On November 4, 1966, Northern Italy was hit by a terrible bad weather: a toll in human lives was paid in some areas of the country; the Arno river flooded Florence and the aqua alta kept Venice flooded much more than the usual 6 hours it does when it happens.
The then Director General of UNESCO, René Maheu, launched an appeal on December 2 which opened the International Campaign for Venice and Florence and called upon the entire world to prove its solidarity towards the two Italian cities saying, among other things: “I address a solemn appeal to the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind for the preservation and restoration of the damaged cultural treasures of Florence and Venice.”
The world’s mobilisation was unprecedented, first for Florence where the Italian Art and Archives Rescue Fund (UK) and the Committee to rescue Italian Art (USA) started working thanks to the involvement of their “founding fathers”: Sir Ashley Clarke, a former UK Ambassador to Italy, and Colonel Gray, who had participated in the liberation of Italy with the US Army.
They first focussed on Florence and with many young people coming from all over the world they were called “the angels of mud” and rescued mostly archival documents. At a certain point the emergency in Florence was over but Francesco Valcanover, who was then in charge of the safeguarding of Venetian monuments, met Sir Ashley Clarke and told him that the emergency was not over in Venice and asked them if they could move to Venice.
This is how everything started: some 50 Committees were created around the world to preserve Venice and funded laboratories, researches, restorations of architectural heritage and of works of art of any type, grants for students from all over the world (also in collaboration with ICCROM) were also awarded.
The UNESCO campaign became a Joint Programme between the UN Agency and the Private Committees in which three different partners collaborated with different roles: the individual Private Committees (supported in every and any step by the Association’s Permanent Office) funded projects that were indicated by the local institutions of the Italian Ministry for Culture (called “Soprintendenze”) according to the needs of each work of art, its budget and location and connection with individual Committees. UNESCO granted administrative support and the surveillance of the international community on how the privately raised funds were spent.
Two of its members train young people to become restorers and give them the opportunity of working in the framework of actual projects, another one focusses on the dissemination of the appreciation of museums to school children and also to senior citizens; two of them are concentrated on cultural researches and the organisation of meetings to disseminate the knowledge acquired by means of such researches, the others mostly finance restorations, publications about restorations and artists, exhibitions, in collaboration with local, national and international institutions.
So far more than some 1,000 different projects have been financed by the Committees, who sometimes join forces if the project is particularly demanding and also if they share some interest for this particular work of art.
Most of the funding is private, apart from the financial support received by the Fondazione svizzera Pro Venezia, which also comes from the Swiss government and the Canton Ticino (the Italian speaking Canton).
The Association also try to raise awareness on the daily problems of the city by issuing Recommendations that are sent to the public authorities and to the press, and to support some locally initiated initiatives.
The list of projects is available on the Association’s website.
The current list of the members of the Association – from 11 different countries - (in alphabetical order) is:
Name of the Committee
United States of America
America-Italy Society of Philadelphia
Associazione Amici dei Musei e Monumenti Veneziani
Associazione Cavalieri di San Marco
Comitato Austriaco per la Salvaguardia di Venezia “Venedig lebt”
Comitato giapponese Venezia aVvenire
Comité Français pour la Sauvegarde de Venise
Comunità Ebraica di Venezia
Deutsches Studienzentrum in Venedig/Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani
Fondazione Svizzera Pro Venezia
Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Pro Veneziakomitéen Denmark
Pro Venezia Sweden
Save Venice Inc.
Stichting Nederlands Venetië Comité
The Venice in Peril Fund
Università Internazionale dell’Arte (UIA)
Italy/ United States of America
Venice Gardens Foundation
World Monuments Fund
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