It has taken me a long time to write this post. A very long time. It must have been two months ago, or more even, when I visited “this school.” My research materials and brochures, tape recordings, photos, and recollections; they have all sat there, day in and day out, mocking me. Daring me to try to put into words that which I could never hope to express. Challenging me to have one-tenth the creativity or imagination I saw on the day.
To say I was inspired would be like saying landing on the moon for the first time was just another day at the office. I was moved beyond words. A myriad of feelings seeped out of my heart, my soul, bringing tears to my eyes and standing the hairs on my arms on edge. Right brain met left brain as creative thought vied for position against logic and reason and I had no capacity to articulate that which I could only respond to with raw emotion.
Young people; engaged, enthused, and excited; curious and creative; intelligent, inquisitive, interested, and inspired; and above all, filled with such enormous and unlimited talent, promise, and potential.
True to their age they were energetic, boisterous even, and had the devilish twinkles in their eyes that only comes with youth. Reigning them in, the adults around them; teachers, mentors and coaches; parental figures; surrogate big sisters and big brothers; guiding, inspiring and motivating these young people to reach their full creative potential.
A firm hand to the back to reel in unruly teenage transgressions. A hug and a kiss to soften the blow of raging adolescent hormones. The stern yet loving call of ragazzi filling the classrooms, herding the wayward teens back to their tasks.
At the helm, Gabriele Montagano, a man who has the wisdom of a 100 year old sage, yet somehow, has never lost his spark and still maintains the energy level of a 20 year old. His capacity to be all things, to all people, at all times. Consoler to the student in emotional distress. Proud father of the student who just achieved an important milestone. Administrator of all of the school’s daily operations, its staff, its budget. Mediator and problem solver, dealing with one crisis after the next. Stroking bruised egos and assuaging parental concerns. And all the while, playing host to myself and Ann, leading us through his hallowed halls with the charm and grace of a Lipizzaner Stallion.
His halls, the halls of the artists and visionaries that came before. A pedigree of artists and intellectuals like Prince Gaetano Filangieri and the painter Demetrio Salazar who founded the school as the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in 1878, and Domenico Morelli and Filippo Palizzi, two extremely important artists of the time who played an important role in the school’s organization.
Becoming a public institute after WWII, the school of the past has evolved with the times while maintaining its purpose and atmosphere. Here, there are no antiseptic corridors lined with metal lockers; no fluorescent lights casting a pallid hue. No windows looking out on a dusty sports field or a line of trailers hastily erected to cope with overflowing classrooms. Instead, we basked in the light from 15 foot doors and looked out to the city, the bay, and Vesuvius beyond. We marveled at Greek and Roman statues looking down at us from niches carved into the walls and craned our necks to follow an ancient winding staircase to the classrooms above.
Classrooms adorned not with desks but with work benches and embellished not with blackboards, but with the fruits the students’ labor.
Labs, incubators, centres of creativity, where students fulfill a rich and balanced academic curriculum while studying any one of eight different applied arts disciplines: architecture and furniture design, graphic design, fashion and costume design, printing and book restoration, plastic decoration, decorative painting, ceramic arts, and metals and jewellery design, where we spent the majority of our time.
Here, we met Professor Giacomo D’Alterio and watched his students working on recreations of Art Deco pieces. An accomplished artist in his own right, Professor D’Alterio has devoted his life to teaching the youth of his native Naples. It was his students, who, in collaboration with students from other disciplines, produced the work Scacco Matto, Checkmate. A chess set made of metal alloys and brass, silver solder, along with clay, glazes and crystalline, this remarkable work took a first place award the Concorso 2012 New Design competition.
Our visit ended where it started, in the halls of Liceo Artistico Statale Filippo Palizzi, an art school, a high school, a one of a kind school. Yet it shares the same problem many schools face today. A funding crisis that at the very least, reduces the quality of education the teachers and administrators strive to give their students, and at the worst, threatens to close the doors of this historic institution.
In spite of that however, Gabriele Montagano and his staff continue on. A new group of students are working on the Concorso 2013 New Design project and plans are in the works to re-open the annexed Museo Artistico Industriale that first opened in 1882, but has been closed for years. Meanwhile, the school hosts a variety of lectures in the evenings, some of which are open to the public, and that have included such esteemed lecturers as artist Riccardo Dalisi.
As they should be, Gabriele Montagano and his staff are very proud of their school, their programs, and their students and I’m sure, would welcome anyone (time permitting of course) who would like to learn more about the school or see the classes in action.