The Italian cultural communication between Via Della Spiga and Madison Avenue
One of the biggest American writers of the twentieth century, Henry Miller says about traveling that destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
Inevitably, the journey I just came back from as part of the Master class in Communication for International Relations, in the beginning of May this year, has changed the way I used to visualise the external communication of Italy.
Having the chance to spend a week on American territory, visiting international institutions, conversing with communication officers from the United Nations, the World Bank and companies like Weber Shandwick, I took some time to analyze how Italy is communicating itself abroad.
Undoubtedly , in the recent decades, the phrase Made in Italy was used numerous of times as a synonym of high quality, luxury and dolce vita. Taking advantage of ancient traditions in tailoring, a long history in cooking and manufacturing, Italian producers and designers nowadays do not miss to highlight the origin of their production, especially when exporting.
But does the Italian government label always the Italian culture and politics when it comes to presenting them in the United States?
The first time I have noticed the importance of the topic while visiting in the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C. After warm welcoming in the elegant building of the institution our class met five representatives of the Embassy and enjoyed a fruitful discussion. It became clear that the communication of the Foreign mission in the United States is usually conducted in three levels:
- communication on internal level which includes the relation with the Italian government.
- communication with the press in the United States.
- communication of the activities of the Embassy.
- Among the main problems appears to be that often, because of lack of foreign correspondents the American newspapers release news about the political scene in Italy based on articles found in the Italian press, which often comes to be unclear. In this situation the role of the Embassy in navigating the picture of the national politics is crucial. Aware of the way the American press works, often the Embassy officers issue press releases, clarifying the background of the events.
- The representatives of the Embassy agreed that sometimes their activities on the territory of the United States become considered as a mission of an Embassy of the European Union, engaging them in interpretation of political decisions taken by the European Union for the American public. Another strategy, which the officers acquired in order to promote the Italian culture abroad is linking the cultural heritage to the industry, turning successful Italian companies into art ambassadors. As 2013 is the year of Italy in the United States, the Embassy has prepared a long program of events, brushing out the traditional image of Italy from the typical cliches, by going beyond art events, but presenting also science and technology, talking about the language and tourism.
The next encounter which sparked my interest was the visit in the Italian Cultural Institute. Positioned in the heart of Manhattan, New York, in a building with old history, which belongs to the Italian government, the Italian Cultural Institute embodies tradition of bringing the Italian culture closer to the Italian public and fresh, innovative event ideas.
Before starting a discussion with the representatives of the Institute, our class had the opportunity to go through the exposition Assonanze/Dissonanze situated in the foyer, which contained works of Italian artists from 16th and 17th centuries along those of our modern times and it is looking for a common threat between all of them. During the meeting a short movie created by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was screened presenting Italy as a land of traditions and innovations.
I have been living in Italy now for more than seven months and I must admit that the video surprised me a lot in terms of breaking stereotypes for the Italian culture like delicious food and expensive fashion brands. This time the Italian government has taken the decision to stir a new course ahead in turning the brand Made in Italy in something more than hackneyed idea, but into a symbol of innovation: amalgamating the traditions in transportation means building with the contemporary ship building, the Italian patent for lighter airplanes and the speed trains was one of the highlight of the video. Moreover, a sophisticated robot construction, alternative energy, transparent concrete production, machines for raw materials processment, bioplastic, fiber optic transmission were just several of the topics introduced in the country advertisement campaign.
As the Italian diaspora in the United States is quite well-known: in the middle of 19th century, hundred thousands of Italians emigrate to the States due to worsen economic situation facing great challenges of the arrival, some of us were questioning the need of the American-Italians nowadays for Italian language and culture. Surprisingly, we were informed that not only citizens with Italian origin, but also Americans show great interest towards the Italian cultural traditions, so that the Institute is often organizing exhibitions, concerts, film screenings or programs of collaboration between American and Italian educational institutions in order to promote the Mediterranean heritage. The representatives also shared their hope that the Year of Italy in the United States will be successful as they have plenty of exciting events organized.
Our Italian flavored journey in New York continued with a meeting with the Permanent Mission of Italy in the United Nations.
As the building of the United Nations was closed for reconstruction, the meeting happened on the 49th floor in a building on 2nd Avenue in a conference hall with a splendid view over the East part of the city.
During the visit we got aware of the importance of the Permanent Mission of Italy in the United Nations for the foreign affairs of the country. As the First councilor Mr. Corrias pointed out, the Mission seems to be a mouth, an eye and an ear for the Italian country..
Furthermore, Mr. Corrias defined the Italian mission as middle-sized one which means the main occupation of the institutions is mainly monitoring the steps of the Security Council and research in the main activities of the United Nations like Peace and Security, Human Rights, Development, the UN Security Council Reform and the contribution to the United Nations to the budget of the UN.
The official communication of the Permanent mission utilizes strictly official channels like press releases or public announcements.
Once we have seen the official representation of the Italian country in the United States we were curious to discover the marks the Italian culture left in the streets of the New York.
Naturally, the Made in Italy trip finished in the lovely neighborhood of Little Italy. Situated in Mulberry Street, the Italian part of the city is bustling with restaurants, coffee shops which not only have traditional Italian names, but also claim to possess the typical Italian quality in terms of food. Definitely, not the largest Italian district when it comes to the population, but for sure, the most historical one, Little Italy used to be the heart of the Italian immigrant community in New York,.
Even today, more than hundred years after the large immigrant waves, the atmosphere of the neighborhood reminds of Sunday noon in a little town, in the South of Italy.
Back to the words of Henry Miller regarding traveling, the study tour of our Master class gave opportunity to recognize the Italian reality of which I am currently a resident and not only to get to know more about the foreign affairs of the country, but once back – to look around and to discover what is going on in Italy here and today; what does it stay before the communication of the country abroad.