MARCO POLO What is the story of Italian Day in Vancouver?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO Italian Day on The Drive was resurrected in 2010, after close to a 3 decade hiatus when the last Italian Day was held in 1982 on Commercial Drive, coincidentally on the same day the community enthusiastically celebrated an Italy World Cup win against West Germany; July 11 1982, a day forever etched in many Italo-Canadians memory here in Vancouver. The Italian Day event was resurrected by a group formed under the name, Italian Day Festival Society, which was comprised of members representing The Commercial Drive business society, Il Centro and other passionate community individuals who wanted to revive the recognition of Italian heritage and pay tribute to Italian culture and the contributions made by the Italian immigrants here in Vancouver. Key individuals behind its resurrection in 2010 were Carmen D’Onofrio Jr, Federico Fuoco, and Michael Cuccione, backed by other early members who still remain part of the group, Irena Demarco, Carmelina Cupo, Robert D’Onofrio and Beppe De Lucio. I joined the team in 2011 and since, new committee members include Domenico Bruzzese, Marco Cornale and Randy Rinaldo (full list of current Italian Day Festival Society members can be found here on our website: www.italianday.ca). Today the event has become the largest cultural street festival in Vancouver (and according to TLN Mediaset, perhaps the largest in Canada as a one day event) drawing 100,000s of thousands of attendees. The intent is to share all that is Italian with Vancouver’s multi-cultural community to include food, entertainment, activities and more, and with each year bringing Italy closer to Vancouver with more Italian content, also uniting yesterday to today. In addition, it is thanks to the revival of Italian Day that last year we were able to achieve the official 8 block Little Italy designation along Commercial Drive from the City of Vancouver, recognizing over 60 years of Italian heritage.
MARCO POLO This year’s theme is Amore. Why?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO We chose the Amore theme because it lies at the heart of the Italian culture, as well as a universal message it holds to inspire and connect, creating infinite possibilities, both individually and collectively. A perfect theme as well for Canada’s 150 birthday this year, and as a general embrace for the world today.
MARCO POLO Could you please discover the program for this year? Do you have any surprises?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO This year we have connected Vancouver to Italy in greater depth with the help of Air France who has sponsored flights for special guest entertainment added to the already impressive list of local artists we have. Exciting highlights include two DJs coming in from Italy’s national radio station, M2O, based in Rome. DJ Osso and Pippo Lorusso will be entertaining guests on 5th Avenue with a blend of vintage and current music, along with humour and stories of the Italian family of the past and present. In addition, Danilo Ciaccia and his ItalyAMO band, again from Italy, will be performing at Il Centro’s amphitheatre stage in Grandview Park. Danilo is very talented and has appeared on many famous talent shows in Italy, both on RAI and Mediaset. What better way to celebrate amore than through music, which go hand in hand. In addition, what is life and love without laughter? Comedian Guido Grasso, coming from Montreal as a special guest, will be a pre-event highlight launching the Italian Day festivities on Thursday, June 8th with a dinner, comedy and dancing event at Federico’s Supper Club. Hilarious stories of Italo-Canadian life again will form part of this special evening, accented with wonderful Italian food, as well as live music and dancing with Federico Fuoco. A true representation of all the ingredients Italians love: community, food, laughter, music and life in general. In terms of other entertainment, there will be much offered with two stages (one at 2nd Ave & the other at Grandview park), as well as mini stages throughout the event. Local artists will include: Carmelina Cupo, Federico Fuoco, and of course patriarch, Gianni Fuoco, Antonio Larosa, Stephen Scaccia, Patrizia Coletta, Vancouver and City Opera and so much more.
There will be lots to taste and see along the 14 blocks of the street festival, spanning from Venables to the Grandview cut (just passed 7th Ave) on Commercial Drive. Over 200 participants will dress the street from merchants, to vendors, including 15 patios and 20 food trucks, including many Italian favourites both from The Drive’s Little Italy and within Vancouver. Look out for vintage and new vespa displays, as well as classic cars, Ducati motorcycles and new Fiats. Lots to see and do for the children as well. Opening ceremonies begin at noon at 2nd Avenue stage and the event will run until 8pm in the evening for all to enjoy. We will be loading a map the week of May 29th on our website with a list of all participants and locations at the festival. In addition, The Westender will also be doing a special Italian Day feature paper to be released on June 8th, which will include a map and the participants as well. Attendees also have the chance to win one of five prizes in our Italian Day raffle, which include round trips to two cities of love: 1st prize being a trip for two from Vancouver to Rome, and 2nd prize a trip for two from Vancouver to Paris! Partial proceeds will go to Dream Big Productions and Theatre Temp at Templeton High School, run by Jimmy Crescenzo and Tanya Zambrano, which fosters youth mentoring via their award winning film and theatre programs.
MARCO POLO What are the major challenges in organizing this year’s edition?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO The major challenges in organizing the event deals with how large the event has become and the ability to raise money to deal with the growth, as well as the logistics to produce such a large scale event. It is a year of planning that goes into preparing the event, which includes liaising with the City and ensuring all safety and security elements are in place, including traffic control, street shutdown and producing the event. For this reason, we have also contracted a company to work with us (Anigraph Productions) in producing the event, as well as all the details required for the 200 participants who will be involved. It is a huge endeavor, but well worth it.
MARCO POLO Are you satisfied with how the event went in the past?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO Each year we learn something new and we look to make things better for both the participants and the attendees, as well as the partners with whom we work, including the City of Vancouver. For such a large event, even things such as waste management becomes key given the volume of people. In respect of the community and businesses of the area, we are trying to make the event a zero waste festival so that the next morning too, the streets are clean and it is business as usual. The joy we receive in seeing people get excited in the anticipation of the event, and enjoying themselves at the event, including post event praise and coverage makes the efforts very worth while. A special place in our hearts is also knowing that we are honoring the immigrants who came to this City and created a life for their children and grandchildren. To see a generational representation at the event of Italo-Canadians who come to celebrate truly tugs at my heart because we are celebrating them and their achievements.
MARCO POLO How does it feel to have become the Executive Director?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO I basically inherited the job. I was previously a board member. Whatever I do is driven by passion and over the years I just took on much of the work and basically was asked to take over as Executive Director a few years back. It is a lot of work, but I get to meet and work with so many people, and to see the final product and the ability to share what we create with the community of Vancouver, both Italo-Canadian and other, is extremely rewarding.
MARCO POLO How would you describe the Italian Festival to people who are unfamiliar with it?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO An opportunity to be Italian for a day; to feel an essence of life in all aspects. To leave smiling and having had a good time in experiencing the sights, sounds and tastes that stem from the Italian culture. Many of all ages and cultures want to share in this experience.
MARCO POLO What is important for the Executive Director, diplomacy or artistic flare?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO Both are important. You have to be able to work with people and the community in order to bring ideas across and to gain the respect of having ideas develop creatively, and into a product which ultimately becomes a collective effort and result.
MARCO POLO Who helped you organize the event and who are the main sponsors?
BRUNELLA GAUDIO We operate as a team, both in terms of the Italian Day Festival Society, as well as our production arm, who joined us two years ago, Anigraph Productions. The key organizations involved in this event are the Commercial Drive Business Society, as well as Il Centro, the founding organizations of its resurrection. Of course too, the City of Vancouver and our valued sponsors are key because without them the event would not be possible. We have over 30 sponsors which support the event both in funding and in kind, including media sponsors, which include many independent Italo-Canadian businesses as well as community organizations and other businesses. The main signature sponsors of the event are: The Commercial Drive BIA, Car2Go and Vancity. A huge debt of gratitude goes to all sponsors and supporters who believe in the event and its purpose. Ultimately, we bring together many people and businesses under the Italian Day umbrella to celebrate community in general as well.
MARCO POLO Final message for the readers:
BRUNELLA GAUDIO Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto/Eat well, laugh often, love in abundance!
Simple things but ultimately it is the simple things in life that create happiness and fulfillment. Love ultimately is at the heart of it all and is the fuel that inspires all aspects of our lives.
Balla come se nessuno stesse guardando,
ama come se nessuno ti avesse mai ferito,
canta come se nessuno stesse ascoltando,
vivi come se il paradiso fosse sulla terra.
MARCO POLO What is the story of Italian Day in Vancouver?