An historic meeting took place between the Mayor of Paros and the Mayor (Sindaco) of Pistoia, in Tuscany, Italy on October 7th. Accompanied by John Pack of the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts and local architect Petros Metaxas, Mayor Yiannis Rangoussis travelled to Pistoia to meet with Mayor Renzo Berti to exchange and explore ideas for cultural tourism.
The city of Pistoia has for a number of years been developing in a new and original direction to promote its cultural, historical and artistic heritage and to organize venues and events for cultural tourists. They have designated traffic-free public spaces such as the main squares (piazzi) and manage these areas so as to encourage and invite community activities and gatherings. Pistoia has been named one of Italy's prestigious "Città d'Arte" and takes this role very seriously, giving the city an outstanding reputation with visitors and making it an excellent model for other towns and cities to learn about managing public spaces, restoration of classical buildings and hosting cultural programmes and events. They cultivate and support many visiting study abroad programmes from the U.S. and other countries in language, literature, Renaissance music, art and art history. Students and academics come to use the famous Pistoia research library and to use the city as a base from which they can organize further studies in Italy and excursions to Rome, Venice, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Siena, Arezzo and Bologna.
Pistoia also has developed a strong relationship with Japan through the Japanese interest in its long tradition in the art of organ building. Local families built many of the instruments that are in the most important churches and concert halls around the world and Pistoia has been the seat of the Italian Music Academy for Organs since 1975. In fact, following the visit of Paros's Mayor, the Sindaco of Pistoia was scheduled to formally greet the Empress of Japan!
The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, based here on Paros, has for the past 15 years held the first month of its Fall semester in Pistoia, and Director John Pack is effusive about the way in which the city deals with the school's programme: "They always provide us with such a warm reception when we arrive. Their constant gestures of assistance and support show us that they really care about us and treat us so well because they are proud of the fact that we've located our programme in their city. Their coordinating office, set up just for study abroad programmes, helps us with logistics and reservations for excursions, and makes things possible by cutting through red tape."
In an interview three years ago with Paros Life, John spoke about his long-held vision of how Paros could be transformed into an academic and educational centre, following a similar development to Pistoia's:
"You know, we could have a thousand students here every winter participating in a multitude of academic programmes. Paros could become an island known for classical studies, alive with the passionate energy of learning. A whole vital academic 'industry' could exist, encompassing marble studies in Marathi, history, culture, language. Paros could have an incredible visiting artists programme."
This vision, if realized, could bring significant economic benefits to the island during the "out of season" period. John has calculated that the most basic estimate of each student's potential worth to the local economy is 11,650 euro. Fifty students would therefore be worth 582,500 euro, five hundred 5,825,000, and so on. Added to that is the ancillary income of visiting family members and friends of the students as well as the fact that many of the students forge such a lasting connection with the island that they will return again and again to visit for many years into the future. Their love for and special relationship with Paros makes these students ideal "ambassadors" for the island as they return to their home countries and tell everyone about their experience.
When John first had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Rangoussis and discuss these ideas, he discovered they shared very much the same dream for Paros. He realized that our Mayor is firmly committed to developing cultural tourism for the long-term future of Paros as an alternative to the old model of mass tourism. In the first two years that he has been in office, Yiannis Rangoussis has already demonstrated this commitment in a number of ways, including the establishment of the House of Literature in Lefkes, the organization of a major art exhibition of Parian artists in Athens (see page 7) and - most recently - his involvement in the EuroArt project of "Artists Villages".
John put Yiannis in touch with Mayor Berti in Pistoia so that they might begin a cultural partnership that will enable an exchange of ideas and experience as well as possibly leading to future joint projects. After corresponding for a few months, they agreed to meet at the beginning of October.
Before the meeting, John was already in Italy for the Fall Session: "When Renzo Berti came to have the annual lunch together with all of us at the Villa Rospigliosi (the Aegean Center's facility in Italy), he was accompanied by journalists due to the fact we were celebrating our 15th anniversary in Pistoia. In a TV interview the Sindaco spoke of his excitement for the meeting of the Mayor from Paros quite eloquently. It was also highlighted in two regional newspapers. He mentioned his hope at forging a relationship of exchange with Paros and his wish to pay a formal visit in October 2005."
During Yiannis Rangoussis' visit, he had the chance to see the restoration work currently in progress on a theatre for the use of the community. The work is being done very beautifully and professionally and will provide a venue for musical concerts and plays with an exhibition area in the foyer. He also visited the well-known research library which contains many old and rare editions.
The two mayors discussed the development of cultural tourism, the reception of visiting academics and students and the preservation and cultivation of their Italian and Greek historical heritage. Yiannis Rangoussis also had the opportunity to talk to Renzo Berti about Paros's involvement in the EuroArt network and Pistoia's mayor expressed the hope that they will be able to send their choir on a visit to Paros next year for the inauguration of the Paroikia amphitheatre.
John Pack is very enthusiastic about the planting of this first seed of cultural exchange between Paros and Pistoia:
"I'm optimistic about the incredible potential that can come from this meeting. I really believe it can help Paros realize its potential for developing academic and cultural tourism."
He is confident the current Mayor has a "long-range view and an international outlook for the healthy and sustainable development of Paros, not only in the physical refinement of the island but in a broad cultural renaissance involving the arts, Greek culture and international academic programmes."
Noting other connections between Greece and Pistoia, he mentions that there will be an exhibition in Athens at the end of November of the internationally acclaimed sculptor Marino Marini from Pistoia and the fact that Pistoia's Breda Trains were just awarded the contract to build trains for the Athens Metro.
John Pack presented the following statement (in Italian, Greek and English) as an introduction to the meeting between the Mayors of Paros and Pistoia on October 7th.
Since I first had the idea, I am asked why I want the mayors of Paros and Pistoia to meet, and since I began working towards the realization of this event my answer remains the same: because I love Paros and I love Pistoia.
Almost always the second question I am asked is, "But why now?" The answer to this is also very simple, like so many things in life it has to do with timing, but timing with a very strong sense that it is the right thing to do.
Those who know me well know that I make many decisions based purely on my 'gut feelings', in fact, Italy and Pistoia is a result of just such a feeling 15 years ago. The reason I want these two important people to meet is simply because of this very deep and profound feeling that it is good and right.
Now that this special day has arrived, I feel satisfied that I have done my part. Whatever potential good that results from this meeting is now in the creative hands of Yiannis Rangoussis and Renzo Berti, and if there is to be a first chapter written after this introduction, the pen is now in each of your hands.
PAROS - PISTOIA
PISTOIA - PAROS
There is something very special in the sound of these two names together.
I also bring with me two other very special people, Dimitra Skandalis and Thomas Banakas, both alumni of the Aegean Center. I cannot think of a finer way to celebrate this occasion, or imbue it with a more legitimate reason to succeed, than by bringing these two Parian Greeks who have been to Pistoia with our programme and have returned home enriched and enlightened by their experience here.
As always, the future is in their hands, and it is reassuring to know that their experience in Pistoia will be a part of their future, as it is knowing both Paros and Pistoia have become an important part of the lives of so many students over the years who have attended the Aegean Center and lived for a time in these two remarkable places.
John Pack - Director
The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts
7 October 2004