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New Orleans Meets Murano Inside a High School Furnace

What do New Orleans — Louisiana’s largest city and the renowned birthplace of Jazz music —  and Murano — an island with barely 5000 inhabitants with a world-famous tradition of craftsmanship — have in common?

The answer: glass. It turns out that Nola — as it’s known to locals — has a long history of producing and appreciating glass works. The local stained glass industry dates back to the late 1800, and advertisements show that in the 1960s, production of hand-blown replacement glass eyes thrived.

Today, the city’s flourishing glass community includes many independent studios and shops, and even a school offering classes in Venetian glass blowing. As the Times-Picayune put it: "The New Orleans glass scene had been a shining success story. Like Venice and Corning, N.Y., New Orleans was an important crossroads on the global glass art map."

  Here, in 1988, artist Jana Napoli founded an after-school program for the students of a local international high school. She called it YAYA: an acronym for Young Aspirations Young Artists, and a reference to the regional recipe Gumbo Ya-Ya, a New Orleans’ traditional stew made of sausage and seafood. Gumbo brings together African, Native American, French, Spanish, and Caribbean culinary influences in one massive pot — a commingling that is representative of the city itself. The expression Gumbo Ya-Ya also refers to the sound of many people talking at once, the chattering, indistinguishable noise that can be heard in big families at lunchtime.

Like its namesake, YAYA is all about coming together for a good purpose, with everyone adding their very particular “flavor” to the melting pot. The institution offers educational art programs, workshops and courses to the young adults working in their creative studio.

YAYA, moreover, employs glass as a tool for inclusivity. Last January they launched Better Together, gathering seven national Black glass artists in order to represent, celebrate and showcase the work of this growing community. “Glass is a field that significantly lacks diversity,” says Meg Miles, executive director of YAYA, underlining the importance for students with different backgrounds to feel represented.

This month, three YAYA students visited Murano to take part in the 2022 Autonoma Next program, named Paint the World, for the first in-person edition since the pandemic limited the project for the past two years. Sofia, Emma and Laila attended a five-day workshop side-by-side with Abate Zanetti’s students Dorotea, Samuele, Melissa and Yadali, with the aim of creating a site-specific glass installation for the Murano-based high school’s backyard. The 17-year-old artists practiced with traditional glassblowing techniques inside the school’s furnace, and had the chance to establish personal relationships that we hope will be long-lasting.

  Autonoma’s most important goal is to generate creative encounters to foster a positive evolution of the Muranese cultural environment, reinvigorating the island’s glass community with fresh energy and ideas while sharing our artistic heritage. Who knows what can happen when two such distant worlds come together? 

As gumbo yaya has proven, good things come out of the melting pot.

The Age of Conviviality, or the Joys of Sharing a Lunch

On June 9, 2022, we gathered our partners and friends for an informal lunch inside Circus Studios’ regenerated warehouse in Milan.

Sitting together along a 30-meter-long table, we shared food, ideas and plans for the future, and presented a new art book featuring photographer Consiglio Manni’s inspired photographs of our handmade glass pieces. No two glasses on the table were alike, representing a careful mix of contrasting pieces that nevertheless combined beautifully to show strength in diversity and creativity. This enriching meeting inaugurated a space for conviviality, something that we will enthusiastically pursue from now on, with the aim of establishing, strengthening and celebrating live, personal relationships.

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Vini Da Arturo Is Not the Venice Dining Experience You Expect

“We don’t have enough glasses here; you have to bring more!” Ernesto shouts as we enter his restaurant in Calle degli Assassini —- literally “Murderers’ Road” — for lunch. The Berlingot tumblers that now serve his 22 seatings are too few, he complains; there aren’t enough to assemble different color combinations and play with the designs every day.

Not long before, our striped glasses had landed in one of the most iconic dining places in Venice. Established in 1973 by Ernesto Ballarin, Vini Da Arturo is a seven-table restaurant whose setting and furnishing have been stuck in time for almost 50 years: wooden walls and benches, white cloths, and a laidback osteria look achieved with a jumble of news clippings, pictures, drawings and messages from international celebrities lining the walls.

Countless visitors have loved and sometimes even fetishized Da Arturo over the years. The place is both familiar and disorienting, an unassuming space where you are encouraged to “eat with your hands, sucking the meat from the bone” — but where you might be cleaning your plate with the scarpetta alongside a movie star or two.

Actors, artists, directors and other celebrities have frequented Ernesto’s restaurant over the years. Signed, framed photographs of Cindy Crawford and Tobey Maguire hang on the walls, while a vintage photo album circulating the dining room features 100-plus photos of Ernesto with stars like Kobe Bryant and Kim Kardashian. Barbra Streisand is an affectionate client and Susan Sontag was a friend.

The founder, who is now 80 and in 1966 survived the dramatic flooding called “acqua granda”, has a lively humor, a bright mind and a strong personality. Back in the days he had the stubbornness to open the first no-fish restaurant in Venice, and he also wanted it to be small. “Why a small place?” “Why a meat restaurant in Venice?” he replies.

Despite its unpretentious look, closer inspection reveals a pricy menu that is justified by the quality of the ingredients and the attention to detail in the table settings — the glasses are Berlingot after all.

Ernesto shares his legacy with Hani Benjamin, his business partner and friend of 25 years who recently took over ownership of the restaurant. Hani, an elegant man in his 50s, used to come and eat here after moving to Venice from Egypt. When I ask Ernesto what’s his favorite thing about this place, he answers, “Him.” And when he talks about the future, he seems very happy and confident about what will come after he’s gone. “Real skill is knowing how to continue, and I have complete faith in him. He’s very good,” Ernesto says.

Hani’s arrival marked some changes, and introduced a new tradition: moving for two months each year into the private kitchens of Da Arturo’s most loyal international customers, who had to dine at the restaurant for years to earn the privilege. Although he refuses to name names, I ask, “How did you start cooking for important personalities in the U.S.?” “By telling them no for twenty years,” Ernesto says.

Despite “not having spent a penny in advertising in his whole career,” a number of travel guides – those Ernesto claimed were trying to sell him a space he didn’t need to buy – have named Vini da Arturo as an “institution” of the Venetian food scene. The kitchen offers a small menu of simple vegetable and meat-based dishes that were mostly designed by Ernesto himself back in the 1970s. The list has slightly changed since then, but his legendary braciola all’arturo fried pork chops continue to attract visitors from every part of the world.

“It took me more than a year to develop the recipe,” he says. “I was trying different cuts and frying methods, and vinegar of course, I had to work a lot to reach the right flavor.”

At some point of our lunch Ernesto declares that “Nothing makes sense.” “They are famous,” he adds. “But me, I’m the most famous one.” It’s true. Chez Arturo, counts and countesses still eat sitting on bare wooden benches, squeezing between one another in order to consume Ernesto’s food. Everybody does.

This place feels like home, maybe because in part it really is. Marcantonio has been visiting the diner since he was born, and his mother Marie, the founder of our company, was a dear friend of Ernesto and Hani.

Between Da Arturo’s walls everyone can perceive a unique vibe, casual style and electric mood. Its myth, evolving over time while staying real and truthful to itself, proved the power of one idea: luxury lies in simple things. This is the vision we share with Ernesto: a taste for essentiality and the deep belief that authenticity is gold.