How did you turn a love for archaeology into a job, and how did you come up with the idea to start a non-profit cultural heritage organization in Italy?
During graduate school at UTexas in Austin, I received fellowships from the American Academy and Fulbright fellow, which sent me to Rome for research. While here, I was tangibly participating in history every day, so much so that when I considered the life of a US-based academic with a PhD in classical archaeology, I knew I wanted to do something different. I knew that I wanted to run academic programs that would benefit from hands-on participation in projects, leading me to create and co-found the American Institute for Roman Culture (AIRC) in 2003.
You're an archaeologist, documentary host expert and social media influencer. How are these related?
Each activity feeds the other, organically. The base knowledge is from the PhD research and hands-on knowledge from working in Rome, which is the foundation for academic programming with some great US institutions such as School of Visual Arts, UTexas Austin, University of Southern California and California State Fresno University. That core knowledge, together with my personal desire to share information in a more accessible/ less bookish way, has led to a parallel venue of television expert host and documentarian as well as a media studies avenue incorporated within AIRC classrooms and programming.
Social media takes all of this a dynamic step further, via smart phone, tablet and computer, to a larger and interested audience on a global level, where I can share things that might not be normally accessible.
Who or what is your desired target? Foreigners? Italians? Both? Please explain your relationship with social media users.
Everyone: I want each student, local, tourist, museum educator, teacher to care about history and heritage and make it a daily interest and concern, not just in worn-torn areas like Syria (note the #saveAleppo initiative) and areas plagued by looting, but all places of heritage, in each local neighborhood. It’s really gratifying to spark interest and converse online with all these platforms at our fingertips. The relationship is immediate dialogue, and has already given us great conversations and even led to great projects – in and out of Rome.
How did you develop it in the media, especially in Italy and with all the competition and challenges that must come with it?
It is not easy, but everyone is always looking for a great story. The key is being compelling and persistent enough to bring attention and dialogue. We focus our energy on mainstream media and through social media, to create a consensus and conversation – and get the ball rolling on particular heritage issues, whether the given issue is negative or positive. Sure, we stand out, because we have a good, constant relationship with the Italian media, which is not usual, as we are not Italian. However, we have proven we are local and committed, so that has won over a lot of people.
What do you foresee on the forefront for archaeology and cultural heritage? What role will it play in this ever-evolving world where attention span is diminishing and "new" is front line?
Archaeology, cultural heritage and any art projects need community and local involvement to ensure successes that will bring jobs, participation, and protection. Funding is the issue, and sponsorship (like, for example, the luxury shoe company Tod’s restoring the Colosseum) is just one solution.
The real success is long-term giving and local communities participation: these are also the key challenges and where we must make a stand. We can collectively draw attention to sites with social mediam, which will keep important cultural heritage issues at the forefront as long as we are committed to using and evolving with that media. That said, it is not the only tool – just a good one.
What projects do you have going on and in the pipeline?
I remain committed to sharing past and current history, and am actively involved in a history/travel short documentary series [to air later this year]. The AIRC has on-going academic programs and excavation at Ostia Antica (an archaeological park in the Rome area), and a YouTube program called “Digging History” that covers themes within Ancient Rome and other video series.
Work in the pipeline includes more documentation (we’re creating an interactive, online history textbook), preservation and outreach… and video/media studies.
We obtain permission to dig from the national and local authorities, and we are guests in all of our academic efforts. So it's great to continually collaborate. We have many projects and collaborations with the Italian and Roman Superintendencies, such as our video production and excavation. It is great to have their interest and support, and we are glad that we can work together on these projects.
What are the benefits and pitfalls of being entrepreneurial in Italy? What would you advise those seeking do to the same?
It is not easy, but I do encourage all to do it by the book. Don't cut corners. Have a good lawyer and accountant: they are essential. Do your homework and talk with many in your field to avoid any future mistakes. Then it's going to be trial by error. Stay optimistic and find a great supportive team!