distribution of artworks. How has the Covid pandemic influenced these internationalization strategies in a new context that prioritizes longer shows, fewer flights, and a new paradigm of collaboration between museums for exhibition programming?

I do agree that covid pandemic has dramatically influenced these internationalization strategies. It had in a way a positive impact on exhibition models. With this pandemic, the notion of “less is more” has become much more obvious. This is translated into the search for a greater economy of means with the concern of eliminating the useless and the superficial. But for me the notion that has imposed itself in a powerful way is the need within the community of artists and museums to mutualize not only material resources but also intelligence in the broad sense!

CIMAM articulates its work through different working groups that address topics such as best practices, sustainability, governance, travel grants for the promotion of emerging talents, and, of course, the annual celebration of the CIMAM conference. What field of practice do you find most in line with your professional activity concerning the world of museums?

I believe that the sharing of best practices that I try to promote every day across my clients and the promotion of emerging talents is probably most in line with my professional activity concerning the world of museums.

Finally, you are the creator of the podcast series "Masterpieces in the back rooms", which allows art lovers to discover museums through art treasures hidden in their back rooms. We will share the link here so that members can listen to it.

The inaugural season was broadcast last spring with episodes dedicated to MacLyon, La piscine de Roubaix, the Royal Museums of Belgium, and the Centre Pompidou Metz. You can listen to it for free on the attached link:


It is also available on all major music and podcast platforms: Spotify, Deezer, Apple play, ... The second season is already being programmed with the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg - Mudam, The National Museum of the Navy, the Museum of Monnaie de Paris (coins, medals, decorations), the Museum of national furniture.

There is also in preparation a special edition with Paris Museum and its 14 museums:

Catacombs of Paris, Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, House of Balzac, Bourdelle Museum, Carnavalet Museum - History of Paris-The Catacombs of Paris, Archaeological crypt of the Ile de la Cité, Cernuschi Museum - Museum of Asian Arts of the City of Paris, Cognacq-Jay Museum - Museum of the 18th century of the City of Paris Museum of General Leclerc de Hauteclocque and the Liberation of Paris - Jean Moulin Museum, Palais Galliera - Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Petit Palais - Museum of Fine Arts of the City of Paris, Museum of Romantic Life, House of Victor Hugo in Paris, Zadkine Museum.

"Masterpieces in the back rooms" is for the moment intended for the French-speaking countries. Since the series is a great success and the concept has demonstrated it is universal and can be tailored to any type of museum in its local language, we are currently working with my producer Arthur Soria, founder of LACME production, on its international development.

[1] In summary, the principle of venture philanthropy is to provide targeted and global support to a small number of organizations, over the long term, with the aim of achieving a strong social impact. The challenge is to build a high-performance social sector by financing and increasing the skills of a few high-potential organizations.