Portico in Arte: Village of the Artists

By Mr. TWS

Sweeney and I consider many aspects of our recent trip to Emilia-Romagna especially memorable, including ancient hillside villages rich in history and local culture, and the beautiful, diverse scenery. With an immersion into everyday life, our visit was very much an experience of hidden Italy, far from the more touristy areas of the country. Above all though, it was the people, particularly characterized by the Cameli family, who we felt had adopted us as part of the family in Portico di Romagna.

"Village street in Portico di Romagna"

Village street in Portico di Romagna during Portico in Arte festival

Portico in Arte (Village of the Artists)

During our stay in Portico di Romagna, we also felt as though we were included as part of the village, one of the primary objectives of “albergo diffuso”. This was particularly apparent during the festival to celebrate both Portico in Arte, a program created by Massimiliano Cameli, and the completion of one of the Portico in Arte projects,  Here – Elsewhere, an art exhibition, curated by Matteo Lucca, the project’s artistic director. From June to October, guest artists will be coming from all over Europe to learn about and be inspired by the area’s beauty, history and culture. Portico in Arte’s goal is expanding local art and using it to increase awareness of the village, thus enabling others to enjoy unique aspects of Portico di Romagna about which Massimiliano, his family at Al Vecchio Convento, and village residents are appreciative and impassioned.

Festivities began at 4:00 with a mass at Chiesa della Compangnia, the church directly across Via Roma from the building where Sweeney and I stayed. The small church was filled with locals, some dressed formally and others casually, much as in the U.S.

"Special mass for Portico in Arte at Chiesa della Compangnia, Portico di Romagna"

Special mass for Portico in Arte at Chiesa della Compangnia

After the mass, we headed up the nearby stairway to the upper level of the village in the piazza before the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Girone, which was opened in honor of the occasion. The festival continued with kickoff speeches by Massimiliano Cameli, Mirko Betti (Mayor of Portico di Romagna), Here-Elsewhere curator Matteo Lucca, and others in front of of the church and adjacent building that included the Academy Olmo, the Italian language school which also brought people from abroad to Portico di Romagna, and the remodeled apartments where Portico in Art artists-in-residence would be staying and creating their works.

"Mayor Mirko Betti, Maris Cameli, Massimiliano Cameli at Portico in Arte ceremony, Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Portico Mayor Mirko Betti, Marisa Cameli and Massimiliano Cameli at Portico in Arte ceremony

I discovered that I was the only one capturing video of the remarks. Here is a link to the first short video. Massimiliano Cameli Opening Remarks 1 (Italian) You’ll find all six videos on Sweeney’s YouTube Channel.


We knew the festival would be on our last day in Portico, but with the many activities beforehand we didn’t get a chance to really grasp what was coming. Our first hint occurred on the previous day, during our next to last night in Portico, when we were treated to a surprise preview of one of the art installations. We had just finished our dinner in the restaurant at about 11:30pm when Massimiliano and his mother, Marisa, rushed to our table and said: “Come! Follow us! It’s a surprise!” Somewhat bewildered, we hopped up and followed them, nearly running down the steep, narrow street next to the hotel. We came to the river and headed across the Ponte della Maestà (Majesty Bridge), an old stone, steeply-inclined bridge over the Montone River. As we reached the peak, we saw the bright blue neon lights atop the tiny chapel at the foot of the bridge, the site of artist Luca Freschi’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. We met the artist there and he exuberantly explained his work, mostly in Italian, so we were happy that Alessandra Catania, our Italian blogger host, was there to translate. It was an exciting and very special way to kickoff the events to come.


Here-Elsewhere is a Portico in Arte exhibition of five artists whose works were created in various key locations of the village. Instead of trying to interpret the art or put the descriptions in our own words, I thought it best to mostly quote the program and the words of Matteo Lucca, the curator of the exhibition, to better convey his and the artists’ intents as we show you the installations in the photos below. (There may have been a bit lost in the translated program we were provided).

From the program: “Here and elsewhere are meant to be a condition of being. Here is being in the present, in the places of everyday routines in Portico. Elsewhere is the way out of that condition; it is the world to which the art brings you.”

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Luca Freschi

"Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Luca Freschi at Oratorio delle Visitazioni, Portico di Romagna"

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Luca Freschi at Oratorio delle Visitazioni

“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is a song by a London tramp which inspired a piece by Garvin Bryars. The lyrics go on: “there’s one thing I know, “cause He loves me so”. The shelter is in the heart, in the spirit of a man who has nothing anymore and finds his home in faith. Luca Freschi celebrates and exalts it, with a kitsch, extravagant, baroque splendour. A small church called ‘Oratorio delle Visitazioni’ is decorated and prepared for a celebration. It is livened up by a subtle, catchy fanaticism. It highlights and stresses the popular dynamics, uses and habits through excess, but we are fooled by the appearance: a common loneliness in disguise dwells underneath that splendour. Inside the chapel contains the work itself: a collection of objects filled with meaning that tell, as a journal of memories, the sad story of a forgotten existence. Yet, as stated by Gavin Bryars, that song remains “eloquent even though little proof of his spirit and optimism”.

"Jesus' Blood Never Faile Me Yet by Luca Freschi on exhibit in Portico in Arte"

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Luca Freschi

Cloud by Ana Hillar

"Anne Hillar's "cloud" installation at Portico in Arte, June 15, 2013 in Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Cloud by Ana Hillar

Located in a narrow alley, tunneled between the ancient buildings, is “Cloud”. From the program: “Ana Hillar’s nests draw on nature, reinventing it, as if to question if they are real or not. Nature is bizarre and creates possibilities which appear fantastic and impossible to us in order to survive… We are facing a cluster of suspended light, delicate cocoons, whose amalgam creates a ‘Cloud’… In the cocoon there is a sense of unexpressed power, which is getting ready to surface, looking at this potential we feel that sense of the sublime from the Romantic era, which both seduces and threatens.”

If You Want, I’ll Build Your House by Elena Hamerski

"Elena Hamerski's installation of torn sheets at Portico in Arte, Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Elena Hamerski’s art is located in a stairway leading from the main street to the upper level of the village

From the program: “Elena Hamerski relates to a world of affection and hidden intimacy, which is that of the bed sheets… Her obsessive research is one of being in ourselves. The nest becomes the symbol of a warm place for her, of the bedroom where she can find her privacy. Elena builds her nest…, she does so by tearing her sheets apart then putting them back together in order to give shape to something new. She does this by imitating birds and the way they build, as if she needs to escape by flying away. There is an obsessive research in her art, which seems unable to find release, It is as if, in her neurotic action, she was not allowed to stop and dwell. Those nests are uninhabited, they are clean sheets. The shelter is a condition which searches and creates, yet where the artist cannot stay.”

Synapse by Erich Rurroni

"Installation of Synapse by Erich Turroni at Portico in Arte festival in Protico di Romagna, Italy on June 15, 2013"

Synapse by Erich Turroni located on Portico’s upper level in the Garden of Dante and Beatrice

From the program: “The refuge within the self and spirit is projected outside. We need to identify and define ourselves with images, thanks to which we understand our nature. We need a ’mirror’ which allows us to project outside of ourselves an inside which we can merely perceive. Projecting our ’here’ in an ‘elsewhere’ in front of us. The dialogue with ourselves is through breath, whose exhale, in Synapse by Erich Turroni is like a line of smoke, drawing an expanding heart. The synapse is a structure that allows communication between nerve cells, with other similar cells, or which different kinds of cells. To understand the nature of our heart, we need to express it. We are in the garden dedicated to Dante’s Beatrice at the foot of the tower. It is inevitable to think that that exhale, which becomes the heart, is a declaration of love. In Erich, there is an ongoing debate between opposites: between inside and outside, between heavy and light, full and the void, the said and the unsaid.”

Sign by Oscar Dominguez

"sign by Oscar Dominguez at Portico in Arte hosted by Al Vecchio Convento is Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Sign by Oscar Dominguez hangs from the Ponte della Maestà over the Montone River

From the program: “If it were a riddle, Here-Elsewhere would result in the river. This path turns out to be the story of a river that tells the incessant becoming of life. “Do you hear?… listen carefully!…can you hear?” They are the words that Vasudeva speaks to Siddhartha across the river: ‘In that hour Siddhartha ceased fighting against his fate, at that time he suffered no longer. The serenity of knowledge, which no longer counteracts any will, bloomed on his face, the knowledge which understands perfection, which is in agreement with the river of becoming, with the current of life, a knowledge that is full of compassion and sympathy, docile to the flow of events, adhering to Unity.’ (Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse)”

“Oscar Dominguez gives us a sign, a cut suspended over the landscape, like an arrow which opens a gap and leads us to our shelter. Like the simple and shrewd words of Vasudeva, he puts us in a condition of hesitation, to observe and listen to the river. He makes something happen which opens a gash on reality.”

Local Arts and Crafts

Another key component of the Portico in Arte is the sponsorship of several local craftspeople to demonstrate and display their trades (and in some cases enable guests to experience and learn them). Along the streets of the village, shop owners, artists, craftspeople opened their doors to show their wares and talk to visitors.

Village blacksmith of Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Village blacksmith

Although limited by our knowledge of each other’s language, I enjoyed meeting the village blacksmith. Though his workshop was outside the village, he proudly displayed his art in this shop and was more than happy to show me around as he highlighted his favorite pieces. His art varied from pure display to functional pieces.

"Seamtress Guiliana in Portico di Romagna working on her weaving loom"

Guiliana creating patterns on her loom

The chances to try various crafts and new activities were highlights of our trip. Sweeney got to try her hand at weaving using hand-built frames. It is a challenging craft, but under Guiliana’s instruction, Sweeney was able to produce a woven necklace; but more importantly, she gained appreciation for the difficulty and skill level of the craft.

"Art gallery in Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Art gallery in Portico di Romagna

Guiliana shared her shop with several artists whose works that cover the walls were diverse and intriguing.

Dinner and dancing

The Cameli’s moved their restaurant dining room to the main street of Via Roma for a special dinner in honor of Portico in Arte. The meal was elegantly-prepared and wonderfully presented, and the setting was magical as darkness fell and the lights made the street glow.

"Dinner on Via Roma, Portico di Romagna to celebrate Portico in Arte"

Dinner on Via Roma

Then we made our way to Borgo Piano for live music and dancing, a perfect ending for this day of experiencing art and village life.

"Band playing in the street at Portico in Arte in Portico di Romagna, Italy"

Band playing at Portico in Arte

In other posts, we’ve noted special things about the Cameli family, including the many talents and varied duties of the brothers, Massimiliano and Matteo. So I wasn’t surprised to see Massimiliano join the band at about midnight with his guitar — he was great!

"Marisa Cameli dancing at Portico in Arte festival June 15, 2013"

Marisa Cameli dancing at Portico in Arte festival

Another key aspect was the Cameli family’s boundless energy. So it also didn’t surprise me to see Marisa at midnight, after a long day of managing the inn and restaurant, participating in the festival, and her other many activities to be among the small group of people dancing in the street.

Our thanks to the Associazione Internazionale Alberghi Diffusi, the Cameli family and the people of Portico di Romagna for making our Portico in Arte experience so special.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

39 thoughts on “Portico in Arte: Village of the Artists

  1. noel

    What an amazing experience, wow! I would love have loved doing this but this is just as wonderful with your commentary and photos, thanks for taking us on this lovely excursion and tour. I loved it!

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      The people were more excitement about it than, as an example, a festival in our town in the US. It was one of our favorite days among many in a great trip. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Maria

    Wonderful that there’s so much variety of mediums used and expressions on display, also enjoy the way in which each work is displayed. Love this post as art tour!

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Glad you liked it. There was a lot of diversity just among the 5 Here-Elsewhere pieces and much more with the crafts and more to come with the artists in residence just gearing up. Thanks for the comments.

  3. Andrew Graeme Gould

    You must have had a wonderful trip together. Just today, a very well travelled friend said her top choice in Europe was Italy, and that’s where we’ll be heading sometime next year. All the best…

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      It was a wonderful trip. Lots to talk about. Italy is certainly one of our top choices in Europe, particularly the areas of Emilia-Romagna and Puglia we saw on this trip. Hope to get back soon. Thanks for commenting.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Totally agree on both counts. Exploring non-touristy Italy is wonderful and we had a great time. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Sophie

    Italians love festivals, don’t they… every village seems to have one. This must have been a wonderful experience. Such creative and unusual works of art.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      We were able to attend 3 festivals on our trip, quite different (posts for the other 2 coming). I felt the people were much more excited about the festivals than in other places. The art was quite diverse and the artists were so enthusiastic about the meaning of their work, in conversations we had and as can be felt in the excerpts from the program. There is a short post I’ll do about the day that was part of the activities prepared for us. We were able to sit down with a town historian who gave us background about Portico’s long history. The spirited interchanges between Alessandra (interpreting) and the historian were some fun. Thanks for the comments.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks for the comments. That’s a really good way of putting it. Certainly that was best characterized by the Cameli’s.

  5. Mike

    All of that artwork is amazing! That sign over the Montone River is so cool and how fun on the festival. Dinner on Via Roma…I would have loved to been able experience that. You’re such a terrific writer, Cathy! 🙂

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting. All of the art was fascinating. The blue neon sign and chapel had many different aspects.

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    Dinner in the street looks unbelievably magical and the installations are inspired, gorgeous and incredibly diverse! What a fantastic festival, though it seems that what ultimately brings it to life are the extraordinary hosts and their endless creativity.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      The Cameli’s were awesome as we’ve mentioned in numerous posts. They are the real drivers behind getting Portico better known. I hope we’re able to get back while its still part of the hidden Italy. The festival was lots of fun and the art very thought provoking. We really liked the way it was embedded in key places one would pass everyday. Thanks for your comments.

      1. alessandra

        Dear Mary, I discovered the Cameli Family strolling around Romagna with my blog (21grammy.com). And that was one of the main reason I created Romagna Diffusa Blog Tour together with the Association Alberghi Diffusi. Catherine, Teresa and Randy heled me to put the right attention to an area that was really off beaten paths. Hope you’ll have the chance to follow more adventures and discover this wonderful place where I’m leaving.

  7. Marcia

    The art, the food, the music, the people – it’s enough to fill you up and feed your mind, body and soul for weeks to come.
    Outdoor meal like this always remind me of family. Thanks for taking us along, Cathy & Mr. TWS!

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for your comments. We certainly felt like family and miss being there. There’s lots for us to savor and we’ve got a long string of posts to come.

  8. Pingback: Al Vecchio Convento: Buon Appetito! » Traveling with Sweeney

  9. Brenda

    The Cameli family and their wonderful resort & the town of Portico di Romagna are AMAZING! Our family has been there twice and our stays have been the highlight of both trips to Italy. We’ll be returning in three weeks with friends and can’t wait to share more special times with them. It feels like we’re going home to see family. The people and memories will live on in our hearts and minds forever.

  10. Life Images by Jill

    oh I loved the scenes of the artists working, and the restaurant in the street. How wonderful it seems you trip has been – made even more wonderful for the emersion in culture, tradition, and family festivities. Thanks for taking us along through Travel Photo Thursday.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for your comments. The immersion was what made the trip so special but it was special for the diversity of sights and activities as well. Beautiful area of the world and wonderful people.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      That’s exactly what we felt. We had high expectations but they were definitely surpassed on every front. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Nancie

    You two had an amazing day! I hope you also got to do some dancing in the street. I think it’s fantastic how this small town is trying to attract and engage visitors. Loved your photos.

  12. Leigh

    What an experience to be included in. The art is fantastic – love the clouds and If you Want, I’ll Build Your House. This looks like a tremendous amount of work to throw together so I hope it’s a great success for the village. It sounds like you had some long days and nights.

    1. Mr. TWS Post author

      Thanks so much for the comments. We were non-stop but for 6 to 8 hours sleeping and we loved every minute. I think it will definitely pay off for them. As I mentioned, the Cameli’s have boundless energy and they seem to enjoy what they do. We are very grateful for this experience – quite special.

  13. Linda

    I was kind of idly reading this and enjoying the vicarious travel when I saw the name Oscar Dominguez. As they say, “I know nothing about art,” but I do know that his work is displayed here in the Canary Islands, the one which comes to mind is an unusual cat in a park in Santa Cruz. So it occurs to me that although this was a village festival, its scope was much wider, combinging the best of both worlds – the traditional village life and international art! Wow! I think I’ve had the impression before that life in Italian villages is far less insular than many other villages throughout the world. Given that I would throw stuff in a suitcase and go anywhere at a moment’s notice it takes something really different and special to really, really stoke the fires of my wanderlust – and this does it! I adore Italy already, but seriously want to explore the region you’ve just been to!

  14. Pingback: Part of the Family in Portico di Romagna » Traveling with Sweeney

  15. Thomas | Jus Getaway

    Now this is what I am looking for when I think about moving and living in Italy. My wifey and I have been looking at Italy for awhile now and still haven’t figured out where we would like to move if we choose Italy. Portico in Arte looks and sound like a great place not only to visit but to make home. Art, great food and dancing. Sounds good to me.

  16. Pingback: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Emilia-Romagna | Traveling with Sweeney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.