NYU Florence. La Pietra Dialogues. Inside American Politics.

By Giuseppe T. Mazzone, NYU Alumni

This blog aims to explore relationships between the arts & diplomacy. Therefore, there’s nothing better than starting from Florence, Italy, a city at the heart of the Italian and European Renaissance, where natural and artistic beauty mix with pragmatic mercantile flavors and pragmatic political practice.

We start from the beautiful Villa La Pietra, a magnificent Villa built in the 15th century, on the hills dominating the Brunelleschi Dome on the way from Florence to Fiesole. Villa La Pietra was once the home of the Florentine Sassetti and Capponi families. More recently, it belonged to the late Lord Harold Acton, a historian of the Medicis’ period. Villa La Pietra belongs to New York University since 1994. We were there, mid-November 2014, as interested NYU Alumni, to attend a two day seminar on American politics organized by NYU Florence’s La Pietra Dialogues.

The seminar was open to the public and live streamed, showcasing traditional NYU hospitality and the University’s excellent use of modern technology. The conference focused on the recent U.S. mid-term congressional elections. In a few words: Republicans got majority control of both the House and the Senate in Washington DC; President Obama would act as a Lame Duck; Congress’s agenda would challenge the presidential agenda; however, President Obama might still make a compelling use of his executive powers; political initiative and the balance of power are at stake; American democracy is at work. What about the leading role of the U.S. in the international arena within the framework of the new “World Order”, just to quote the last, remarkable, book by Henry Kissinger, a master of American and international diplomacy?

Panelists offered their assessment of current political dynamics: bipartisanship; a clear-cut assessment of American voter behavior; trends and expectations; insights and perspectives; for the present and for the future, keeping the next presidential elections in mind. It was two days of clever and passionate debate; a frank exchange of views by and between a roster of excellent, carefully selected, panelists: journalists, academics, businessmen, pollsters, campaign managers, media communication strategists.

A panel discussion was followed by some open questions.

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In the World of Video Games, Has the Renaissance Returned?

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The Soul of the Souless City (New York, an Abstraction) by CRW Nevinson,1920 / Minecraft reconstruction / View of an Ideal City by Piero della Francesca and Luciano Laurana, 1460

The Tate Museum in London has teamed up with the makers of  videogame Minecraft to create a new project called ‘Tate Worlds’, which features a series of illusory ‘minecraft’ worlds inspired by art works in the gallery’s collection. In his article ‘Minecraft at Tate: In Gaming, the Renaissance has Returned‘ published on November 24 in The Guardian, journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones argues that this new project is inspired by some of the principles that underpinned the Renaissance, “Video games have recreated one of art’s oldest impulses.”  Andre Derain’s The Pool of London, 1906 and The Soul of the Souless City (New York, an Abstraction) by CRW Nevinson,1920, the first two paintings featured in the project, are, Jones argues:

“…modernist views of urban space – but under the jarring colours and corners, they conform to the tradition of perspective invented in the Renaissance, which treats the picture as a three-dimensional place. This is the kind of art that comes closest to video games, for Renaissance illusionism was the most sustained attempt to create virtual realities.”

And the parallels don’t stop there, according to Jones, “The delight and amazement we feel on entering the rich realities of digital games has so much in common with the artists of the early Renaissance.”

It was said the 15th-century painter Paolo Uccello used to stay up all night studying perspective – his results are staggeringly digital. His wife – claims Giorgio Vasari in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects – begged him to come to bed… but he preferred his virtual world. 

So are video games art? Jones asks. He suggests that “they are art of a deeply old-fashioned kind… the universal and accessible aesthetic pleasure that games give is not modern at all; it is like looking into a Renaissance picture… if Piero della Francesca were alive today, he would be programming them.”


Visit NYU Florence students’ Mapping Contemporary Florence project here for a look at contemporary culture in a city strongly marked by the Renaissance.

Check out this 2012 article Jones wrote arguing that video games are not art, ‘Sorry MOMA, video games are not art’, criticizing the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s decision to include video games in its collection.


What are we going to do about ISIS?

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence student

On November 17 night, Marcella Simoni gave a breakdown of the history and current situation regarding ISIS. She showed detailed graphs that charted their funding, their activity, who was fighting and where they were fighting. It was very comprehensive and served well to increase understanding about the conflict.

But members of the audience, in what is perhaps a very accurate representation of the American public, wanted to know how was the United States, or rather, how was the world going to stop ISIS? Hopefully by this point, anyone reading this has read one of the numerous profiles written about ISIS. If you haven’t, here is brief a summary: ISIS is terrible, and it is unique and powerful in it’s terror because it has managed to fund itself with alarming efficiency, and has been able to recruit members from all over the world to subscribe to their extremist ideals. They perform public beheadings to gain media attention to use as a platform for their cause. In addition to beheading their own people, they have kidnapped foreigners as well, with a string of Western journalists being killed to really attract attention. Their latest beheading, that of Abdul Rahman Peter Kassig, was heart breaking and struck a chord with many. Peter Kassig was an aid worker who gave everything he had, which eventually included his own life, to helping the Syrian people. Kassig had no political affiliations and the work he did was motivated only by the need to improve the lives of people who lived lives ravaged by warfare.

The brutality of ISIS is causing the world to demand action to end the terror. The U.S. started with air strikes and is now upgrading to sending more U.S. troops to the Middle East in non combat roles. So far there has not been any major successes in the fight against ISIS. Everyone wants more to be done, but no one seems to know what to do. Sending combative American troops is something the public won’t stand for. Most other countries around the world aren’t keen on sending troops to fight either. While the efforts of air strikes have been a group effort, as of November 19 over forty nations have joined the coalition to fight ISIS,  only seven percent of the world’s terrorist organizations have been stopped by military engagement. This begs the question: What are we going to do about ISIS? Is military action the best option? Is it the only option? Is there any hope of solving this politically? How can we stop the funding of ISIS? As of October, ISIS had accumulated over one billion dollars. With funding like that, and the startling ability to recruit – ISIS currently has a campaign launched towards recruiting children – the only clear answer to what the world has to do about ISIS is that the action has to be immediate and effective.


Award winning Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhu Rikun presents his film ‘Chen’ at Florence’s Festival dei Popoli December 4-5

The upcoming Festival dei Popoli will feature the film ‘Chen’ (translation: ‘Dust’), by award wining Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhu Rikun. The film explores the condition of Chinese workers in a Chinese mining and industrial zone. Mr. Rikun will be in Florence to present the film Thursday December 4 at 6.30 pm and Friday December 5 at 10.00 am at the Odeon Theater. See a synopsis of the film and read Rikun’s Director’s Note by clicking here.

Promotion of the film is supported by Han Dong Fang, the founder of the Chinese Labor Bulletin (CLB), who joined La Pietra Dialogues last spring for a very interesting Dialogue with NYU Florence students about labor conditions in China, the Chinese economy and the role of dissident activists.

Read more about the condition of Chinese miners in this article in the Huffington Post from January 2012, reprinted in the CLB, ‘The World’s Deadliest Profession: Coal Miners Pay for China’s Economic Miracle’. The article also features the 2012 documentary To the Light, by NYU Journalism School graduate Yuanchen Liu, which chronicles the lives of miners in Sichuan, China. Fore more about Liu and his film click here and here.

Read this article by Zhu Rikun in the New Statesman from October 2012, ’The Hazards for Independent Chinese Cinema’ 

And for more on Independent Filmmaking in China see ‘Independent Filmmaking in China: The Age of Dissent’, The New Yorker, April 2011.

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Introducing Next Week’s Dialogue ‘Contemporary Poetry and Publishing: Creating Global Connections’

By Louis Slade-Caffarel, NYU Florence student and organizer of the initiative

Poetry, poetry communities, and independent publishing of poetry, have seen growth in the past years. This is due to a realisation of the importance of writing to young people who are having new and challenging experiences early in their lives. The frequency of young people travelling abroad and trying to establish communities and communicate through artistic expression has increased, notably with the popularity of study abroad programs in universities. Having access to a community and access to what your contemporaries have been producing can be complicated. It is however, becoming increasingly easy through initiatives like The Belleville Park Pages and The Sigh Press.

The dialogue with publishers of The Belleville Park Pages and The Sigh Press hopes to address how these publications are creating global connections for writers. The dialogue will look at the forms of the publications, how they engage with poetry communities, how they engage with a global community, how these publications affect the kind of writing being produced, and how submission-based publications allow for varied perspectives and increased access to writing.

The Dialogue will also focus on these topics in their relationship to Florence and Italy. How do these English publications exclude and include non-English writers? How can poetry and writing connect students and ex-pats to the Florentine community? Does it connect them to the Florentine community or does it further separate them? Is it possible for Florence to have writing communities like those in bigger cities like Paris, London and New York?

The guests attending, through their own personal experiences will shed light on all of these issues and give insight into what they see for the future of contemporary poetry.

A Stream Of Conscience: Ferguson

By Opheli Garcia Lawler, NYU Florence Student

In one of the videos of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri last night, the sounds of drums can be heard, and police are in full riot gear, and a Christmas banner announcing “Season’s Greetings” hangs over the crowd. Vehicles that look like they should be trying to stop decepticons on the set of a Transformers film loom in the background. It’s grisly, and jarring, to see the streets of an American city look like a war zone.

It’s hard to watch these protests and read the articles, which detail the aftermath of the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown on August 9th. Over the last three months, there have been protests of the violent and the peaceful variety. The discussion of race, police brutality, and civil liberties have been running rampant.

It is hard to watch these protests from Italy. The entire ordeal is already surrounded by a sense of helplessness as citizen, but to be 5,000 miles away from the U.S. coast means that even your voice can’t be heard within the protests that seem to fall on deaf ears and cans of tear gas. The access to information is limited to online resources, but honestly, that is the case both in the U.S. and abroad.

But this is not meant to be an anecdotal piece about the struggle of the voiceless, the anger and the pain so many are feeling, the gut wrenching pain it causes to look at photographs of Mike Brown and his family, of the protestors suffering from exposure to tear gas, of parts of a city inflamed, of Tamir Rice, of Sean Bell, of people on the ground, in pain, not from any tear gas or rubber bullets, but from the knowledge that justice isn’t equal in the United States.

This is meant to explain the lack of indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. But I can’t do that. All I can do is watch, watch from another continent as chaos erupts. All I can do is write my thoughts, feel my anger, and sign online petitions. Hopefully that will help. Hopefully providing witness to something that makes no sense will matter. Writing about this now seems futile, something better kept as a diary entry.

Bassem Masri provided a live stream until his phone was stolen, and in the video, you can feel a sense of community by those milling in the crowd, Pastors and Rabbis encouraging everyone in the crowd to be safe, to be careful. The police surrounding them look like military insurgents from a dystopian movie, and people in the crowd are constantly calling out for identification of the officers who are surrounding them, who have no form of identification on them. As Bassem Masri moves towards a burning police car, with the crowd and with a group of police officers, questions are launched at the police officers.

“Why are they tear gassing us with kids in the crowd?”

At 30 minutes into the video, the crowd is gassed again; it seeps into peaceful groups of people, the attack seemingly unprovoked. While it could be taken as a deterrent, so that no one gets too near the car that is burning, and inside of it, bullets exploding, no one was venturing near the car, for fear of being injured by the burning police car.

Marketing Politics

By Kevin H. Ditzler, NYU Florence Student

ThumbnaileditI am a marketing major. When I think of the career that I want to have, my mind instantly wanders into the thought of designing advertising for film or working within a design studio. To say that the idea of a political career was not even on my plate three weeks ago would be an understatement.

On November 13 and 14, I attended a conference on the current state of American politics. I attended the conference out of curiosity because of the prominent political actors that were in attendance at the conference as well as my ignorance of American politics. This can best be summed up when Tom McIntyre, Assistant Director of External Relations and Special Programs at NYU Washington D.C., asked me, “Who is your representative from Texas?” The answer was a defeated “I don’t know.”

I was in attendance at this conference to perhaps shed some of my political ignorance, but after the first panel, I felt an impact on the path I would take in my life.

I have never had a profound interest in politics or the inner workings of our government over the course of my lifetime, yet after the first panel of the conference that included American media leaders and communications strategists for politicians, such as the former Managing Editor of NBC News and the former ABC News Chief Capitol Hill Correspondent, I immediately realized the impact that studying politics could have on my life as an individual focused on communications and how people convey messages in the contemporary world of “big data.”

In my piece titled “Marketing Politics” I speak about the subject of the media’s role in politics and how the first panel of the Inside American Politics conference helped me understand how people in the industry view their role.

I raise several of my personal questions on the role of media in politics and explore how this has impacted me as a student of marketing. The title of the piece is important and should not be shrugged off as unsubstantial. “Marketing Politics” is a charged title and should immediately cause problems for anyone that takes time to consider what marketing really means in politics.

Do media and communications teams have a responsibility to cover stories objectively or do they have a responsibility to cater to the audiences that follow their coverage?

This titular question is prominent in my exploration of media and politics. After this exploration, I have a profound interest in how communications function in politics and can gladly say that a study of this subject is going to be prominent in my life going forward.

Read the entire piece, “Marketing Politics”, here. 

Rosso, a poem by Cristina Ali Farah

Foamy dawn, you stole upon us, alone in the obscurity,

as we were leaving forever.

Me, in the dirty little truck with a precious bundle in my arms.

I stared, stunned, at the rifles resting on shoulders.

Somali rebels accompanied our farewell. And sand covered everything.

Among the slippery dunes, a few scattered huts.

Children came out shouting and women stretched out their arms.


This is the final farewell.

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Renowned photographer Lyle Ashton Harris will teach Introduction to Interdisciplinary Art Practice @NYU Florence in Spring 2015

Chocloate portraits

Untitled (Face #182 Senam), 2007 “The Chocolate Portraits”

Photographer Lyle Ashton Harris will teach Introduction to Interdisciplinary Art Practice at NYU Florence during the Spring 2015 semester.

For more than two decades Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice including photographic media, collage, installation, and performance. His work explores intersections between the personal and the political, examining the impact of ethnicity, gender, and desire on contemporary social and cultural dynamics.

-Museum of Modern Art, Intro of Lyle Ashton Harris, Conversations Among Friends series, April 4, 2014

The course will “provide a forum in which to explore and engage the relationship between photography, performance and contemporary art, otherwise known as the politics of performance.”

Through class assignments and readings in contemporary theory we will develop a critical vocabulary for an understanding of the relationship between photography and performance and a forum in which to challenge and push our individual practice to the next level. All experience levels are welcome and will be helpful to our class. In Florence, we will use the resources of La Pietra and nearby institutions to engage the site specificity of NYU Florence and its rich history, including field trips, visiting artists, and seminar based classes. The class will take place simultaneously with the Blackamoor project held at La Pietra at NYU Florence, in which Harris is participating.

Harris’ work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the 52nd Venice Biennale and has been acquired by major international museums, most recently by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Learn more about Lyle Ashton Harris and see examples of his work here. Take advantage of the opportunity to study with one of the United States’ most talented contemporary artists @NYU Florence.

NYU Florence 2013-2014 students Kayla Malone and Alice Sholto Douglas present at today’s Global Engagement Symposium in New York

Global Engagement Symposium

Today from 10:00am-2:00pm at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life in New York, LPD alumni Kayla Malone and Alice Sholto Douglas will talk about the projects they worked on at NYU Florence during the 2013-2014 academic year.

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Kayla Malone was a valuable member of the LPD team, conducting research on women in politics, writing a blog series on the European Union, and helping create a documentary film that showcases NYU Florence and University of Florence students’ attitudes towards the role of women in politics. Kayla did her GLS Experiential Learning placement at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights in Florence. Here is a portfolio of Kayla’s work with LPD. See Kayla speaking about the role of women in politics:

Alice Sholto Douglas is the current record holder of most positions held with LPD. She worked as an LPD volunteer helping with photography work, did her experiential learning placement in spring 2014 serving as a liaison between LPD and the Middle East Now film festival, was LPD’s spring 2014 videography intern and also organized her own Dialogue on Global Poetry.

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Check out a portfolio of Alice’s work here. And see this video of her and former NYU Florence graduate student Jim Carter presenting the award for best short film at the Middle East Now film festival’s closing ceremony.

Good luck Kayla and Alice !!!!