Donna a Donna
a conversation with Giovanna Cozzi and Jennifer Lauren
Giovanna Cozzi works in the education department at the MAXXI Museum, Rome's leading contemporary art space, and is the president of the Cultural Association for Contemporary Art Education. She also works as a food tour guide, giving visitors to the city a comprehensive and joyful experience of Italian culture, art and history, and teaches cooking classes on Italian food and traditions. Giovanna's vibrant social media channels offer viewers worldwide a glimpse into her dynamic and delicious teaching approach.
In this interview, Jennifer and Giovanna discuss food, learning, creativity and more.
JENNIFER LAUREN: Speak a little about the evolution of your path so far, from your education to all that you are working on today.
GIOVANNA COZZI: My university studies were concentrated in [contemporary] Art History, with a specialized Master's Degree in Curation. By chance (and admittedly a little bored with the usual exams), I chose to take an optional exam in museum education where I would present my research on an interactive museum education project for hypothetical public school use. From that, my passion for museum education was born and I pursued it by participating in an internship at the MAXXI Museum in Rome, which led me to a position in the MAXXI's education department. At the same, I knew I wanted to continue my passion on a more personal level, so I founded my WorkinProject association, a didactic teaching program that isn't just focused on art nor is relegated to being inside a museum structure—essentially, an interactive, creative learning experience without limits. Thanks to my cooking blog (a personal love since I was a child), I began to teach Italian cooking courses to foreigners where I discuss the nutrition behind our cuisine.
JL: What's unique about your career/life path that you think others interested in arts, education and food making can learn from?
GC: I think what is unique about my path is that though I did start with a focus in a specific area (art history), I knew from the beginning that I am not a person who is easily satisfied and I wasn’t going to funnel everything to just one direction, but rather apply my experience and knowledge to all the areas that I cherish.
JL: You live in Rome but serve students from diverse places and have ties to cities like Brooklyn. In your opinion what can these cultures learn from each other? The US and Italy, or Europe more broadly? I think about this a lot in my own frequent travels.
GC: Overall, it is always good to teach people from different cultures. Exchange brings out different approaches to teaching and education, which allows me to improve and enrich my educational skills.
Americans could perhaps benefit from learning more as we do via culture theory—from an artistic and philosophical standpoint—and we should certainly acquire a bit of that sense of practicality that is fundamental to American education.
Definitely the more you travel, the more experiences you gain, the more you learn about studies, methodology and work in other countries, the more we will be able to improve ourselves as educators, workers, students, and citizens.
JL: Well said! The MAXXI had been getting some exciting press about it's potential role as a kind of exploratory lab for contemporary art and discussion. This is really exciting. Can you share some of the unique challenges the MAXXI is facing, and also some of the great opportunities?
GC: A contemporary art museum in Italy, especially Rome, is already a challenge in itself: we are a country of history and monuments—contemporary art is not willingly seen nor appreciated. Even the award-winning architecture of Zaha Hadid was poorly received at first. Our challenge is to bring a distrusting public to view this art and for this we are very engaged with schools because educating children and young people also means educating their entire family. The MAXXI is certainly a museum actively participating on an international level, though this is not a new concept; finally Italy is keeping pace with Europe and the rest of the world.
JL: What particular learning projects created with MAXXI are you most proud of to date?
GC: It's hard to choose the project I am most proud of—definitely a project with the theme of "home" was very moving, and the architecture laboratory is always exciting, but maybe the project I am very proud of was the MAXXI summer camp: entire days dedicated to education, to creative play, held on the grounds of the museum. It was really inspiring to watch the children really "feel" the museum as more than just a site—it became "home" to them, and as a result of their days at camp with us, they brought siblings, parents, grandparents and friends "back home" to visit the museum.
JL: That sounds like a very inclusive, warm way to reach kids and have them participate. Let's talk about food! Tell me how your classes evolved and who you aim to serve.
GC: The cooking classes came as a result of the food-tours I do with TavoleRomane. Cooking and the kitchen environment are also culture, especially in Italy, so it seemed natural to begin to offer lessons in which I break apart some of those clichés people have about Italian cuisine, like pasta = carbohydrate = absolute evil.
The Italian diet is a great example of healthy eating, and I am always amazed to discover how much ignorance there is going around about food. In my lessons, as well as to entertain, I hope to bring awareness of the importance of food and its preparation. Avoid processed foods!
JL: I agree. It’s so illuminating to learn from our traditions, while also weaving in the new—whether it be in food, arts, or life at large—such as taking the time to listen to our elders and not getting too caught up in our own present challenges or desires.
In my education work, I am able to engage with children, adolescents and older adults. I met a lovely couple who run a pottery center. They said that adults are so afraid to fail, and thus so hard to teach, while kids dive right in to the clay! Have you noticed this while working with these different age groups?
GC: It's definitely easier with children. In food, in art, in everything they are more open to learning and listening, and less closed minded in their own (even when wrong) beliefs!
JL: I admire the positive and fun spirit of your classes, as demonstrated on your Instagram! You also have a wonderful blog. How important is social media in your work as an educator?
GC: Importantissimo! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of it allows me to meet, communicate and dialog with many people (like you!) and to share our laboratories and lessons!
JL: You work in the visual and culinary arts, you teach, you have an amazing social media presence. How do you describe what you do?
GC: Great question! I can't define myself. As I said before, I like to think of myself as an educator "in the round"
JL: I think this is very interesting, given that our generation is in general not eager to have and maintain one career or role.
GC: Yes, it is true that unlike our parents, we do not have the opportunity to find that one "amazing job" that allows you to live well even with children. We are the generation of crisis and work, and when there is none, we create it! It is important to be able to move within more areas. I created WorkinProject because I was worried that the work at MAXXI was not stable—the same reason I started a food blog, food tours and lessons. I was lucky: it all worked out and now I find myself full of work and proud!
JL: What are your goals in relation to class offerings, your professional growth and developments with the MAXXI?
GC: Another great question. I take it one step at a time but I hope that WorkinProject will become a company [have a larger presence], that my work at the MAXXI will continue to bring more to the public, and that I continue to have fun with my cooking classes!
JL: What's the most exciting aspect of working as an educator in contemporary art, and with one of the most diverse and nourishing cuisines in the world?
GC: The most exciting aspects of working at the MAXXI are that we are surrounded by and working with incredible art that gives us educators the opportunity to go wild with our projects and labs, and especially (here's the nerd in me) that we have the opportunity to study and meet great artists. The best aspect of working with Italian food is just the fact of being able to share what I consider of great value: good food and healthy eating. But in general, for both cases (museum and food) I like to think that the lab, visit, project, or lesson contributed to opening up and maybe even changing the way someone thinks or sees things, or maybe it simply planted the seed for something bigger that that person will do.
Cream Tart with Fruit and Mint
For the pastry:
200g (1 1/2 cups) flour
100g (one stick) butter
100g (1/2 cup) sugar
2 egg yolks
1 pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon or vanilla (optional)
Prepare the pastry by working with the hands. Mix together the flour, butter, sugar, salt and eggs. Add the lemon zest (or vanilla). As soon as the ingredients are mixed, stop working (over-mixing will toughen the pastry).
Form the pastry into a ball and cover with plastic wrap, leaving it to rest in a refrigerator.
For the custard cream:
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons flour
500ml (2 cups) milk
lemon zest or vanilla beans
Heat the milk in a saucepan with the lemon zest or vanilla beans until it begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl through a fine strainer to remove the zest or beans.
In a small pot, whisk the eggs together with the sugar, and add the flour to form a perfectly smooth mixture.
Add the hot milk, stirring constantly with a whisk (be careful not to make an omelette!). Place the pot over medium-low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens perfectly (if it begins to boil, reduce heat to low).
Pour the cream into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, placing it directly on top of the cream (this will prevent a hard film from forming). Let cool.
100g (1/3 cup) strawberry jam
150g (1 cup) fresh strawberries
200g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
fresh mint leaves
Roll out the pastry to about 5 mm (.5 cm) in height, and lay it over a 9" pan, pressing gently with your hands and pricking it with the tines of a fork. Spread a thin layer of strawberry jam and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Let cool completely. Spread the custard on the tart and lay the fruit. Garnish with mint leaves and enjoy!
Jennifer Lauren works in international education and global communications. She has collaborated with the agriculture, labor, health and education sectors in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Western Balkans on creating sustainable, responsive and flexible learning opportunities for girls and transitional youth to complete their high school education and to locate meaningful careers. Jennifer helped launch the social learning platform T21 and is currently helping develop Welcome Home, a Portuguese youth-led initiative that trains homeless people to become tour guides of their hometowns. She is also currently advising the development of Revealing Faces, a documentary highlighting Uganda's refugee crisis.