Villa la Pietra and Florence’s Cultural Life

By Vittoria Barsotti, Professor of Law, University of Florence

The founding of study programs in Italy by North American cultural institutions and Universities is a phenomenon that goes back to the end of the 1800s when the American Academy of Rome was first founded. The Academy, an institution aimed at a limited number of established scholars, remained isolated for a long time, only joined later, in 1931, by Smith College of Florence. Since then, and especially after World War II, a great number of the most prestigious American Universities have found a home in Florence which now hosts more than 30 of them. The various universities offer many different programs that differ significantly among themselves in various respects, especially in their size, in the relationship with the home institution, and in their organization. Nevertheless, each program brings students, faculty and, most importantly, culture, to Florence, which should strengthen the ties between the city and the world that lies on the other side of the Atlantic. Notwithstanding the extremely challenging and positive effects that grow out of the presence of many prestigious American Universities in Florence, one must note that they mostly conduct their cultural lives largely apart from the city. Students live in their campuses (often splendid villas) and do not integrate with their Italian fellows, professors do not always have the opportunity to meet with Italian colleagues and the organization of joint cultural events is infrequent. In this scenario, New York University in Florence, located on the magnificent grounds of La Pietra, is an exceptional and unique case and perhaps an example for other American institutions. In fact, building on an Exchange Agreement dated 1993, Florence University and NYU are getting ready to launch a new program that will allow more American students to enrol in courses offered in Italian and English in various Departments of Florence University and Italian students will likewise be admitted to some courses offered at Villa La Pietra. But the most important sign of Villa la Pietra’s opening to the city and to its cultural and scientific life is the project known as La Pietra Policy Dialogues. With La Pietra Policy Dialogues, Ellyn Toscano has successfully initiated a deep and fruitful conversation between the two sides of the Atlantic on some of the most important issues that have dominated the front pages over the past months. In November 2008, immediately following the U.S. presidential election, Villa La Pietra brought together a collection of election experts, including academics, media experts, and political analysts to asses the results of the election: there were no boundaries and the speakers were American and “European”. In March 2009, the second event, A Transatlantic Dialogue on Immigration, represented the most true realization of a joint effort: La Pietra Policy Dialogues, the European University Institute, Syracuse University, and the University of Florence (Law School and Department of Political Science) all contributed to an interdisciplinary discussion on the way societies on both sides of the Atlantic have responded to the cultural, religious and linguistic diversity of migrant populations. Culture in general and culture in Florence needs projects and ideas like La Pietra Policy Dialogues. I am sure that a successful future will follow an exciting start.

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