As I was wandering down Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy on Saturday afternoon, I ran across The Italian American Museum, which despite how many times I’ve done that stroll, I had never seen. Apparently it’s only been on the corner of Mulberry and Grand since 2010 and is only open on weekends. And so, I was able to go in and take a look around.
This historic location on the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets once housed “Banca Stabile” which was founded by Francesco Rosario Stabile in 1885. During its heyday, the bank offered the newly arrived immigrants from Italy much more than financial services. It was a link for the Immigrants in the United States with their relatives in Italy. In addition to a full range of banking services, it also provided the following services: telegraph, travel via steam ships, import-export, notary public, and post office; a kind of all in one immigrant community service center. It has been restored and preserved, and is now open to the public. It now serves as the cornerstone of the Italian American Museum from which we will tell our story in America.
The Italian American Museum was born on June 12, 2001 when it was officially chartered under the aegis of the University of the State of New York, Education Department as a museum. The purposes of which, are to establish and maintain a museum dedicated to Italian Americans with the following aims and goals:
- To establish and maintain a museum dedicated to the struggles of Italian Americans and their achievements and contributions to American culture and society;
- To collect, own, hold, preserve, exhibit, and interpret a collection of appropriate objects;
- To gather and preserve memorabilia, reminiscences, oral histories, documents and other appropriate material in an archive and library;
- To sponsor lectures, symposia, musical programs, film, festivals, theater, and art exhibitions; and
- To raise public awareness and appreciation of the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans to the American way of life. (New York State Charter, June 12, 2001)
The Italian American Museum is a direct outgrowth of the extraordinarily successful exhibition “The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement” held in New York City at the New York Historical Society on October 12, 1999 (Columbus Day) through February 20, 2000. This landmark exhibition, for the first time, heralded the struggles and achievements of Italian Americans at a major American cultural institution. The New York Historical Society was the first museum to be established in New York City in 1804.
The conceptualization for the Museum is a direct outgrowth of his vision and understanding of the need to have institutions within American society dedicated to the Italian American experience. Dr. Scelsa has devoted his entire professional life to that end, first establishing the Calandra Italian American Institute under the aegis of The City University of New York whose mission can be defined as seeking a better understanding through a sociological, political, and historical perspective of the Italian American experience utilizing research, education and teaching.
The Italian American Museum is more than an immigration museum. Its purpose is to document the myriad of contributions made by the people of Italy and their descendants to the very fabric of American society from its earliest origins and its philosophical underpinning through philosophers, explorers, adventurers, industrialists, scientists, educators, politicians, and everyday extraordinary people, telling the whole story which continues to flourish and evolve in America today.
Italian Americans are the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States of America today, with distinct cultural values and traits which distinguish them as a people within the greater multicultural American society. The museum serves as a point of reference for those who are Italian Americans and those who wish to learn about Italian Americans.
American Italian Museum | 155 Mulberry Street on the corners of Mulberry and Grand in Little Italy | New York, NY