Arts education in Australia experienced a major coup last year when Italian philanthropist Dr Dino De Poli, through the Cassamarca Foundation, made a $23 million gift to nine Australian universities.

The gift of 900,000 euros per year for thirteen years (totalling AU$23million) was negotiated by the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies (ACIS) and the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Office of Development and will fund lectureships and scholarships in the study of Italian language and culture.

At the launch of the partnership, His Excellency Lieutenant General John Sanderson AC, Governor of Western Australia, described the partnership as “… a truly wonderful outcome from international collaboration.”

Building on $6 million already donated over the past six years, the Cassamarca Foundation now aims to perpetuate the 12 established lectureships and one associate professorship at the nine Australian universities and will continue to fund half the cost of these positions while building an endowment to maintain them in perpetuity. Participating universities will meet the other 50% of costs.

The universities involved are: The University of Western Australia, Flinders, Griffith, Melbourne, Monash, Sunshine Coast, South Australia, Sydney and Swinburne.

The Cassamarca Foundation is based in Treviso, Italy, and is active in many fields including scientific research, education, art, health, conservation, and the enhancement of cultural and environmental assets. It also promotes and supports cultural activities in Italy and abroad, with a particular emphasis on Italians around the world and on migration.

Often described as a modern-day Medici, Cassamarca Foundation president Dr Dino De Poli is a lawyer and active promoter of Italian culture around the globe. He says the foundation is particularly committed to the Australian project because of the close ties forged by migration between the two countries.

It has been De Poli’s dream to nurture the Italian language abroad and recognise the importance of the 60 million Italian migrants worldwide. He says Australia, which was the destination of the last great wave of European migrants, has now with this gift, become the symbol of the foundation’s active involvement abroad.

A larger-than-life figure, the 75-year-old De Poli could also be called a modern-day Marco Polo. He is fostering cultural exchanges that link Italy with China, Central Asia, the governments of Australia, Canada and Qu¿bec, Argentina and Brazil.

“People think that my focus on culture is strange,” says De Poli, “but I believe that in the age we live in, humanistic studies are of vital importance. Technology is everywhere, but culture is the true human capital and my aim is to revive and integrate Italian studies in universities throughout the world.”

De Poli’s civic and cultural interests date back many years. He was a long-serving member of the Treviso City Council, and he was also a council member of the University of Venice and the Venice Biennale, one of the oldest and most prestigious art exhibitions in the world.

In the late 1980’s he was made president of UTRIM, the body which brings together emigrants from the Treviso region scattered throughout the world. He was also the leader of UNAIE, the national organisation concerned with issues relating to Italian immigration and emigration.

Story by Judith Edwards and Peter Leunig, Office of Development, University of Western Australia

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