The Italian Cultural Institute Brings Italy to the Civic Centre

From left to right, Consul General Mauro Battocchi, painter and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Senator Mark Leno, and Director Paolo Barlera. Photo Credits Jason Henry for the Chronicle

From left to right, Consul General Mauro Battocchi, painter and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Senator Mark Leno, and Director Paolo Barlera. Photo Credits Jason Henry for the Chronicle

Close to the San Francisco Opera House, as well as to the City Hall and the Asian Museum: the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco has officially reopened in a new location, the Opera Plaza on Van Ness street. Since the decision was made for practical necessity, related to big raise on the lease in North Beach, Director Paolo Barlera found himself facing a situation that the Institute could simply not afford. The change needed also to consider the co-existence of both the Institute, with its events, and the language school, the Istituto Italiano Scuola which has been a partner for many years. We met the Director during the big opening on October 28: the event not only showed off to the crowd the new space for the first time, but has also welcomed poet, painter, ground-breaking publisher and living cultural treasure Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his exhibition, made of the selection of paintings relating to Europe. As Ferlinghetti has experienced it in his travels, one of them – which gives the exhibition its title, “Fluxare” -- reflects on Italian language. 
The opening was also a moment to celebrate Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his works. What can you tell about it?
A remarkable and charming moment of the opening was when Lawrence started his presentation in Italian, by stating: “Io non capisco l’inglese”. We couldn’t have been happier to be able to celebrate with him. Not only because he is a legendary figure, but also and especially because of its significance in our relationship with the Italian American community. Moving to our new location meant moving away - geographically - from North Beach, so having Ferlinghetti here was a major statement: our ties with the Italian American community have not come to an end. On the contrary, we want to see them continue and even expand. As the Consul General said, during his remarks, “We are bringing North Beach to Civic Center.”
Is the role of the institute changing in the approach to a new community of younger Italians?
The role of the Institute is not changing, in the sense that our mission remains that of promoting Italian culture across the board, to everybody who may be interested in it – regardless of age or nationality. What is changing is a more focused attention to the relatively new group of young Italians who live and work in the Bay Area and are stepping to the plate in a number of social and cultural activities, including for example the COM.IT.ES. They are certainly a vital force that has to be reckoned with. They are themselves networking and creating new opportunities for dialogue and the development of very interesting initiatives. Their presence gives rise to a different set of interests and we are glad to take up this challenge.
The institute usually focuses on art, literature, music. Given the location (Silicon Valley) and the number of Italians working in tech and other industries, would it be possible to change the focus to these topics too sometimes?
We have already done a few things in that direction – for instance an event on Green Cities and another one on Italian women’s success stories in tech fields – and we certainly plan to do more. And the reason is not only because of the Italians who work in these fields, but because the whole cultural world of the greater Bay Area is veering toward Silicon Valley and responding to the stimulations that come from there. It is not by chance that the opening film of the 2015 International Film Festival was “The Man in the Machine,” the documentary about Steve Jobs. In short, as society is evolving, we are definitely compelled to consider these new perspectives as part and parcel of Culture, either by themselves or in conjunction with more traditional fields. I have been talking to the promoters of the International Art and Technology Festival, which promises to explore precisely this trajectory. We will try to bring Italian artists to the Festival, and hopefully we’ll see something of true originality.
Considering the 2015 as a year of transition but yet full of events, which are the most important events coming up in 2016?
We have a great opportunity next year to collaborate with the director of the Museo del Novecento in Milan, Marina Pugliese, who is spending time in San Francisco. We are working on a year-long project called “Mapping the City” that will create three or four events/exhibitions in which an Italian artist is invited to interact with a local urban situation and, if possible, originate a dialogue with a local artist. Another important project is the series of tributes to classic Italian cinema, together with Luce Cinecittà and Cinema Italia SF. After this year’s success with De Sica, our dream is to bring Dario Argento for a retrospective – but nothing is in the bag yet. Stay tuned.

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