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Palazzo Italia Events and Programs

The Italian Cultural Center is flourishing with activities to commemorate Italy past, present and future. The programs and events, most of which are free to the public, attract hundreds of residents from Baltimore and Washington D.C. to South Central Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

"Different events appeal to different people," said Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Susan Tifft.

"For special events, which are our most attended, we've gone as high as 200 to 400 people on average," said President and Chairman Dr. Francesco Legaluppi. "For our smaller events, we get about 30 to 40 people."

Some of the annual events consist of a distinguished speaker series, which is held on Sunday afternoons between September 1 and June 1. Refreshments are served.

"We have an Italian language film series, which is the first Thursday of each month held at here Palazzo, always with refreshments," said Legaluppi.

The films are of course in Italian featuring English subtitles. The lower-level office and exhibition space of the building is the home of Galleria Italia.

"Galleria Italia is basically an art gallery where we have a series of, on average, four exhibits a year," said Legaluppi. "Either Italian painters or in some cases American painters that have either an attachment to an Italian school of painting or are Italian inspired are featured."

An example of an Italian inspired artist would be James J. Hennessey, whose work is currently on display. The only program that actually involves a fee is the Italian language school, which is divided into two semesters, fall and spring.

"We present Beginning Italian I and II, Intermediate I and II, and Conversational I and II," said Legaluppi.

Italian cooking seminars are also featured at the Italian Cultural Center.

"What we've done is we've had local restaurateurs do cooking demonstrations," said Legaluppi.

Special programs include a fashion show showcasing Italian designers. The latest designers featured were Grimaldi and Giardina. Another special event is the Presentation of Regions, a travel program to promote travel to Italy.

"We are not a travel agency, we are not a tourist office," said Legaluppi. "But what we do is we work together with the tourist bureaus of the various Italian regions or provinces."

Two major presentations have recently been held by the Italian Cultural Center.

"[We offered] both a travel agent presentation as well as a general public presentation on Sicily, and we also did a products expo and food tasting and presentation on Tuscany," said Legaluppi.

Traditional Italian holidays and customs are also celebrated at the Italian Cultural Center as special events.

"In Roman times there was the Festival of the Winter Solstice, otherwise known as Saturnalia, so during the holiday season we make a point of having a Saturnalia festival based on the Roman times," said Legaluppi. Included in the celebration is the colorful, mystical figure Befana. Befana is a witch, who on the night of Epiphany brings gifts to all of the Italian children of the world.

Carnevale, the equivalent to Mardi Gras, is also celebrated at the cultural center, complete with a costume party with a classic historic theme.

"The nice thing about Carnevale, unlike Mardi Gras and New Orleans or Brazil, it's not quite that untamed, it's quite sedate," said Legaluppi.

For the first time in 2002, The Italian Cultural Center walked in the Columbus Day parade in the company of a Fiat 500, one of the most emblematic cars of Italy.

Visitors often come to the cultural center for a specific program, and then find many more that they are interested in participating in. Such was the case for Raluca Iarosis, who came to the center for Italian classes three years ago.

"I've participated in art lectures, art exhibitions, first Thursday of the month Italian movies, Christmas parties and other parties," said Iarosis. "The events are well-organized, the atmosphere is casual and friendly, and I believe it made everyone feel as if they belong to this place."

The cultural center advertises in a number of ways, although their means are limited considering the lack of budget.

"Our biggest contributor is word of mouth," said Susan Tifft.

"I was taking a non-credit Italian class at Johns Hopkins when I was told by other Italian fans about this center," said student, Iarosis. "The following semester I switched from Hopkins to the Italian Cultural Center."

Events are advertised through direct mail, through their Web page and e-mail broadcast.

"We do send out press releases to all of the various television and news organizations, clearly appealing to their public access," said Legaluppi. "We do not have a budget to purchase air time."

The cultural center is also a member of the Downtown Partnership, the Historic Charles Street Association, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. The cultural center's events appear on each organization's calendar for further promotion.

In the future the Italian Cultural Center plans to encompass more of the same with a few new events. The art exhibits will contain new themes, including internationally known glass craftsman Gianni Toso from Venice. The event will feature an exhibit of his work and a seminar presentation in glass blowing and the history of Venetian glass. Baltimore's sister city, Genoa, will also be featured with the presentation of Ligurian art.

More speakers for the distinguished speaker series will be scheduled, along with new titles for the Italian language film series. Saturnalia, Carnevale and the participation in the Colombus Day Parade will also be repeated next year.

As of fall 2003 the Italian Cultural Center will extend its Italian language school to include an Advanced Conversational course.

"The seminar class will consist of about five or six students," said Legaluppi.

The Italian national holiday-comparable to Independence Day-is June 2. Next year the Italian Cultural Center plans to commemorate the Italian Republic Day with a season closing celebration. In the distant future the center would like to add a cooking class program, but that will require obtaining funding to build the necessary accommodations.

Until then, visitors like Raluca Iarosis plan on standing by the cultural center.

"I have no plans to interrupt or cut off my participation to the cultural events of the Italian Cultural Center," said Iarosis. "I am learning about Italy and interacting with people whose mother tongue is Italian, and getting to practice with them what I learned during these years."

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