Naples and the National Italian American Foundation Team Up to Save Craft of Christmas Cribs

| Tue, 12/19/2023 - 07:15
Figurines for nativity sets for sale on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples

The baby Jesuses, shepherds, wise men, politicians, popes and footballers dotting Naples’ iconic Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street known for its old-world artisan workshops that produce hand-carved nativity sets (presepi), will soon be joined by some new characters: the Italian-Americans.

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) has launched a fundraising campaign to support the creation of the Artisan Academy of Nativity Art, a vocational program with the dual aim of protecting the endangered craft of Neapolitan nativity sets and securing a brighter future for some of Naples’ economically disadvantaged young people.

“We believe that preserving this symbol of Italian Christmas tradition, while advancing opportunities for local youth, represents the best of Italian and Italian American collaboration,” Robert Allegrini, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, told Italy Magazine.

The program, which will have its physical headquarters across several locations in the San Gregorio Armeno area, will match local youth with artisan mentors who will teach woodworking, sculpture, painting and other creative skills. Given Via San Gregorio Armeno’s popularity with visitors from around the world, students in the academy will also lead craft workshops and tours for nativity enthusiasts.

Plans are also in place to create a physical exhibition center of Neapolitan nativity scenes with the potential to become a cultural attraction in its own right, Gabriella Mileti, a spokeswoman for NIAF, told Italy Magazine.

If successfully funded, the academy will train hundreds of young people in one of Naples’ famously ornate artistic traditions. It is also part of larger local anti-delinquency efforts; campaigners have suggested that the academy will provide “direction and purpose to disadvantaged Neapolitan youth.”

NIAF partnered with the City of Naples, the Con Il Sud Foundation, L’Altra Napoli Association, the Botteghe di San Gregorio Armeno Association and the Manallart Cooperative for this effort. The associated fundraising campaign has a $300,000 target; donations can be made here. At the time of writing, organizers have not provided a closing date for donations.

Allegrini told Italy Magazine that the creation of the academy reflects NIAF’s larger mission of strengthening the ties between the United States and Italy, carrying on its commitment to “protecting heritage and shaping bright futures within both the homeland and diaspora communities.”