Italy has the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites – 51 – but that number doesn’t even begin to quantify the immense (too immense to handle?) heritage of a country that, even in its most remote places, boasts some kind of historical or artistic treasure. The issue of how to safeguard Italy’s – at times crumbling – sites is hotly debated; years of government’s mismanagement and negligence and a chronic scarcity of public funds haven’t helped preserve and enhance them.
Luckily, where the state is lacking, there are organizations that work to fill that void. One such organization is FAI – Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, the non-profit that, for the last 40 years, has worked to preserve Italy’s precious heritage through the acquisition and restoration of properties of historical, artistic and environmental significance, making them available to the public. FAI operates under the assumption that Italy’s magnificent heritage belongs to each of us, and each of us should be able to enjoy it.
Italophiles in the U.S. interested in supporting the work of FAI can turn to Friends of FAI, a New York-based non-profit that works to support FAI’s efforts to protect and preserve Italy’s treasures for future generations. Friends of FAI aims to spread awareness of Italy’s cultural heritage in the U.S. through a number of cultural and educational events for its members, including lectures and private tours of Italy-themed exhibitions. In addition, Friends of FAI supports a different restoration project in Italy every year and has contributed more than 1.5 million dollars to these projects in the last five years alone.
To learn more about the work of FAI, L’Italo-Americano has interviewed Bona Frescobaldi, International Chairwoman for Friends of FAI.
Let’s begin with the issue of safeguarding Italy’s heritage. Article 9 of the Italian Constitution states: “The Italian Republic promotes the development of culture and of scientific and technical research. It protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the nation;” however, it seems there is always a lack of public resources to protect Italy’s monuments. A few months ago, CNN.com ran a story titled “Does Italy care enough about its crumbling artistic treasures?” I turn this question over to you.
Article 9 of the Italian Constitution states two very important things. The first point is that it is not just the State that is called upon to promote and protect Italy’s cultural patrimony, but also the Republic, which is the aggregate of the State, its citizens, companies and free associations. Therefore the public and private spheres are both asked to participate, since they are both held responsible and have been entrusted with certain rights and duties. This mandate should serve to resolve, once and for all, the unproductive opposition between the public and the private. Collaboration between the two spheres is in fact the key to developing this strategic sector of Italy.
The second point to note is that Article 9 mentions the word “promotion” even before “protection.” Without promotion, communication and enhancement, we cannot hope to broaden the audience that benefits from Italy’s cultural heritage sites, an audience that has unfortunately become accustomed to encountering museums and monuments in Italy that are often closed, or that are difficult to understand, appreciate or enjoy. If we encourage Italy’s citizens to become more engaged in cultural experiences, they will be the first in line to defend their heritage, and they will demand that the State play its part. Because you can only love what you know, and once you love something, you will protect it.
FAI is hosting a photo exhibition at the recently restored Negozio Olivetti in Venice about “Venezia e le Grandi Navi” to document the “visual pollution” (to quote the photographer who shot the photos on display) caused by the giant cruise ships entering the Venice lagoon. What is the position of FAI toward this issue and what do you hope to achieve through this exhibition?
FAI holds that the “Giant Ships” are not Venice’s only problem. Instead they represent the tip of the iceberg – and the most visible example given their immense size – of a much larger problem plaguing this fragile city. For years, Venice has been inundated with an ever-increasing flow of tourism that has become unsustainable. Though on the one hand this tourism constitutes a vital economic resource for Venice, on the other, it has clearly compromised the integrity and identity of the city.
The exhibition at Negozio Olivetti has given FAI the opportunity to initiate a debate on the topic of excessive tourism, which could potentially be of interest to other major Italian cities such as Florence and Rome, and sites including the Colosseum and Pompeii. It opens the door for dialogue, and encourages contributions from authorities, both Italian and foreign, who can propose ideas and models for the management and sustainable development of Venice.
What is the latest property FAI restored and why was it important to restore it?
In March 2014, FAI inaugurated Casa Noha in Matera, a site which offers visitors the opportunity to discover the city through an innovative multimedia itinerary that was created in collaboration with Fondazione Telecom Italia. Visitors who enter Casa Noha are drawn into the thousand-year old history of the Sassi, with the help of videos that are projected onto the walls of the various rooms.
This project is extremely important to the Foundation, because it marks the first time that FAI has been able to present the historic and cultural context of a site through the site itself. Casa Noha has become a model for the integration of FAI’s properties with their surroundings. It is also part of a broader challenge: how to represent the local community and support conscious tourism within this fragile and unique city.
As FAI celebrates the 40th anniversary of its founding this year, what are its plans and goals for the future?
FAI has developed a ten-year strategic plan that lays out new objectives to be achieved by 2023. Among these, to acquire, rescue and open new properties throughout all of Italy’s regions; to increase membership and give a greater voice to the defense of Italian heritage, to increase Italians’ awareness of their heritage, to open the minds of new generations, and to promote new cultural opportunities. It is FAI’s goal to have 250,000 members, 50,000 volunteers and to welcome 1.5 million visitors to its properties annually.
To learn more, visit www.friendsoffai.org.