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Jewelry Festival In Italy Still Scheduled Despite Coronavirus Concerns

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Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic with a fatality rate of more than 12% as of April 4. With travel restricted throughout the world and stringent lockdown measures in place within the country, it would seem to be irresponsible and perhaps crazy to host a festival in Florence at the end of May. But as of now, organizers of a small but important gathering of jewelry and art professionals are working to keep the event alive.

Giò Carbone, the founder of Florence Jewellery Week (FJW), a biannual contemporary jewelry festival in the historic Italian city, says that he understands the challenges and health concerns but feels as if he has little choice.

“We have worked for over one year preparing the meeting. Canceling would be a disaster, both from an economic and an organizational point of view,” Carbone said by email. “Putting so many artists and events together required hundreds of hours of work, correspondence, visits, availability of locations. It would be impossible to simply move the event to another date because it is out of the question to obtain the availability of the guests and the locations.”

Florence Jewelry Week is scheduled May 28 – June 4 and events associated with the fair are held throughout the city. Its motto is “Connecting worlds. Artistic research, cultural identity.” In addition to being a city known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is also a center for goldsmiths for more than 400 years.

Carbone stresses that he and others involved with the festival support the strategies being employed by Italian authorities. He will hold the event only if officials deem it to be safe.

“This virus is a serious threat to all of us, not only for the number of deaths it has already caused, but above all for the reason that it is unknown and that we are all disarmed. We have discovered that we are vulnerable and fragile. We understood what it means to be afraid for us and for our parents, children and friends,” he says. “We will do it if the prohibitions are no longer there. Even if we have just a few visitors, we want to present a positive signal, even if it’s a small one.”

Carbone, who also founded the Le Arti Orafe Jewellery School in Florence, describes Florence Jewelry Week as a “cultural event devoted to the complex relationship between artistic research, craftsmanship, design and new technologies.” It brings together artists, curators, critics, gallery owners, visitors, scholars and teachers specializing in contemporary jewelry. He says these disciplines usually operate in “separate worlds.”

Even as Carbone desperately tries to keep the fair on track, the possibility of it happening appears to be slim unless a lot of things change rather quickly. A government authorized nationwide lockdown will last at least until April 13. Restaurants, bars and all public venues are closed, all non essential economic activity has stopped and movement within the country is restricted.

“Like all Italian cities, we are isolated in our homes right now,” Carbone says. “Florence has not had many infections or deaths. It is a fairly calm situation but all production activities are closed and this causes many difficulties for people and companies.”

Carbone says participants from around the world are unable to secure flights to Italy. Hotels are closed in Florence, as they are in the rest of the country.

“We cannot accept online registrations yet and potential visitors cannot book airplanes or hotels. This makes it difficult to calculate visitors,” he says. “On average, visitors of FJW are a few thousand people. More than the quantity of people their quality is important. In a city with a strong vocation for mass tourism, organizing events that attract people of mid-to-high cultural backgrounds is for us the most important value.”

Carbone says that he and his team are keeping focused on making this event happen. What the government decides is out their control but working on this project makes life more bearable while the city and country struggle with the coronavirus.

“Trying to keep our schedule is a way of fueling the hope that this virus can be beaten and that people will be able to get back together,” he says. “The idea that all projects must be canceled for the next few months is frightening. It removes every perspective, every dream, every notion of ‘normality,’ which is so much needed. Our team is focused on a goal to continue to publish news, images and articles, and keep the attention and curiosity alive from our homes. To talk again about art and culture, about the promise of a meeting that will come soon. We deeply love what we do. No condition or difficulty can extinguish our enthusiasm for the things we believe in.”

More than 90 artists from around the world are scheduled to present their works, including Italian goldsmith-artist, Giovanni Corvaja, Japanese artist, Kazumi Nagano, Korean artist, Suk Chun Oh, Vietnamese-German artist, Sam Tho Duong, Italian designer, Carla Riccoboni, Irish artist, Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill, and Barbara Paganin, contemporary goldsmith-artist of the so-called School of Padua. Koen Jacobs of Holland will present an exhibition about Florence and its “historical beauties.”

Carbone says he is most excited this year about having a selection of jewels from the Bollmann collection on loan from the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. It is an important and exhaustive collection of contemporary jewels from 1970 – 2015. “The collaboration with such worldwide prestigious collectors gives the event a very special light.”

Objects from the Lurji Orthodox monastery of Tbilisi will be on view and two nuns from the convent will give public demonstrations of traditional jewelry-making techniques that are still used today.

Another exhibition is dedicated to the family owned Florentine company, Salimbeni, known for its handmade gold and silver objects.

In addition, a series of lectures by artists, curators and jewelry historians will be held at venues throughout the city.

Carbone stresses that the festival, which is sponsored by the city of Florence, is a non-commercial venture. There are no entrance fees. The organization pays the expenses of all participants. “The festival is fully supported by us. This assures our independence. Having no commercial goals is our way of keeping the quality level high.”

Exhibitions and meetings will take place in various locations in the city, including the Complex of Santa Maria Novella, the Bardini Museum, Casa Guidi, Palazzo Capponi/Bardi Foundation and several contemporary art galleries.

Carbone says one of the important aspects of Florence Jewelry Week is that it shines a contemporary light on a city known for its historic treasures.

“Like many of the cities that have an important history behind them, Florence has a hard time showing its contemporary specificities. This is why we like to carry out our project in Florence — to throw stones in this quiet and sometimes boring pond,” he says. “At the same time, however, FJW has an exceptional and real respect for what still laboriously survives in the know-how of the city’s craftsmen. We are also very receptive to the new and timid expressions of contemporary research that emerge in a city besieged by tourism without quality.”

At issue is whether it will be safe enough in Italy and if the lockdown measures are eased early enough to allow participants and visitors to make arrangements well ahead of the festival.

“This is the most difficult question,” Carbone says. “Everything now depends on the decisions that the government will take in the coming days. If people know that the emergency ends immediately after Easter, the chances of carrying out our project are still good. We cross our fingers.”

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