Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Festa della Cultura San Giovanni: Interview with organizer John Hoenig

San Giovanni is the patron Saint of Florence, which means a day off work for most Florentines each year, although this year it falls, sadly, on a Sunday. But not to worry: for 2012, the San Giovanni festivities are extended for a whole ten days thanks to the ‘Festa della Cultura – San Giovanni‘ organized by I Buontalenti and headed up by John Hoenig.

Works by (L) Antonio Ciccone, (C) Neri Fadigati, (R) Alessandra Ragionieri

From June 21 to 30, 2012, there will be: over 20 exhibitions at via Maggio antiquarians showcasing both contemporary and early modern art, a performance of the rare Oratorio by Stradella, a conference on San Giovanni in art, two other very special concerts and some exclusive guided tours.

ArtTrav catches up with John Hoenig to find out why Renaissance art lovers – and Florentine residents in general – should mark their calendars with this event!

ArtTrav: Festa della Cultura – San Giovanni is so complex, even its name is long! If you had to describe it in 10 words or less, how would you do it?

John Hoenig – A gift to Florence for making the world more civilised.

AT – How did the idea to create a whole festival around the theme of San Giovanni get started?

JH – Finding by chance a CD of the oratorio by Stradella – realising it would make an ideal event for 24th June – then wanting to provide an opportunity for Florentine visual artists and academics as well as singers and musicians by adding exhibitions, a conference and more concerts into the mix. I also wished to give something back to a city that has welcomed me and given me such an inspiring new life, home and wonderful friends.

AT – Tell us more about the Oratorio by Stradella. For the uninitiated in Renaissance music, why is this piece important? And why will this be a particularly good staging?

JH – Despite being based on the Salome legend from St Mark’s gospel, the music and lyrics are surprising uplifting. As the festival celebrates the birth of the city’s patron saint, it seems particularly appropriate to present him in a simple, honest musical and theatrical ambiance so rarely experienced these days. St Mark’s English Church is the ideal intimate venue and we have some of the best baroque period performers right here in Florence.

Works by (L) Massimo Pivetti, (C) Helen R. Bayley, (R) Alessandro Vannini

AT – Twenty galleries on via Maggio have agreed to participate with past and contemporary works on the theme of St. John the Baptist. In helping curate this extended exhibit, what have you observed on the representation of this saint?

JH – I am privileged to have met eleven talented artists who have been inspired to create over fifty new works to accompany a similar number of antiquarian pieces that private collectors have chosen to show for the ten days. The range of style and interpretation (from figurative to abstract) is fascinating – as is the dialogue between past and present. Each artist has responded to what San Giovanni means to them as Florentines – which perfectly demonstrates that Florence is not a museum but a truly modern, creative city propelled forward by its vibrant history.

AT – Can you give us any preview of the content of the conference on June 22 on this same topic – the representation of St. John the Baptist in art?

JH – The guest speakers have all been invited not only because they are world renowned experts in their fields in art, music and literature – but for their own unique connection with works on the Baptist. As with the artists and musicians, their work is being presented exclusively and for the first time. Also their lively style of engaging with an audience through words, images and music, will make for a highly stimulating day.

[editorial note – the day-long conference including lunch costs 10€ and you can sign up by phone at 055 2677 8270.]

AT – You’ve pulled together an impressive, multidisciplinary project that unites musicians, visual artists and scholars, and hopefully will involve a large public too! Any advice for arts organizations wishing to emulate this model?

JH – Courage. Determination. Faith. Support local talent and do not underestimate the cultural intellect of the Florentine audience and visitors.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.