Press release 08/09/2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEThe American Italian Heritage Museum in Albany
Celebrates its 25th Birthday
Albany, New York – September 2021
At a time when culture and history are making nationwide headline news, the American Italian Heritage Museum in Albany has been educating visitors about the Italian American experience for twenty-five years.
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.
Each room also takes on the personality of its exhibits. The Folk Art Room showcases an assortment of vibrantly dressed dolls in varied sizes among a cornucopia of every day objects displayed as they might be in a home. A sign reminds visitors that “the beauty of art crafted by the common Italian man and woman” is just as remarkable as “the masterpieces of the high Renaissance.” Step into another room and a wall lined with framed photographs, the “Old Photo Exhibit,” “tells the story of the Italian American experience.” Sports, music, faith, and a tribute to those who served in the military, along with other aspects of Italian American life, are all offered for exploration.
Taking its cue from the scores of Italian immigrants who settled in New York, the museum embodies a comfortable family environment, showcasing numerous artifacts that not only allow the visitor to choose what catches the eye, but also extends an invitation to come back soon to discover more.
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.
Several years before his retirement, Professor DiNovo was awarded the title of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy; the highest honor presented to acknowledge the endeavors of individuals in numerous fields, including the arts, public service and humanitarian, social and philanthropic programs.
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.
After a second five-year renovation, in 2014, the Cultural Center opened on the second floor of the former church. The 1,900-square-foot space includes an art gallery, memorial chapel, meeting hall, a classroom and a library that houses more than 1,600 books. A range of classes offered include language, genealogy, cooking, and culture; and monthly presentations, events, and celebrations are another component of the mission to keep Italian heritage alive. A thrift shop is also located on the property where donated new and used items are for sale.
One of the museum’s most popular events 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). Overall, 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.