Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Connecting to Bologna: "It keeps the Center very lively"

I've heard many explanations of why SAIS ended up in Bologna. There's no dispute that C. Grove Haines chose Italy because of his longstanding love of the country, and it is said he selected Bologna because of his close association with the then rettore ('Il Magnifico') of the University of Bologna.

There is doubtless more to it. One student wrote a titillating thesis several years back that linked the Bologna Center in its infancy to Cold War cloak-and-dagger intrigue.

But let's not go there today. Instead, imagine a U.S.-style graduate institution in an Italian city. What to do?

From the start, the Bologna Center has sought to knit ties to its host city. SAIS Bologna is unique for sure, but it has not sought to be an island unto itself. Haines himself and then his successors have recognized that to thrive, the Center needs to be an active and responsible member of the Bologna community. Think of the Center as a plant and Bologna as the soil.

In 1964, Luciano Finelli founded L'Associazione di studio et cultura italo-americana to strengthen ties between the medieval city and Americans living here. It organized cultural events and courses in American English that to this day are attended by Bolognesi and foreigners living in Bologna.

Twenty years later, Giuseppe Gazzoni-Frascara started L'Associazione Bologna - Johns Hopkins University. For 17 years the group provided the Bologna Center with grants and student scholarships.

Today, these two organizations are joined in the Associazione italo-americana 'Luciano Finelli'. The association is housed in the Bologna Center and attracts large numbers of citizens from outside SAIS to its wide-ranging cultural events and English courses.

I had a word with Association Director Lisa Gelhaus, who was born in Wisconsin and has lived in Bologna for more than 23 years. In the video below she talks about the Association's work, its plans for the coming year and its habit -- wake up, incoming students -- to hire SAIS Bologna students from time to time.

As Lisa says of the Association: "It creates a community."

Nelson Graves

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