12/20/2013 04:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Italian Year: When Culture Creates Opportunities

The Year of Italian Culture in the United States was an extraordinary act of public diplomacy. A show of pride that was deeply felt, especially in a time of crisis like the present. Fellow Italians in the United States, the myriad of American admirers of our country -- among them twenty-six million Italian Americans -- companies, associations and institutions that worked tirelessly every day to promote the "Italian brand" and even the press, which devoted hundreds of positive articles to our initiative -- all felt the strong desire to rediscover the charm of Italy's past, to reveal the best of its present, and to highlight examples of how it is working toward the future. All this to create new opportunities for the citizens of both countries.


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The Honorable Nancy Pelosi visiting an exhibition on Machiavelli's "Prince"

All have supported us with great enthusiasm and energy. Without this collective effort, it would have been impossible to give life to the whirlwind of prominent initiatives that were carried out together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has been exhilarating. We began with a program of approximately 180 events, and in the end carried out over 300 events in more than 80 cities in the United States. Not a day has passed without proposals for new ideas. We have done our best to implement them all, oftentimes to the limits of our logistical and organizational capacities. I think back for example to the days when the atrium of the Embassy was host to two beautiful exhibitions at the same time, one on Machiavelli's The Prince and the other on Fabriano's celebrated paper mills and all the while holding as many as eight cultural events that same week in Washington.

Greetings from space. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano speaks at the opening of Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Italian flag throwers at the Embassy of Italy for the 2013 EU Embassies' Open House

The logo of the Year -- two wings formed by the Italian and American flags -- reached the most unusual places -- from supermarkets and restaurants on the labels of "limited collection" bottles of famous Italian beverages, to the International Space Station (half of it Made in Italy) delivered by astronaut Luca Parmitano during the Volare mission. Millions of travelers at airports, train stations, subways and buses, and -- thanks to the radio -- even in their own cars, were reached by our message: Italy inspires U.S. Italy, that led the world as number one in the 2013 Reputation Institute rankings in cultural reputation, and to this day remains an international leader in innovation, research, style, and quality of life, is and will remain a source of inspiration. This is evidenced by the many success stories that we shared, calling attention to a country that not only gave the world Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, but which is also one of the most active in space exploration. The land of Dante, Verdi, and Rossini, but also the country that currently holds the highest number of Oscars for best foreign film and is the second major destination for U.S. students abroad. The birthplace of Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci -- that gave America its name -- but also of Giovanni Soldini, who in 2013 set a new record in the race from New York to San Francisco on his futuristic Italian sailboat. An Italy that, despite the crisis, is the fifth manufacturing powerhouse in the world -- and perhaps number one for the beauty and appeal of its products. The nation with the largest number of cultural World Heritage Sites, and one of the places with the highest life expectancy on the planet.

I am proud and at the same time grateful to have had the good fortune of being Ambassador of Italy at this particular time. But I also feel a great sense of responsibility. The innovative model of cultural cooperation that we have been testing during the Year of Culture is only a beginning. It warrants being developed and enriched, which is the commitment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the entire Italian diplomatic network. The synergistic approach that we implemented has helped us generate resources and projects. It was a team effort of different public and private actors all working toward a common goal: showcasing the image of Italy.


The Dying Gaul from Rome's Capitoline Museum on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art

Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and spouse Laura Denise with Arena Stage Director Molly Smith at the exhibition 60 Years of Made in Italy

The financial sponsorships received from our businesses not only made it possible to avoid overburdening public funds, but also to view cultural cooperation from a prism that is more up to date. It is a model process in some ways reminiscent of the art of patronage that gave life to our Renaissance. In this respect, during 2013, the increase in Made in Italy consumption in the United States has been nothing short of positive; the numbers are very telling: +4.23 percent in the first ten months of the year (well above the EU average), with encouraging peaks in those areas that most closely match the concept of Italian style and innovation that we have been promoting. Fashion, food, furniture, machinery, aerospace. The Italian brand has come to represent something of a lifestyle philosophy, and its power rests on its inimitability. Our productions today, in any field, from the arts to consumer goods, have the unmistakable flavor of centuries of knowledge and matchless expertise.

On December 12, 2012, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, we inaugurated our wonderful journey with the exhibition of the famous David Apollo by Michelangelo. On December 12, 2013, exactly one year later and in the very same venue, we symbolically brought it to an end (but only symbolically!) with the exhibition of the Dying Gaul, the breathtaking sculpture from the Capitoline Museums, and with the signature of a sister city agreement between Washington and Rome. Between those two dates, hundreds of thousands of visitors, spectators and enthusiasts from Washington to Los Angeles, Detroit to Houston, Miami to Chicago were all able to delight in their 'piece of Italy': ancient codices, sculptures, paintings, present and past technological achievements, music, theater, famous or alternative films, culinary delicacies. Most importantly perhaps, the Year gave birth to new partnerships between the public and private worlds of our two countries: among them, a renewed cooperation agreement between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, as well as numerous new agreements between museums and cultural institutions, companies, local agencies and universities.

In short, The Year just ended has left behind a blueprint for the internationalization of our sustainable and fascinating culture and has sown the seeds for a further strengthening of the already excellent relations between Italy and the United States. And if now the curtain has fallen on the events of 2013, the journey to discover our culture will continue on with new initiatives that we are already preparing for 2014 and beyond.

Italian Year logo on bottles of famous Italian spumante and mineral water