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Spotlight On: Italian Cultural Institute of Buenos Aires
Portal of the Italian language

Spotlight On: Italian Cultural Institute of Buenos Aires

Categories: Culture and creativity

Interview with the Director Donatella Cannova.

Donatella Cannova

Edited by Basilio Toth

Our Spotlight On feature continues with the Italian Cultural Institute of Buenos Aires  and its Director.

After graduating in Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Palermo, Donatella Cannova obtained a Maitrise Français Langue Etrangère at the Université Stendhal in Grenoble. She has carried out assignments for the Farnesina in various universities in Hungary and Belgium. Since 2003 she has been working in the Italian Cultural Institutes, first in Brussels as a cultural attachée, then in Cordoba (Argentina) and Sydney as director. Since 2017 she has been the director of the Italian Cultural Institute of Buenos Aires.

Though the last few months have been difficult for everyone, they have provided a unique opportunity for improvement and changes. What innovations has the Institute introduced, firstly in order to deal with the emergency itself and then with the ‘new normal’?

To cope with the sudden suspension of in-person activities caused by the pandemic, we implemented a rapid digital transformation of our linguistic and cultural programme. This has entailed a general reorganization of work which, thanks to the efforts of all the Institute’s staff, has enabled us to continue to be present on the local cultural scene and to remain close to our public through the various digital channels. On the language side, we have equipped ourselves with new tools for virtual teaching, getting teachers involved through specialized training on the use of online platforms. In terms of students, we have been raising public awareness with ad-hoc campaigns. The result was satisfactory: in 2020 we kept the number of students almost unchanged compared to the previous year, and in 2021 the trend is still going up.

As far as cultural activities are concerned, in the first phase we re-broadcast content which was made available to us by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, thus making up for the sudden vacuum created by the abrupt discontinuation of in-person programming. At the same time, we began to work on producing digital content ourselves. We were therefore able to broadcast series of plays which we translated and subtitled along with works by Pippo Delbono and Antonio Latella. Both projects were developed in collaboration with the national theater Emilia Romagna Teatro and the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires. We are carrying out a similar operation with the Piccolo Teatro di Milano and we hope to be able to disseminate this content in the coming months.

But above all we managed to create original content, based on ideas generated from conversations with artists and cultural personalities in Italy and Argentina. This gave rise to the series which we broadcast on our YouTube channel, both live and pre-recorded. One was dedicated to Luigi Pirandello’s Novelle per un anno (Short stories for a year), performed by Vincenzo Pirrotta and introduced by Sarah Zapulla Muscarà. The other was Immaginari. Antologia del Novecento italiano (Imaginaries: An Anthology of 20th Century Italy), in collaboration with the Teatro Stabile di Catania, which presented seven short stories by seven Italian 20th-century authors, performed by actors from Sicilian theatre. In terms of music, we created the #Vivacissimo online series, with 5 concerts of different musical genres, in collaboration with the Casa del Jazz and the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, and the Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival. These concerts featured Danilo Rea, Ilaria Patassini, Luca Ciarla, Anna Tifu, etc. There were also events involving Italian writers connected to the Strega Prize, which this Institute participates in as one of its foreign juries; cinema screenings in collaboration with various local entities that have facilitated the dissemination of information to audiences less familiar to us; and various other initiatives, including the celebrations for Fellini’s centenary, which we have resumed in the course of this year 2021 with an exhibition, at long last in person, at the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo.
After the brief interlude of the austral summer, during which we participated in the Buenos Aires International Festival with a dual theatrical event (both in person and digital), the health emergency situation forced us to suspend attended activities once again and postpone them to the end of the year in the hope of being able to  them. We are therefore continuing to offer both our language courses and our cultural events remotely.

Users of the ICIs always expect events of the highest quality. In your opinion, has the Institute’s audience kept up the same level of ambition in recent times?  And have they been looking more for novelty or more for reassurance in recent months?

What we observed during these long months of the pandemic has been a high rate of participation in the activities and an equally high approval rating for them. We collected the testimonies of many people who repeatedly expressed their gratitude to us for having brought Italian culture into their homes, which they have also found comforting and stimulating as a dispersed and isolated community. As always, we tried to keep the range of our cultural events broad, offering a variety of activities for different audiences, with content ranging from the Tosca concert to those of the Verdi Orchestra in Milan, from the classics of Italian cinema to contemporary releases, from the classics of 20th century literature to brand new authors. From time to time we have teamed up with distinguished figures from the Italian and Argentine cultural scene, who like us were experiencing a radical paradigm shift in their daily work and who, like us, felt the need to learn to be on the new virtual scene through new channels and new languages. I feel like the effort that the Institute has made and continues to make is being appreciated, and that the range of our activities has reached different audiences whom we need to continue to address in the future.

Communication with your audience and their involvement in the Institute’s activities are bound to have changed. What role have new technologies played in this relationship? Have users been proactive? What was your experience?

I can safely say that the transition towards the digital consumption of Italian cultural content has taken place here in an almost natural way, as it has everywhere else, it seems to me. The technologies that we all used for other purposes came to help bridge the distance created by the isolation and to allow us to keep our relationship with the public alive. One of the most significant comments we have received from our followers is from a participant in the online Lectura Dantis, who was delighted to finally be able to access this content precisely because it had gone digital, and who asked that we continue to offer it in this way in the future. It is precisely this combination of in-person and digital  that we are working towards, when it comes to the Italian courses too, in view of a future reopening of cultural centers.

You may have had to cancel events or rethink them to adapt them to the new situation. Some initiatives may have been salvageable, others might have been created as replacements, brand new. Are there any particular initiatives in the upcoming programme that you would like to tell us about?

Among the many initiatives that have undergone and continue to undergo varying degrees of adaptation to the circumstances, I would like to focus on one in particular, the ITALIAXXI project. Curated, organized and produced through close collaboration between the Institute, the Teatro Coliseo (which is the only Italian theatre located abroad) and the Directorate General for Live Entertainment of the Ministry of Culture, which this year is in its fourth season, it seeks to relaunch and revitalize the contemporary Italian art scene in Buenos Aires and Argentina, with spin-offs in neighbouring countries as well. Thanks to substantial funds made available by the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Institute’s own funds and sponsorships, ITALIAXXI has been able to present has been able to present more than 45 theatre, contemporary dance, ballet and opera shows over the years. After two seasons of attended events, in which prestigious companies and well-known stars from the Italian scene took part (Nicola Piovani, Paolo Fresu, Stefano Bollani, Romeo Castellucci, Mario Brunello, Eleonora Abbagnato, Ottavia Piccolo, Emma Dante, Mimmo Cuticchio, Virgilio Sieni, the contemporary dance company Zappalà etc.), and the beginning of the third season, also in-person, with Pippo Delbono and the Motus company, the project, as of June 2020, has been converted into a digital one, with a new programme. Some of the actors from Italy who had already been billed have taken part (Alessandro Gassmann, Tosca, Elio Germani, etc.), along with others who have been added during the course of the project (Enzo Cosimi, Alessandro Sciarrone, Alessio Boni, etc.). All of them spoke with stars of the Argentine scene about themes linked to the particular historical moment we are living through, offering examples of performances from different theatres in Italy while here in Buenos Aires Argentine actors were presented on the stage of the Coliseo.
Through the course of 2021 we are working in the same direction, with some entirely digital content such as the series of works by Antonio Latella; some mixed in format, such as the Comizi d’amore #BuenosAires project, directed remotely from Italy by the Kepler-452 company, with the involvement of the Italian stage designer Emanuele Sinisi and non-professional actors from Buenos Aires; and some that will be in-person (at least we hope so), planned for the last months of the year, with the collaboration of local orchestras with Italian conductors and soloists, along with local dance companies that will stage performances by Italian choreographers. This broad framework of the ITALIAXXI project is accompanied by Institute’s other projects, including the creation of a series devoted to Italian writers, which we will also be producing in e-book form.

Could you describe the Italian Cultural Institute you direct and its history for our Italian readers?

Just a few weeks ago, we started working on a publication that will tell the story of this Institute, spanning the almost 90 years since its foundation. We are digging into our archives in search of the most significant materials that will help us to give an idea of the work carried out by so many people over the course of its now long history, presenting the leading figures in Italian and Argentine culture who have enlivened these spaces with their presence, and who have cemented the relationship between the two countries in an indissoluble manner. We will start from the first founding nucleus of the Centro Studi Italiani, the large library that by 1937 already had more than 10,000 publications, most of which came from the former Biblioteca del Littorio, of which we have found the first paper inventory. Then we will gradually chart the various phases that led the Institute to occupy a part of the large Palazzo Italia in the Sixties, which was built in that decade and inaugurated by the then President of the Republic Giovanni Gronchi. Over time, the Institute, especially after the move of the Consulate General of Italy in the early 2000s, has gradually acquired various spaces, and today occupies three of the five floors of Palazzo Italia, with its library of over 30,000 books, the Salone Benedetto Croce, which is equipped for cinema, concerts with its Fazioli piano, conferences and theatrical performances, the Sala Roma for art exhibitions and the 13 classrooms for Italian language courses. As we share the same building with the glorious Coliseo Theatre, the Argentine headquarters of the University of Bologna and the Italian Chamber of Commerce, the Palazzo Italia in Buenos Aires is a major hub for the longstanding Italian presence in this country.

How would you describe the city and its cultural scene? What are the most important collaborative relationships that the Institute has with other cultural institutions?

Buenos Aires is a polycentric megacity, extremely broad, and various both in terms of its population and its architecture. For a European who lands in Buenos Aires, the first sensation is of it being very familiar, but on a different, ‘American’ scale, namely one that is huge and astonishing. The porteños are aware of how unique their city is and the divide that exists between the Federal Capital and the rest of the country, and, in the words of Borges, they love it to the point of being jealous of it. The issue of disparities and inequalities, which they call la grieta (the rift) here and which cuts across and divides Argentine society, is another deeply striking aspect. It is a part of the reality of life here which we are confronted with on a daily basis, sometimes even harshly.
Buenos Aires is undoubtedly a ‘cultural mecca’, both in terms of the number of public and private organizations dedicated to cultural production and dissemination as well as the high quality of the cultural landscape. A city of a thousand bookstores, home to one of the largest Spanish-language book fairs, with an extremely lively publishing scene thanks to the widespread presence of independent publishers who (despite an increasingly difficult situation) manage to animate the capital’s literary life. Buenos Aires boasts a literary tradition of the highest calibre. This is demonstrated by the city’s international literary and poetry festivals. The equally extraordinary tradition of its theatre scene, with its pulsating Avenida Corrientes, home to hundreds of public and independent theaters, as well as its cinematography and visual arts. contribute to making Buenos Aires one of the great cultural capitals of the world. In spite of a socio-economic situation in which entire segments of the population are living in conditions of deprivation, and which is destined to worsen due to the dual economic and health crisis caused by Covid-19, Buenos Aires remains an extremely receptive location which is keen for Italy and its culture. Our community of those of Italian descent, which is the largest in the world with about one million registered with the The Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE) and which is certainly much more numerous than the official estimates indicate, permeates the whole of Argentine society and constitutes its roots, in parallel with the Hispanic roots.
In this context, the Institute is active both in the major cultural centre of Buenos Aires and throughout its broader district thanks to an organized system of collaborations with major Italian and local institutions: museums, theatres, auditoriums, orchestras, international festivals, universities, centres dedicated to design, fashion and gastronomy, the consular network and the committees of the Dante Alighieri Society, as well as the various associations of Italian citizens and the entities which the vast Italian community is organized into – all of these are parties which the Institute sets up projects with from time to time aimed at promoting and disseminating Italian language and culture. Among the principal collaborations, I would like to mention the one with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, with whom we have an agreement in place for the exchange of works from their respective collections and for staff training projects. We are also a partner of the Bienal Sur, a biennial of contemporary art in several South American and European countries, with which we regularly present Italian artists, both established and emerging. The big Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires, which brings together five of the city’s public features in a total of ten venues, is our usual partner for the presentation of shows which, together with the Teatro Coliseo, within the framework of the ITALIAXXI project mentioned earlier, we direct to the different audiences of the city’s theatres. The same applies to the Network of Cultural Festivals of Buenos Aires, a public organization that produces 10 international festivals each year dedicated to all the arts, and with whom we collaborate intensively with Italian participants, which are often recognized as the most important and appreciated among the foreign ones.





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