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FOCUS: Annex’s own little Italy (Sept. 2019)

October 8th, 2019 · No Comments

Institute promotes Italian culture for all

Not just another former Annex mansion, this building located at 496 Huron Street (just north of Bloor) houses the Italian Cultural Institute of Toronto. Sponsored by the government of Italy, the centre offers a rich array of programming. JUAN ROMERO/GLEANER NEWS

By Juan Romero

If you have ever been fascinated by Italian culture then you are in luck, because your opportunity to immerse yourself into it is closer than you think. 

The Italian Cultural Institute of Toronto (Istituto Italiano di Cultura Toronto) was established in 1976 and is located at 496 Huron Street near Bloor Street. It is an office of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they are funded by the Italian government. It serves as a centre for cultural and academic activities related to Italian culture. According to the 2016 census there are 182,500 people of Italian heritage living in Toronto alone.  

“30 per cent of students have Italian background… The other 70 per cent want to learn the language mostly for cultural reasons I would say”

—director of the Institute Alessandro Ruggera

The current director of the Institute, Alessandro Ruggera, explained what their purpose is.

“What we do is promote Italian culture to the Canadian public. We promote the culture, promote the study of the language, and also support the collaboration of Canadian and Italian culture,” he says. 

The institute contains classrooms, an Italian library, and an art gallery. The gallery hosts exhibitions, lectures, films, and video screenings throughout the year. The exhibitions are always a collaboration of Italian and Canadian artists and aim to facilitate a cultural exchange through art. 

“The main goal is to present Italian culture here and to support institutions that are interested in inviting Italian artists,” says Ruggera, “whether they are visual artists, musicians, or scholars. We work with the institutions that invite them to Canada to participate in conferences or different events.”

Non-Italians are always welcome to visit and get a taste of the culture. Their most popular offering is Italian language lessons. The institute offers four sessions of classes throughout the year, one during each season and they run for the entirety of each season. Classes are usually twice a week; these have usually a maximum of 13 students and are taught by qualified instructors who are native Italian speakers.  

Ruggera says the classes are usually formed by a mix of Italians and non-Italians. 

“I would say 30 per cent of students have Italian background. These are people who may want to improve their language or maybe they have lost the language. Maybe they were never taught by their parents. The other 70 per cent are Canadians who want to learn the language mostly for cultural reasons I would say.”

Ruggera adds that throughout the year, between 1,200 to 1,400 students enroll in Italian language classes.

If you are interested in taking part of these sessions, or finding out about other educational opportunities, check out the institute’s website or pop by in person at 496 Huron St.

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