Two cities, so different in their location and the art forms they create, have recently bonded over sadly shared similarities. While Florence is known for its art and architecture, and New Orleans for being the birthplace of jazz music, both are symbolic of arts capable of erasing borders and transcending languages. Epicenters for creativity and culture, both cities have also been victims of disastrous flooding. Both have felt defeated and both have unfalteringly made efforts to overcome defeat.
When the flood of 1966 saturated Florentine streets and threatened its historical heritage, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University was deemed the headquarters of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art. Now Florence is intent on lending a sturdy hand to resuscitate a drowning culture. Mayor Domenici recently signed a Friendship Pact with Irvin Mayfield, ambassador for culture for New Orleans, recognizing the two cities as sister cities, saying, ‘The signing of this pact is a sign of gratitude for those who came from the United States in 1966 to help Florence and save its cultural and artistic heritage.’
Mayfield, considered one of the most decorated and recorded jazz musicians of his generation, recently performed in a jam session open to the public in the San Lorenzo Market, during which he joked, ‘As Duke Ellington once said, there are two types of music, the good kind and the bad kind; we obviously hope to play the good kind.’ While the matter of good and bad is a one of opinion, no one can dispute the good intentions emanating from the trumpet, embodiment of jazz’s great legacy. Additionally, the presidents of the Tuscan American association, Lynn Wiechman and Sergio Pezzati, have also awarded Mayfield with 25,000 dollars, collected during a concert performed by the Scuola Musicale di Fiesole. The Florentine contributions will go toward the reconstruction of the Southern University of New Orleans.
What’s more, city officials from both sides of the ocean are discussing plans to raise awareness not only of New Orleans’ musi-cians, but also its artisans. Artisan craftsmanship has made New Orleans architecturally unique in the US, and it will continue to make it unique during the re-building stage. John Ethan Hankins, Development Director for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festi-val and Foundation, is aspiring to promote the city’s artistic originality, by organizing ‘pocket events’ to demonstrate traditional New Orleans skills (such as glass, wood, brick, plaster casting and wrought iron). Hankins, together with the Foundation Board, is currently considering holding these exhibits and events at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi. There is also talk of representing Florentine artisan demonstrations during the Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2007, one of the largest musical and cultural events in the world.
Both Florence and New Orleans are deeply meaningful places to millions of people; they are far-reaching symbols representing unique histories. The economies of both cities rely heavily on tourism, and tourist-generated moneys are essential for upholding their cultural appeal. While Florence has superficially and economically recovered from the damaging flood of 1966, New Orleans still needs aid after hurricane Katrina. In the spirit of friendship, Florence is offering assistance to New Orleans. Clearly, these two cities are united by their passion for the arts as well as by their past struggles.