by Anna Foschi Ciampolini
The completion of Vancouver’s Italian Cultural Centre (Il Centro) imposing building complex in 1977 was a true milestone for the local Italian community. Forty-three years later, the Centre is still at the heart of community activity. Recently, the Centre has been facing considerable challenges, including an aging membership and the financial consequences of the ongoing pandemic. Mario Miceli, the new Centro’s Executive Director, says: “Il Centro relies on large banquets and corporate bookings to generate revenue to run the cultural and heritage programs that we share with all communities. Our revenue has dropped over $1.5 million since March of 2020.” Miceli took office in January 2020. He was born and raised in Vancouver, but his family came from Mangone (Cosenza) in the mid-1950s. His interests include writing (he is working on a book about Italian post-war immigration.) and writing, producing, and performing in comedy shows. Miceli states that, thanks to the Centre’s B.O.D. and staff’s determination: “The Centre was able to pivot and find other ways to be of assistance and valued by our community. In April, through a partnership with Fresh Roots and Growing Chefs, we converted our facility to prepare, package, and distribute over 5500 meals per week to the food insecure children, families, and seniors. In our culture, we always have room at the table for anyone who needs a meal, and the Italian Cultural Centre was going to stay true to our culture.”
Technology helped to transfer Italian language lessons and other cultural programs, including the “Festa della Repubblica” and the traditional Italian Heritage Month events onto Zoom, garnering over 30,000 views. In the Summer, the Centre hosted Serate in Piazza and Sagras, held in its large outdoor space, aiming at providing family entertainment and restoring some much-needed sense of normalcy during a difficult time. But the Centre also needs to remain relevant as a community focus for the younger generations of Italian-Canadians. To reach out to the younger demographics, it needs to provide more up-to-date opportunities. Therefore, the original bocce court area has been renovated to create an indoor turf sports facility. Miceli states: “This multi-purpose facility will offer children and adults a place for their sporting activity well into the future while introducing young families to il Centro. This project will also create a positive revenue flow for il Centro as the only indoor turf facility in Vancouver. We also created the first and only full Italian immersion childcare facility in Canada and we follow the philosophy of the Reggio Emilia education protocols. This is another way of cementing our Italian heritage, culture, and language within the next generation of children.”
In the past decade, Vancouver has experienced an unprecedented influx of new, well-educated immigrants from Italy. This ever-growing community of young individuals and small families connect mostly through social media and at independently organized social gatherings. Their presence and participation in the Centre’s activities are still negligible, but Miceli and three newly elected Board members are committed to finding ways of engaging second and third-generation Italian-Canadians as well as reaching out to the new Italian immigrants. Miceli says: “With a burgeoning digital marketing strategy, we aim to create events for and about this generation and ensuring that they can be educated and made aware in a medium that they are most likely to consume.
There is much work to do on the administrative front as we look to brand il Centro, modernizing its operation and make sure that it is serving its members and the community as the centre of Italian culture in British Columbia. We have launched a fundraising campaign to make up the loss in revenue but, during these economic and restrictive times, our objective will be to ensure we are agile and nimble as an organization to weather this Tsunami.”
The Centre aims at being a place where all cultures and traditions can meet. Over the decades, the population of East Vancouver has been frequenting it and using its programs. The city’s arts community is well-connected with the Centre’s activities, particularly with the Museum, which is regularly showcasing the work of local artists. At the Centre’s table, there is room for everyone who likes and supports Italian culture and heritage