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Vancouver, BC | Posted: November 18th, 2016
There are those of us that dreamed of being archaeologists— digging up ancient artifacts, dusting them off with a tiny brush, spending hours in the dirt and loving every minute. There are also those of us that dreamed of being artists, museum curators, or art restoration experts — spending hours in the back of a lab or museum, piecing back parts of history for the public to enjoy. History is intriguing, and important.
Tonio Creanza, the founder and operator of Messors —an organization that runs workshops for anyone with a passion for art, history and food — believes in making these experiences accessible for everyone. At an early age, Tonio became interested in history and conservation and made that his career path moving forward. He quickly realized how much cultural heritage needed preservation and that the knowledge needed to be passed on. If people learned about preserving the simple things, the canvases, frescos, food preparation, and the resources, and then passed on that knowledge, we wouldn’t face an emergency to preserve a vulnerable heritage.
We sat down with Tonio to talk about the challenges and accomplishments of starting Messors, what makes Italy special, and a little more.
What was your background before Messors?
I was born on a farm and have been working on a farm since I was little. While working on the farm I would see around the countryside, a lot of ancient things. I would work and then go in and out of caves and see Byzantine frescoes and graveyards from the Hellenic period. All of this history intrigued me, and at the age of 15 I started to be involved in a local archaeological group. That is where I formed my knowledge in history and archaeology. When I finished high school, I decided to go to a restoration school. I got my degree in conservation and started my company right away. During the winter, I was working for private and public restoration projects on old buildings and archaeology projects.
The first workshop I had was in 1995 and I’ve been working in this ancient settlement since then with the formula that we still have today.
What makes Italy a really special destination?
The aspect that I believe is really important about Italy is that, if you look geographically, it’s always been a footstep in the Mediterranean. So, it’s kind of a place that everybody has crossed by. There has always been a lot of culture exchange and influence. It has always been a, kind of, cradle for civilizations to exchange ideas and ways of life. Every population, every civilization has left something in Italy. Plus, the presence of the Catholic church has given a lot of patronage to the arts, and architecture. Everything is right in front of you and sometimes you don’t have to pay for a ticket to see a historic place. It’s right before your eyes, you just have to witness it and enjoy it!
What is your favourite part of the Messors’ experience? Is there a specific moment that is your favourite?
It’s that moment when— after having done the excursion, lecture, practical hands-on restoration activity, working on a canvas or fresco — participants feel relaxed to talk about [the experience] and they give you the feedback about their experience. In that feedback there’s a real exchange, because what I like to do the most is share what I know, to share my passion, and when I see this reflected in the feedback of the participant, that’s my [favourite] moment.
What are some of the greatest challenges since starting Messors?
The first challenge was to convince my local community to collaborate in what I was envisioning. What I realized was that bureaucrats go with their own standards, but that is so detached from the real need of the preservation of cultural heritage. The most important challenge was to build credibility for what I was doing. Even when I demonstrated it was possible, still the system got so complicated, it still is at times so complicated to even have a dialogue. That’s why it was important for me to own Fornello Caves, because in this way, it’s more accessible. I don’t need to gather many agreements from other people.
Today, the biggest challenge is spreading the word and getting participants to come, how to attract people to the program. The funny thing is, when they do, they’re very happy.
What has been the greatest accomplishment?
In each of the range of projects we offer, you can see that something is actually being done in terms of the conservation work. That’s something you can see right away. So, literally, you feel the patronage of this whole idea is giving to the actual site and artwork. Including the culinary and shepherding workshop. The presence of the workshop in the community is absolutely fantastic. It has a very great impact. So, that’s the accomplishment, right away, since the first day.
Another accomplishment is that most of the participants come to have the experience, and their experience with us is an introduction to their career in conservation and restoration. I’m really happy when we have chefs on the culinary and shepherding workshop, even if it’s not a cooking course. They learn new things about food preparation and food resources.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
It’s hard to say because many times I questioned myself about what the right thing to do would be, because of the challenges we faced with the community at the beginning. What I wish is that I had met Jennifer (Tonio’s wife) way at the beginning when I started. I wish I had met Aaron (Smith, CEO of GoVoluntouring) after a couple of years, but at the end, every season comes at the right time.
In Vancouver, what is your favourite place to find peace or solace?
Kitsilano Beach. I spend a lot of time there with my son, August.
Describe yourself in one word:
Messors offers a culturally rich workshops that introduce participants to traditional Italian food, art, wine, and more. The group sizes are small, to allow for an intimate experience and allow you to connect with other participants. To join Tonio and read more about his Culinary and Shepherding workshop click here; his Art Restoration Workshop click here, and his Fornello Caves workshop click here.