Among the figures in the traditional Neapolitan nativity scene of the 1700s are the laundress, the hunter, the fisherman, the food vendors, and the ever-present Benin, a shepherd asleep beneath the starry sky. It’s from his dream that the representation of the nativity scene was created. Each figurine, setting, or ornament reveals symbolism that transcends the mere depiction of the Nativity.
This legacy of art and knowledge can now be learned in a school, thanks to an ambitious development project in the heart of Naples’ historic center. Supported by NIAF (the National Italian American Foundation) in collaboration with the Neapolitan municipality and the CON IL SUD Foundation, thereby launching its fundraising campaign in the US.
During NIAF’s 48th Anniversary Gala in Washington, DC, attended by the US President and First Lady, Joe and Jill Biden, an international fundraising campaign was initiated by the National Italian American Foundation. They aim to raise 300,000 euros for the creation of the “Academy of Neapolitan Nativity Art.”
“The project proposed by the CON IL SUD Foundation,” explains Robert Carlucci, chairman of the NIAF, “as part of the broader collaboration agreement signed in June with the City of Naples, is a clear example of honoring and protecting the best Italian traditions in line with the spirit of the National Italian American Foundation. The quality of the proposal and the proposer’s reputation convinced us to adopt the project, by introducing and offering its support to the vast Italian-American community that NIAF centers around.”
“We thank the mayor of Naples, Gaetano Manfredi,” adds Robert Allegrini, president of NIAF, “for the excellent reception received in June by the NIAF delegation and for the cooperation agreement signed by the municipality. Among our possible joint actions, supporting nativity art seemed the most ready to get underway. Our visit to San Gregorio Armeno, our interaction with the main artisan masters, and the extraordinary quality of the products on display were the basis for the decision to join the proposal of the CON IL SUD Foundation and its president, Stefano Consiglio.”
A three-year program is designed to teach the secrets of a craft characterized by the inclusion of secular elements related to popular city life within its portrayal of the Holy Family. This tradition, initiated in the 1700s at the behest of Charles III of Bourbon, has been handed down for generations thanks to the commitment of families of master artisans in the San Gregorio Armeno district.
Several objectives were set, including creating new job opportunities for young people from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, preserving nativity art-making which is endangered due to the difficulty of training new recruits, promoting tourism and interest in the Neapolitan nativity tradition, and providing training opportunities for professionals (seminars and refresher courses) and enthusiasts (tailor-made workshops). In collaboration with the Church of Naples, the project was developed as a component of the educational initiative championed by Archbishop Don Mimmo Battaglia aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency and disadvantage through training and job placement for young people.
The project was presented to the NIAF delegation by the L’Altra Napoli Association, in collaboration with the association Le Botteghe di San Gregorio Armeno and the Manallart cooperative. It serves as an interesting example of public-private collaboration with international organizations fostering the development of Italy’s southern regions by empowering local communities. The Other Napoli will serve as the lead partner in the project, with the CON IL SUD Foundation acting as the intermediary for the operational elements related to the monitoring of activities and transfer of funds raised by NIAF.
“The establishment of the Nativity Academy is a significant opportunity to create employment in Naples by enhancing a centuries-old tradition and to build strong collaboration between the esteemed National Italian American Foundation and the third sector,” says Stefano Consiglio, president of the CON IL SUD Foundation. “Indeed, the CON IL SUD Foundation intends to foster ties between Italians living abroad with their places of origin, involving them in the implementation of social cohesion projects in the South of Italy.”