Florens 2012: What, Where, Why?

How does culture improve your quality of life? Why should cultures around the world be protected, and how might the protection of culture bring about economic progress and better life for the people? These are some of the questions that will be addressed at the innovative conference Florens 2012 Cultural and Environmental Heritage Week, taking place next week in Florence, Italy. And I will be there!

Piazza Santa Croce

A public art installation by modern artist Mimmo Paladino is going up for people to enjoy in Piazza Santa Croce, Florence

The week’s events are a result of the Fondazione Florens, a Italian foundation with the mission to promote the importance of cultural and environmental heritage to benefit people’s quality of life and local economy. In other words, in our increasingly globalized world and economically difficult times, it is actually good for the economy (and the people) to protect culture. Examples of culture not being preserved come to mind easily–think of Italy’s treasures being neglected, including the crumbling ruins of Pompeii. Numerous examples exist around the world, especially in places where cultural traditions are being lost as globalization and Americanization move in. That’s where my interest was piqued.

Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the site of Florens2012

There are several reasons why I will be in Florence next week.

First, the events relate to my work. My students come from all over the world. About half of them are from Vietnam, but I have many students from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Mexico, Thailand, and Moldova, all countries that struggle with preserving culture while trying to get ahead economically.  In Florence, I will learn about the importance of preserving cultural heritage and the related topic of sustainable cities. I will take the ideas from Florens2012 to develop projects for my classes in which my students (who are often in a race to “progress,” i.e. Americanization) will consider the importance of preserving their native culture’s heritage…a timely topic and one that totally relates to the people I work with every day.

Piazza del Duomo

Olive trees symbolizing Italy’s environmental heritage go up in the Piazza del Duomo

Second, this week will show off the best of Florence and Italy. The opportunity to be in Florence for an event like this, where Italy’s unique cultural and environmental contributions will be celebrated, is a big deal for someone like me who gets all gooey inside over the image of an olive tree or church facade. From a Vivaldi concert in the Palazzo Vecchio and dinner in the Palazzo Gondi to the week-long celebration of Italian food and wine, there will be so many extraordinary events to attend that it makes my head spin.

Florence market

Displays of Italian food from the gastronomic fair two years ago

Third, I am honored to be part of Team Florens. I received funding from Fondazione Florens to attend Florens2012. I will be reporting about the week’s events in an effort to promote the foundation’s mission. I am excited to work on an international team of seven.

Finally, doing something different is good for humans. I almost didn’t even try to make this happen–I thought it would be hard to leave for a week in the middle of the semester (which is the busiest time of the year for my husband and me). However, I am so, so glad I took a chance and that this is actually happening. Besides being in a city I absolutely love, learning something new, stepping away from normal routine, and indulging my senses will all be refreshing. I’ve just had possibly the busiest week of my life preparing to go, including preparing all of next week’s lessons that will be taught by other instructors, but it will all be worth it. Life is too short to pass up such an opportunity.

Palazzo Vecchio interior

The interior of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, where most of the events will take place.

I hope you will think about the role of cultural and environmental heritage through my coverage of the week’s events. Follow my Facebook page for photos and updates from Florence starting this Sunday!

What are you interested in hearing about from Florens2012? Let me know. Also, you can check out their website here. (Update: check out my related article about the importance of preserving cultural & landscape heritage that appeared on National Geographic Newswatch!)

florens 2012


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