- Milan has placed culture and creativity at the heart of its social and economic development, building on its creative and cultural industries.
- More inclusive policies are evolving, promoting opportunities for Milanese to enjoy culture, especially those who do not usually experience it.
- Lorenteggio Library is a new urban facility which aims to be a ‘library of the future’ with a multifunctional space and experimental services and governance.
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 182 sq. km
- Total population: 1,380,873
- GDP (PPP) million: $205,305
Milan is the second largest city in Italy and has made a successful transition to a post-industrial city, generating wealth through services, trade fairs, creative industries, technology and as a financial centre. It is home to a cultural heritage that dates back to the Roman empire including the Duomo Cathedral and Castello Sforzesco. Milan is also home to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The City of Milan has a population of around 1.4 million but is at the heart of one of the densest areas in Europe, with up to ten million people in its surrounding metropolitan district. It has also been growing recently through immigration with the Filipino, Egyptian and Chinese as the largest international communities. Milan is among the most visited European cities, with nearly 8.5 million visitors in 2019 in the metropolitan area, and an exceptional 21 million visitors in 2015 when it hosted the Universal Expo. Visitors fell sharply during the pandemic, and rebuilding their numbers is a vital component in Milan’s recovery.
More than any other Italian city, Milan has placed culture and creativity at the heart of its social and economic development, building on its cultural and creative industries. It also has 11 universities and academies, as well as established media companies and is home to key players in the creative economy, especially fashion and design. Milan’s reputation as a literary city is particularly strong, hosting 51% of the country’s publishing firms. Overall, nearly 15,000 creative firms and 189,000 creative workers are based there.
Milan’s cultural offer includes 90 museums, nearly 80 art galleries, 106 cinema screens, over 50 theatres and concert halls, and many internationally recognised festivals. The city Administration is not only owner, but also direct manager of several cultural sites, including more than 20 museums, 35 libraries and other cultural centres. However, there is also a substantial ownership by private stakeholders, especially in visual arts and entertainment, including theatres. Major economic actors, such as banks and insurance companies, invest in the sponsorship of the City’s cultural activities.
However, the city’s recent partnership, appointing a cultural sector organisation as the manager of ‘The Library of Trees’ - a botanic garden and outdoor arts venue - breaks new ground. This space also reflects a growing sense in Milan, as in so many world cities, of the importance of addressing the climate emergency. As well as being a unique and unusual space, the Library of Trees demonstrates that urban green areas can be places of biodiversity and even generate their own microclimates.
The city is investing in its built environment, including upgrading libraries, museums and theatres. Planned new cultural infrastructure shows its commitment to promoting modern and future facing culture, not only historic heritage. Its current plans include a Museum of Digital Arts that will be the first public museum of its kind in Italy. A Museum of the Resistance will offer its visitors a complex discussion of the topic, and address issues around citizenship and democracy that are vital topics not only for Europe’s past, but for its future.
The city is also increasingly seeking to support work that involves communities and promotes cultural excellence in previously sidelined groups. Its major street art project A Name in Every Neighbourhood brings together people in the 88 districts of the city with artists to design a giant mural of its name. This project particularly gives artistic roles to women, who were not previously well represented in the street art scene. In Spring 2022, the city was a partner in the first ever festival putting the excellence of people who are disabled in the performing arts front and centre. ‘Accessible Present’ illustrated how to create a more varied cultural offer, challenge audiences and bring more work opportunities to artists who are disabled.
As well as supporting a more inclusive cultural sector, Milan is also aiming for one that contributes to a better geographical spread of amenities between the city centre and outskirts – with everything from banks to arts programming relocating to under-served areas. The city sees the revival of the cultural industries as vital to its wellbeing as it builds back post pandemic, and as an inextricable part of the solution to address climate emergency.