25 years of the Italian-American Museum thanks to the dedication of a man

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The American Italian Heritage Museum is located inside a former church on Central Avenue in Colony. Like the people it represents, the building blended into the landscape while maintaining a distinct identity.

The credit goes to Philip DiNovo. A retired professor from SUNY Morrisville, he felt the need to record and preserve his Italian heritage for himself and for immigrants for generations to come. It is with this in mind that in 1979 he founded an association for Italian immigrants.

But as an educator, DiNovo soon realized that to illustrate and strengthen history, the Italian-American community also needed a museum.

“As an educator I knew it would be a great vehicle for education and records,” he said. “And that turned out to be true, because people come in and there are a lot of things that they are not aware of. For example, there are two signatories of the Declaration of Independence (of Italian origin). I have three degrees and didn’t realize that until later in life.

DiNovo found that Italian history in the United States was largely fragmented, that people didn’t know much beyond the stories of their own families. For example, the first Italians arrived in the United States in 1624, which he says is not widely known.

“And I think many ethnic groups will say that they have been excluded from the history books and their messages are not known to the public. So we are fortunate to have a museum, ”he said.

DiNovo opened the museum in 1985 in a former empty convent in Utica. He asked the pastor if he could use the building without rent. The pastor agreed, on condition that the museum pay all the costs of maintaining the building.

The museum remained in Utica for 13 years. But in 1998, when DiNovo retired, he found that changes had to be made for the museum to survive as a cultural institution. For starters, the museum was expensive to own and maintain, even without the rent. In addition, the capital region had a larger Italian-American population.

“I could see the writing on the wall that Albany would be a better place,” he said. “As the capital, and also home to all the universities and colleges, and the heart, really, of upstate New York.”

But a new museum would cost money DiNovo didn’t have and so he made the difficult decision to close the Utica museum and store the exhibits.

In 2004, DiNovo and his team bought a building on Central Avenue that was once a Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mercy, which was actually built by Italian immigrant workers in 1922. It was accompanied by ‘crippling mortgage, but it persisted.

“We bought three buildings,” he said. “It’s a campus. It took us five years to (re) model the building, which was a real challenge, in order to meet all building code and handicap accessibility requirements.

In 2009, the museum opened its doors. It includes a history room, two rooms that tell the story of Italian immigrants, one to honor Italian folk art and to display old photos, music and art rooms, an exhibition to honor veterans and a gift shop.

Five years later, a cultural center moved to the second floor of the building. It includes an art gallery, a memorial chapel, a library and classrooms where Italian and cooking classes are offered.

But despite humble beginnings and a rocky ascent, the institution has survived, becoming a testament and a way to honor the Italian-American journey. According to DiNovo, the museum has members from 45 states.

“We are not a local museum because we tell the story of immigration,” DiNovo said. “The purpose of the museum is to honor the history of Italians and their contributions as Americans. We did it for the Italian community across the country.

The American Italian Heritage Museum is located at 1227 Central Ave., Colony.

Hours: Monday, Thursday, Friday, from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $ 5; Seniors, $ 4; Students, $ 3; Children 12 and under, Free. Free entry for members of the American Italian Heritage Association.

More information: Call 518-435-1979 or visit americanitalianmuseum.org.



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