|Joe Famolare, photographed by Richard Avedon|
In his globe-trotting years as the company's CEO, Joe maintained part-time residences in many places, including Vermont (his daughters liked horses) and Italy. He owned and restored a 16th-century villa built by the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, which seems to have reinforced his love of the old and his appreciation for landscapes and buildings that reveal a many-layered history.
University of Vermont Extension, a nursing program, and the Brattleboro center for Union Institute & University's adult college programs.
Union's B.A. (in its former incarnation at Vermont College) is my alma mater, and I've been teaching in the program for the past several years, which is how I happened to get to know the VABEC site and to talk with Joe about his vision for its future--I took a group of students to meet him last fall as part of a discussion we were having about place-making and sense of place. Anyone who knows my work knows that I tend to be skeptical (at best) about projects that try to blend history and heritage with economic development efforts, because the historic pieces so often come to be enlisted largely to build a brand identity that serves the demands of profitability. But I have to admit that I came away from our group's conversation with Joe surprisingly inspired by the way he has woven together an appreciation for the past, a business-minded approach to the present, and an openness to all kinds of possibility--including reinventing this site as part of a re-emergent small-agriculture economy--for the future.
Which brings me back to the Italian connection. At the risk of invoking ethnic stereotyping, it does seem clear in Joe's conversation that his time in Italy--which clearly relates to his own Italian roots--influenced his sense of how a working landscape can harmoniously incorporate past and present layers and meanings. I don't think it's just Joe's personal charm that got past my usual cynicism, although it is pretty hard to resist! It just struck me that there was something in his approach quite different from the usual enclaving of history in set-aside non-profit sites, or its use in business as a cosmetic aspect of a brand identity. In what seems to be a largely intuitive way, Joe Famolare is maintaining a careful balance of historical stewardship, a sense of the economic and environmental importance of farming, and a savvy eye on where the postindustrial economy may be headed--a model that may be worth watching from both sides of the for-profit/non-profit divide.
For more on Joe Famolare, read this 2009 Union Institute & University interview with University President Roger Sublett, or this business profile focusing on his efforts to make Brattleboro a foreign trade zone.
*Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, Heritage (University of California Press, 1998, p. 149)