It was an exciting time. Julie Wade had decided Bologna needed an association for anglophone women, and she set out to find them: amazing, independent women who had figured out how to build lives for themselves in a foreign country, women who had learned Italian, cracked the cultural code, and worked out how to take care of all the things required to make a livable life in a new place. Women who had made Bologna their home. And so the International Women’s Forum (IWF) was born.
This was more than twenty years ago. Internet was a recent phenomenon, and a lot of people didn’t even have an email address. Looking back, it may be hard to grasp just how challenging it was to find all these people, let alone navigate life in the city—bureaucracy, health care, work, school.
I served as the IWF’s first vice president and second president. I led a writing group, organized board meetings, helped find speakers for our monthly meetings, and I contributed to the newsletter with a regular column. All of this felt very exciting and especially inspiring was the opportunity to engage with people I hadn’t even realized were quietly making their way in the same city as me—artists, graphic designers, fashion designers, university administrators, magazine editors, former professional athletes, professional musicians, an architect, medical professionals, journalists, lawyers, project managers, a former foot model, educators, writers, full-time parents, a forester, businesswomen, translators … the list goes on and on.
One constant question among the early IWF members was: What could we do to give back to the city of Bologna? Early on, we learned that the city, which had been dedicated one of nine “European Capitals of Culture,” was accepting applications for grants to support cultural projects. A group of us brainstormed and came up with the idea of a guide to the city for newcomers. That was the birth of Bologna Inside: Everything You Need to Know to Make Bologna Home.
We envisioned our book as an offering to others who found themselves making a home in our adopted city. I took on the role of Managing Editor on top of my other IWF commitments. We formed a working group, brainstormed content areas, assigned topics to different volunteers. We found Michela Borgatti, an experienced graphic designer with creative ideas about how we might make our book engaging and appealing. We decided to feature as cover art a reproduction of Bologna Sampler, an original piece by artist Angela Lorenz, an IWF member whose works are included in esteemed collections across Europe and around the world. We decided the book would include portraits by IWF board member and professional photographer Elizabeth Garvey. Additionally, we felt it important to include the actual words of women from our group. I selected and supervised two teams of interns from the University of California program in Bologna. They conducted and transcribed interviews with many IWF members and then I identified portions of these mini oral-histories to populate the margins of our book. And we found a small publisher (my mother’s company, actually) to make the book an official publication.
Coordinating the work of over 40 people and shaping it into a coherent volume was a huge and rewarding job. In summer 2001, we held an official presentation of the book at the Chalet in the Giardini Margherita. The city’s Ufficio per le relazioni con il pubblico in Palazzo d’Accursio distributed free copies of the book. Local and even national news outlets did stories about the project.
Looking back, I feel proud and inspired when reflecting on the talent, energy, determination, and goodwill of the women in the early IWF. I think it is important to acknowledge that the implicit target audience of the guide was people like us—relatively privileged migrants, mainly from western Europe and the Americas—and that our 2001 book doesn’t necessarily encompass every possible challenge a newcomer to Bologna might face when settling in.
On a personal level, I am enormously pleased the project has continued to live past that initial edition, taking on new forms with the second edition curated by Andrea Vogt and Kathryn Knowles, including the well-known online version, and that now, with the third edition, Bologna Inside will continue to serve as a resource for newcomers seeking guidance as they build their life in Bologna. It’s very gratifying to see that our hard work paid off, and that this project motivated by a desire to give something to our adopted city is still going strong.
September 19, 2021