The Italian Cultural Institute--Istituto Italiano di Cultura--christened its new Westwood quarters Tuesday with a lavish party for more than 1,000 guests, including legendary film director Michelangelo Antonioni and actress Sophia Loren.
With the arrival of Antonioni, who received an honorary Academy Award on Monday, the two-story center on Hilgard Avenue officially opened as the Italian government's effort to bridge the cultural divide between the two nations.
"Los Angeles, this young city recognized as the hub of the West Coast, was chosen because we believe that here the values of our old culture will find the soil to grow," Enzo Coniglio, the center's director, told the crowd.
The institute has been operating for the last nine years in a small suite of offices in the Wilshire Boulevard building occupied by the Italian Consulate. For $2.4 million, the Italian government bought and restored UCLA's former International Student Center, converting it to a motion picture screening room, a library, and space for art exhibits, concerts and classes.
"We must invite the community of Westwood," Coniglio said. ". . . We want to have events for young people in a really creative atmosphere."
The center will offer free classes in music and the Italian language, as well as exhibits and art classes to be held jointly with the Getty and Armand Hammer museums.
Maria Luisa de Herrera, Santa Monica's director of cultural affairs, said the institute will also participate in the city's Italian festival next summer.
"We were supposed to have 300 people here tonight, but so many called and wanted to come to the opening, and we didn't want to say no to anyone," Coniglio said.
The 1,360 guests mobbed the institute for food donated by 12 Italian restaurants and for glimpses of celebrities: Antonioni and his wife, actress Enrica Fico; Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, and Gregory Peck.