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Magazzino for Italian Art: A Passion for Art & Philanthropy

Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s “warehouse” of Italian art is a thriving hub for exhibits, lectures, performance and community building

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In the 1990s, Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu began collecting Murano glass, an art form that originated 1,500 years ago on the Venetian island of Murano. But in the United States they found little information about these exquisite and colorful carafes, beads, chandeliers and bowls.

Determined to share their collection with a larger audience, they mounted an exhibit in Italy, eventually bringing it to the U.S. and showing it in venues such as the American Craft Museum in Manhattan (now named the Museum of Arts and Design). “It was fascinating the response that we had, the number of scholars, the amount of people interested in what we were doing,” Giorgio says.

“We want Magazzino to become not only a museum of art but a place where people get together to chat, meet, spend time. Almost like an extension of your own home.”

And so was born a passion for art — contemporary Italian in particular — and architecture that has become something of a philanthropic mission.

Nancy and Giorgio, clients of Bank of America Private Bank, have not only assembled a significant collection, but have also built a museum to share with researchers and the public — Magazzino for Italian Art. The 20,000-square-foot structure designed by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo is located in Cold Spring, New York, about an hour drive or train ride up the Hudson River Valley from New York City.

Magazzino, Italian for “warehouse,” is free to the public and houses more than just works of art. Visitors will also find a 7,000-volume library of books, magazines and exhibition catalogues, as well as a full calendar of events from lectures and discussions to music performances, film screenings and yoga. The museum also sponsors artists inspired by Italy’s culture and artistic heritage through events and collaborations with other institutions.

Over the last few decades, Nancy and Giorgio’s shared love of Italian art has only deepened with their immersion in the Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which is given major emphasis at Magazzino. Translating to “Poor Art” in English, the works reflect the political and social upheaval of the time at which they were created, attacking established institutions of government, industry and culture. Adherents flouted artistic conventions by using innovative materials and styles, often incorporating found objects into their works.

“These artists were concerned about overindustrialization and losing that artisanal expertise that Italy was known for,” Nancy says. “Though Arte Povera is uniquely Italian, we felt that it addressed many everyday conditions we all live by.”

With both Arte Povera and postwar Italian art in general, the couple again felt exposure was lacking in the U.S. This only further inspired their extensive efforts to give Italian artwork more visibility by sharing their collection and exposing it to fresh eyes.

A big part of the project was converting a former factory near their weekend home into what would become Magazzino. Working with Quismondo, the architect, they raised ceilings to accommodate large works and opened a space in the center of the building reminiscent of an Italian piazza, where they now hold screenings and other museum events.

“He created a completely new dynamic,” Giorgio says of Quismondo. “We want Magazzino to become not only a museum of art but a place where people get together to chat, meet, spend time. Almost like an extension of your own home.”

And to feel like an extension of home, it was important to factor children into the equation, which Magazzino does by offering classes in which schoolchildren draw and learn about the art on display.

“I think that children find it very accessible and interesting because it’s very different from work in more traditional museums,” says Nancy.

While Magazzino draws visitors from around the world, it is the involvement of people from surrounding communities that’s particularly rewarding to the couple. Nancy singled out a joint event with the nearby Putnam History Museum as an example. “That was really, really important to us, not only to get people from Manhattan but to get people from the local area that has given us so much.”

Another way Nancy and Giorgio share their values as well as their wealth is through their support of RxArt, a nonprofit organization that commissions works of art for pediatric hospital wards to serve as part of the healing process. Most recently, they sponsored a work for a hospital in the New York City neighbourhood of Harlem.

“It completely transformed the emergency waiting room in the pediatric center,” Nancy said. “When the children come it distracts them and lightens their spirit.”

Through their work, Nancy and Giorgio are living a truth: Philanthropy is about more than making charitable contributions — it’s about living according to your values and supporting what matters most to you.

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