This Italian Recovery Community Has Become a Prolific Decorative Arts Hub
As Mongiardino worked on Muccioli’s home, the architect’s artisans in turn worked with San Patrignano’s residents to teach them select crafts. Thus the community’s Design Lab workshops were born, training about 200 young residents in botteghe (artisans’ shops) and ateliers. Among the decorative arts specialties learned today are weaving, wallpaper design, leatherwork, carpentry, and metalwork. The center says it has treated 26,000 residents over its four decades in operation, with 1,200 there currently, and a recovery rate of 72% among thoese who complete the training.
The program, which comes at no cost to residents, functions like this: A resident is assigned to a workshop, living and working with other members of that workshop. “They live together, they work together, and newcomers quickly learn the rules of the community and the first skills of the job,” explains Giunta. Residents learn the skills associated with the trade, and also have the opportunity to attend high school or online university programs. Similar to New York–based Alpha Workshops—which was founded in 1995 and provides decorative arts education and employment to vulnerable populations, notably those with HIV/AIDS or disabilities—the community focuses on training and developing skill sets that serve residents in both life and work.
The weaving workshop—which boasts nine looms and has taught the craft for 40 years—has more than three dozen women producing textiles for clothing, furnishings, and home and fashion accessories, including private label and retail; they also work with interior designers and architects on custom household textiles. Welder workshoppers collaborate with mechanical engineering clients to produce custom pieces, such as beverage dispensers, and learn skills like milling and grinding, whereas those in the carpentry cohort focus on study under master carpenters, learning how to recover natural materials. (One of their collaborations, with industrial designer Karim Rashid, involved transforming a wine barrel into a stool and table.)
“From time to time we invite artists, designers, painters, artisans, photographers and people engaged in creative fields to organize talks for our artisans. We also invite our special guests to our workshop,” says Giunta, noting that the theory is “‘If you get your hands dirty with some paint, we can see what we are able to do together.’ Sometimes we create objects that can be used for our business, sometimes not. For us it’s a way to switch [our] minds on and have fun together.”
San Patrignano offers long-term care with a minimum of a three-year stay, and focuses on reintegrating its artisans into society by way of small, incremental changes. Those who train as artisans eventually train newcomers; the method, in the words of the center, is one that aims to replace the fleeting high of active drug addiction with a more grounded, community-based connection: “Residents rediscover, day after day, the pleasure of feeling useful for themselves and for others, experiencing new forms of gratification that are the very opposite of the illusory gratification offered by drug use.”