by Marian Watson Virga | Feb 22, 2014
What do Antonio Presti, patron of the arts and creator of the Fiumara d’Arte sculpture park, and Rosario Crocetta, President of the Sicilian Regional Government, have in common? Quite a lot actually. Apart from the fact they are friends and their love of the arts, they both enjoy defying Cosa Nostra.
Rosario Crocetta, has been doing it since his days as mayor of the town of Gela on the south coast of Sicily, when he defined himself as an anti-mafia mayor. Antonio Presti, instead, decided to invest in culture and beauty for nothing in return, which immediately put paid to any kickbacks or collusion with the local ‘capi’. This was considered subversive in Sicily, 30 years ago, when he wanted to donate his sculpture park to local municipalities.
With a degree in engineering and a safe career in his father’s construction company, Antonio found himself running the company at a young age after his father’s sudden death. He soon discovered that doing business with politicians and Cosa Nostra bosses was not for him. What better way to spend his inheritance than to offer culture and beauty to the collectivity without asking for anything in return.
That was the start of Fiumara d’Arte (The Torrent of Art) back in 1982.
Already a contemporary art collector, Antonio asked Sicilian artist, Pietro Consaga, to erect a sculpture to honour his father’s memory. Instead of putting it in his own back yard he decided it should be admired and appreciated by all, placing it in the dried-up river bed near Castel di Tusa. Subsequently he called on artists from far and wide to contribute to the scheme of creating the sculpture park which would pass through the Nebrodi mountains down through Pettineo, his father’s town, to the coastline.
There ensued a 24 year long legal battle where he was denounced for illegal construction – in a country where 1 in 3 buildings are without proper building permission – spent thousands in legal fees, suffered death threats and was even arrested at one point. Finally in 2006 the Supreme Court legally recognized the sculpture park and a new cultural tourist route was instituted by the Regional Government.
To celebrate the end to all his trials and tribulations he commissioned Mauro Staccioli to build the steel Pyramid on top of a hill along the 38° parallel “as a sign of victory and new-found peace”.
In the meantime he had been busy renovating an old run-down hotel in Castel di Tusa, Atelier sul Mare, by asking another group of Sicilian and international artists to decorate 20 ‘artists’ rooms’. They range from The Prophet’s Room, dedicated to Italian writer and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini, which has a drawbridge style door covered in Pasolini’s poetry, up to the most recent addition. A room dedicated to the famous Sicilian marionettes ‘I Pupari’ which tell the tales of Orlando Il Furioso and the Charlemagne knights. There is a small theatre in the room complete with puppets so you can fight your own personal battles whilst staying there.
It comes as no surprise that this is also Rosario Crocetta’s favourite bolt hole to escape his hectic life in Palermo, trying to govern the island.
It is possible to visit the artists’ rooms on Saturdays and Sundays.
Certainly a visit to this sculpture park leaves you wanting to find out more about the works of art and their benefactor, all of which blend in very well into the dramatic scenery. For Antonio Presti art should not be just aesthetic appearance, it has to move people, change their lives, he says.
Directions to the Fiumara d’Arte Sculpture Park: Take the Palermo/Messina coast road SS113 (direction Messina) to Tusa Marina (Castel di Tusa). From here a secondary road off to the right (SP 176) takes you up towards Pettineo and Castel di Lucio. This takes you through the Fiumara d’Arte sculpture park. The only exception is the Finestra sul Mare (Window on the Sea) which is on the sea front at Torremuzza, just beyond Castel di Tusa, continuing on the SS113.