In early 2017, local Venetians Mattia Gesiot and Filippo Soffrizzi brainstormed with a group of fellow artists and architects about how to share their passion for Venice through their art. The result is Feelin’ Venice, a lively stop for local Venice shopping in San Marco (Calle dei Fabbri 1007) full of fun t-shirts, books, bags, and other creations adorned with modern representations of the city designed by local artists. From the moment we walked in to the store, we were fascinated by its local and dynamic character, reflective of Venice, and wanted to learn more about the personalities behind it. We are pleased for the opportunity to interview Mattia and Filippo about their dreams for the Venice. For help with how to get around the city in Venice, and finding cool spots like Feelin’ Venice along the way, sign up for Prontopia today.
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PRONTOPIA: What is your vision for a sustainable Venice to keep the local culture and life of the city alive?
MATTIA: I am passionate about Venice, and having seen other cities in Europe, and elsewhere, particularly London understood how Venice is slowly becoming a Disneyland. I grew up in Venice, and felt perhaps that others, even those who were visiting Venice for a day or two, might also feel this difference between other cities and Venice.
FILIPPO: I grew up in Venice and studied in Venice for high school and university. In my life, I have seen the difference between 10 to 15 years ago and now. As a child growing up in the city, it was sad to see local shops like groceries and bakeries closing. You feel that somehow the city is becoming less local.
MATTIA AND FILIPPO: Our vision for a sustainable Venice is one of evolution, and not necessarily “preservation.” We think that Venice should evolve, not just be preserved. The risk is that as local politicians and residents speak about preserving the city as it is or restoring the city back to as it was 20 years ago, that we lose an opportunity to adapt as a city. The world is changing, and Venice needs to adapt. It is not so useful to think of Venice as it was, but important to think of what it could be in terms of serving residents, locals, visitors… everyone.
FILIPPO: Sometimes my grandmother who is a 100 percent Venetian inhabitant will remark that Venice is not like it was 80 years ago, and my answer to this is that perhaps we don’t want to return to Venice as it was 80 years ago. We don’t want to keep Venice in the past, but rather, to evolve in a better way, under a better logic.
MATTIA: In my view, the only way for Venice to avoid becoming a theme park is to consider what is relevant for social life and culture. And then to preserve some parts of the city’s past, but then change and adapt in other areas.
PRONTOPIA: How can appreciation for local art and architecture support social activism for the preservation of the city?
MATTIA: Culture is an important industry in Venice, just after tourism. Every time you are doing something to encourage culture and local art, you are doing something to help Venice.
MATTIA AND FILIPPO: Initiatives that help people continue living and working in the city help Venice. For example, one of the biggest problems today is that the inhabitants are living in the mainland. The cost to live in the city is just getting too high.
The role of culture in this is so important. Appreciation of culture can contribute to adaptive change, to the evolution of the city. Culture in Venice is the Biennale, and the big museums, of course, but culture is also many other smaller initiatives today.
Sometimes people only know about the Biennale. But Venice is full of small expositions and small museums, which keep the city alive with a positive impact for the life of the city. These small initiatives are usually made by young local artists, and sometimes they are even more important than established events like the Biennale. For example, a young student in Venice may not have a chance to display at Biennale, but will have a chance to display at a smaller show.
In our view, there are two jobs to be done: the city and the community of Venice should help make tourists more interested and informed of these kinds of local exhibitions. Tourists should explore beyond the big sites and beyond the beaten track. This could create a positive cycle that would then make the city bustling with initiatives.
Sometimes residents do forget that Venice is not just for them, it is for everyone who loves Venice. We really think Venice should become an open city, and such, there should be overall consideration for everyone, doing their best to try to find a positive solution for things.
If you want to create an open city, you must attend to both parts of the discussion. It is also for tourists, and sometimes the tourists do not really know about the dynamics in the city, and probably need to be “educated.” In this positive way, all together we can build, literally, the city with this logic. Accepting that it is for students, residents, tourists, people willing to spend a few months of their life within the city, and so on.
The change can happen. It will not be easy. Everybody who believes in it needs to do their part.
PRONTOPIA: Tell us about two of each of your favorite hidden gems in Venice?
#1 From my point of view, one of the nicest places is the Mercato di Rialto because it is the heart of Venice. It is one of the most typical and authentic places in Venice. Sometimes there you can really find the history of Venice because you can find local vegetables and fruits from the islands of the lagoon, and spices from foreign countries. It’s like the most authentic evocation of Venice. Venice was a city of merchants, so spices were important in the past, and now you can still find these spices, so it is like a link with the past. It is also a link with the environment of the lagoon, the islands are the supply chain of the city. It is like the condensation of all of these peculiarities: the environment of the lagoon, and also the past of Venice. Mattia adds: Mercato di Rialto is so central and close to touristic landmarks, however, still very busy with locals, so still very authentic. It is the soul of Venice.
#2 The whole lagoon, which is like the body of Venice. We always speak about Venice as an island, but we must not forget that it is located inside a lagoon. People know Murano, Burano, and Torcello, but there are hundred other places where you can visit in a day. These are cool and authentic places full of colors and nice food. Pellestrina or Chioggia for example. And these areas are still unspoiled.
# 1 Castello: Venice is divided in 6 sestiere. Castello is probably the one that is still unspoiled and feels more authentic. It is very busy with locals, there are many shops for residents. Rents are cheaper and it is a place for everyone who wants to stay in Venice and want to be there. It is a breath of Venetian air. To walk in San Francesco, with all of the local shops and green grocers is a pleasure. You walk along and at the end of the long Salizada and you get to San Francesco della Vigna with its façade designed by Palladio. This is where I like to walk the most in Venice. Filippo adds: In this sestiere all of the neighbors know each other, it is like a little town, like a community.
#2 The Feelin’ Venice store! I love our store and I put all of my passion in to that. It represents a different way of seeing Venice, and it represents some positive change toward Venice. It is a drop in the ocean, but it is something. The store opened a bit less than one year ago. When we started, we tried to involve a few friends and colleagues from university and high school who were good at art, drawing, and shared the same passion for Venice. We started to explain the idea of this new project. We started to brainstorm and identify the most significant symbols of Venice, and everybody tried to interpret these symbols, and in this way we have built a small team of artists. Today we are offering designs by four artists in total. Going forward we plan to expand this and partner with more artists. We are not only artists, but of diverse backgrounds, two of us are architects, and one studied art and the business of art.
PRONTOPIA: Grazie for sharing your story of passion, art, and culture with us. We are inspired to join your efforts to evolve the city to a modern glory that is inclusive and dynamic. We always enjoy checking out the new designs at the Feelin’ Venice store, and learning about the artists who have created them.
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