When you think of culture, music, art, literature and dance, you probably don’t immediately think “Alabama!” But in 2008, the Alabama State Council on the Arts pledged to spend $100,000 over three years to try to up the state’s cultural and global reputation by starting an exchange program with the city of Pietrasanta on the coast of northern Tuscany. “We thought it would be wonderful for Alabama artists to show their work and such there and to bring people from the other country here,” said Ralph Frohsin Jr., who serves on the council board.
What do Pietrasanta and Alabama have in common? Well, for starters, Alabama artist Nall has been to Pietrasanta and had his works exhibited there. Plus, Pietrasanta is known for its marble sculpture, while the town of Sylacauga is home to the only white marble in Alabama. Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti discovered Sylacauga in the early 1900’s and even had a studio there. “It’s good for our little community to associate with that culture, and it got us started on having our marble festival,” said Sylacauga Mayor Sam Wright.
Why, yes, there is video of the 2010 Sylacauga Marble Festival:
In June 2008, the council spent $24,073 on travel to send a delegation of 40 people, including self-taught sculptor Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas and quilter Yvonne Wells, to Pietrasanta. Since then, Mimma Briganti, an Italian operatic soprano from Pietrasanta, has traveled to Alabama – twice! Briganti was part of a Pietrasanta delegation that visited Alabama and performed in 2009, then she returned recently to perform four of Puccini’s most beloved arias with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra at a free outdoor concert. “It was wonderful last year, and I am glad to be back for this concert,” said the soprano. Later this summer, the Montgomery Ballet is going to Italy to perform and work with dancers there.
Meanwhile, council member Froshin thinks Italy could only be the tip of the cultural exchange iceberg:
We have pie-in-the-sky ideas – when the economy is better – maybe to go to other countries and do the same kinds of things, maybe with Germany or South Korea.