Celebrating the Italian American Experience for 25 Years

Sep 03, 2021 1416

Founder and president Philip J. DiNovo began the mission in 1979 when the American Italian Heritage Association was founded “with the expressed purpose of recording and preserving Italian heritage.” In 1985, he established the first museum of Italian American history and culture in Utica, New York, selecting the city because of its large Italian American population.

The museum closed in 1998, when Professor DiNovo retired from his academic business career and moved to Albany. The exhibits were placed in storage as he made plans to open the museum at a new location. In 2004, a former Catholic Church – Our Lady of Mercy, built in 1922 by Italian immigrants – was purchased as the new site of the American Italian Heritage Museum, currently the largest in the northeast.

It took five years to complete renovations and convert the 4,000-square-foot first floor into 10 exhibit rooms and a gift shop. Each room focuses on a different theme, and two rooms are devoted to Italian immigrants. 

A Special Exhibit Room showcases various topics throughout the year, and a highlight of the museum is the Donor Recognition Tree. The hand painted trunk in the shape of Italy; leaves of brass, bronze, and nickel; and a mural of arriving immigrants with the Statue of Liberty in the background is a fitting tribute not only to Italian immigrants, but also to all those seeking refuge in America. In between the rooms, the Hall of History is lined with photographs and posters chronicling the people of Italian heritage who have helped shape the history of America. 

Professor DiNovo notes, “Our mission is to record and preserve our Italian heritage. Our strength is our membership across the nation; our members are committed and support our mission.” Museum membership extends throughout the United States, and the Museum has welcomed visitors from every state and 31 countries. From its membership, the Museum operates entirely through a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving Italian American history, heritage, and culture. 

The Museum sponsors numerous cultural events throughout the year. One of its most popular is the Italian Christmas Market, with exhibit rooms transformed into festive marketplaces, and an Italian Nativity displayed in its own room. Hand-crafted items and foods imported from Italy, along with local vendors’ crafts, offer a wide selection of unique gifts to give or to keep. 

The diligent work of Professor DiNovo led to the founding of the first museum in Utica (1985 to 1998) and its successor in Albany (2009 to the present). The American Italian Heritage Museum has been honoring Italian immigrants, telling their stories, and recognizing the contributions of Italian Americans to America and to the world for twenty-five years.

SOURCE: American Italian Heritage Museum

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