Festa Italiana Celebrates Love for Italian Culture


(Courtesy of Giuliana Marple)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


Students from every department at the University of Utah study Italian for many reasons ⁠— for creating films, understanding history, pursuing a minor or wanting to study abroad. In a small department, professor of Italian language and culture and Section Head Giuliana Marple said, “[The students] make my day. It doesn’t feel like work with their excitement for my language and my culture.” After years of studying and teaching, she realized that learning out of a textbook pales in comparison to hands-on engagement. She founded the Italian Club of Salt Lake in 2007, a community-centered organization where many former U students teach and promote Italian culture in a hands-on way. She and her student volunteers realized that, as she described, “Learning a language isn’t just sitting behind a desk.”

Nick Fuoco, director of the Italian-American Civic League in Salt Lake, describes Marple as a “community builder.” He too is passionate about his Italian roots — his family was involved with the Civic League back in the 1940s after the nonprofit organization was founded in 1934 as a resource for the growing population of Italian families in the valley. In his time serving as director, he saw “a need to showcase the vibrant Italian community and bring people in.”

(Courtesy of Giuliana Marple)

Here the Festa Italiana was born. With the support of the two organizations driven by Marple and Fuoco’s partnership, passionate volunteers started to support the small committee by hosting a two-day festival devoted to the gems of Italian culture ⁠— music, food, dancing and friendship. Their inaugural festival was such a hit, they outgrew their location and moved to the Gateway for year two, where the number of attendees, artists and “Italophiles,” as Marple humorously calls them, has continued to grow. Now entering their fifth year, the festival has grown to over 30,000 attendees, and Marple’s team of student volunteers has grown to 35.

This year’s festival is set to be the largest yet, catapulting off years of continued success. Attendees of the festival can expect complete immersion in the vibrant culture and closely-knit Italian community. Authentic Italian restaurants from across the valley are featured as vendors, some of which sponsor both pizza and pasta eating contests. Volunteers run stations of crafts or start games of bocce ball. The crowning jewel of the festival, however, is the music.

This year’s Festa Italiana features over a dozen artists — local, national and international talent playing live authentic Italian music that you can’t see anywhere else. Both Marple and Fuoco attest that the Saturday night concert will be unforgettable. Popular band Etnosound is returning to the festival this year. Opening for them is duo Vincenzo Bencini & Luca De Paolis. Marple actually met the two in Italy and invited them to the festival after she heard them play. Reflecting on the musical experience, Marple said she always has “a very reminiscent moment ⁠— the music they play I grew up with.”

(Courtesy of Giuliana Marple)

There is an interwoven thread of community that ties all the aspects of this festival together. The festival combines a cultural community sharing their pride and love for their roots, an academic community willing to share in their passion and promote an appreciation for it and a local community eager to volunteer their time while continuing to give back in any way they can. The proceeds from the event will be donated to Catholic Community Services, whose efforts in the valley focus on homeless and refugee outreach.

Nostalgia and heartwarming passion surround the festival. It is evident how many of the events, songs, dances and even dishes come from love. Even in the way they describe the atmosphere of Festa Italiana, founders Fuoco and Marple attest to the pure passion and unbridled drive behind the entire event. If the message of the connection isn’t clear, Marple simply extends, “A heartfelt invitation to anyone who enjoys Italian culture. Come join us. Make new friends. Eat new food. Be an Italian for a day.”

Festa Italiana is Saturday, Sept. 14 and Sunday, Sept. 15 at the Gateway. Directions and more information can be found on their website.


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