SARTWENTY-TWENTY- Chapter II: About Jeff Shapiro

Our intern Aurora is interviewing faculty members at the Siena Art Institute, reflecting on the challenges of 2020 and looking forward to the year ahead. This is the second interview of her series, speaking with our Creative Writing instructor, Jeff Shapiro

(Portrait photo of Jeff Shapiro by former student Adam De Serio)


Jeff Shapiro, born in Boston, USA, and living close to Siena since 1991, is a music-lover and a prolific writer. Before coming to Italy, he spent time in England and worked with people trying to overcome issues of domestic violence. He co-authored Prone to Violence, a non-fiction book on the subject. As a journalist, he wrote for the UK version of Cosmopolitan and had pieces published in New Society and the U.S.-based magazine International. More recently, his short stories have appeared in Verso and The Sigh Press.

He has published two novels so far, Renato’s Luck and Secrets of Sant’Angelo. He teaches Creative Writing at Siena School for Liberal Arts and at the Siena Art Institute, along with English Conversation at Siena Art Institute and Università Popolare Senese.


Creative Writing

Jeff came to the Siena Art Institute in a rather odd way: he was singing with the Polifonici Senesi chorus, where he met a student from the Siena Art Institute. Once she learned of Jeff’s work as a writer, she convinced him to come and talk with the director Miriam Grottanelli De Santi who at the time was searching for a Creative Writing teacher…

The mission of putting together the first seminars was a challenge, because Jeff had to face questions of whether writing could be taught and also how. Another delicate point had to do with audience: especially through the first few years, Jeff taught Creative Writing to English-speaking people, and only later did his classes include Italians as well. Interaction with students whose mother tongue is not the same as his has helped him grow, ultimately enhancing creative experimentation.

Over time, Jeff has developed an approach to teaching that focuses on the senses and on the subjectivity of viewpoints. As Jeff himself says, he always tries to “make the music of words resonate with the emotional content of any particular scene”. An example of this approach may be seen in the Creative Writing workshop for children which Siena Art Institute organized in October and held in Villa Brandi, near Siena. Jeff took part, exploring facets of writing with a group of curious and playful kids.

A bridge to the marginalised

Thinking about Siena Art Institute’s outreach to marginalised communities, Jeff recalls the Italian word coscienza and its two meanings: the first is “conscience”, involving the ethical core and so, as Jeff himself says, the use of art as “a way of interacting with everyone, including the privileged and the marginalised alike”; the second meaning is “consciousness,” for art “makes us open our eyes and see.”

This theme has been developing in Jeff’s own mind since his experiences in London, which put him in direct contact with victims of domestic violence, especially children.

Now, as a part of the Siena Art Institute team, Jeff can continue doing this kind of empathetic work, also helped by the settings of this particular school, which is a natural nest of welcome and respect that emphasizes integration, in order to fight the leviathan of marginalisation.


Having published two novels with Harper-Collins and Berkley-Penguins books, two stories set in the warm atmosphere of Tuscany and whose use of language was acclaimed as sensational and astute by some scholars, Jeff is now ready to launch his third novel.

The idea behind it is absolutely majestic: inspired by one of his favourite musical pieces, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Jeff decided to explore the interpersonal dynamics more deeply. In writing a novel based on Don Giovanni’s musical score, he has tried to render the sounds of specific passages with the almost infinite potential and power of words (as we have already said, Jeff has always loved challenges in writing), while also wondering how sexuality, attitudes and behaviours in society have changed since the time of Mozart’s masterpiece. Ultimately, Jeff chose to transform Don Giovanni into a woman. Indeed, he went so far as to invert the gender of all the characters. Whether publishing houses will decide to publish it or not, no one knows yet, but we will soon see!

Living in Italy has given Jeff a second life. Even if he has continued to live as a “perpetual foreigner,” he now feels that,  “after years and years, maybe the facets come together in a unified whole, and you realize you’ve been enriched by the process.” 

Language and its secrets have been the main friends that have driven Jeff’s lifelong adventure. Having the opportunity to compare various languages, playing with them widely, and also teaching something you perhaps can feel and experience only in your mother tongue – even our thoughts are formulated in our native language –  has proved a never-ending chance for growth during Jeff’s special journey. 

This is the power of words, one of the brightly shining stars filling the Galaxy of Arts.

And this is Jeff Shapiro.

-Aurora Angiolini, intern


⬇Click the sections below to explore the projects created within our various courses ⬇ (8) (10) (9) (12) (13) (14)    Spring Show invite square

Join us online as we celebrate together the artworks created by the tenacious young artists of the Siena Art Institute and Siena School for Liberal Arts during the very unusual circumstances of the Spring 2020 semester. Despite the limitations of having to work from home amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, our students have been tenaciously and creatively continuing with their artistic projects, including work from our courses in ceramics, photography, silversmithing, music, art history, museum studies, and the interdisciplinary Art & Society course.

The slideshow below offers a glimpse into our recent meetings with teachers & students working remotely since Italy’s Covid-19 “lock-down” went into effect on March 9:

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A glimpse back at the start of our Spring 2020 semester between students’ arrival on January 24 and the national “lock-down” of March 9:

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To kick off the inauguration of our end-of-semester exhibition, we are holding a live broadcast on Facebook between two continents!   At 5:30pm on Saturday May 9th (11:30 am NYC) our students will be our “correspondents” for a live broadcast through the Facebook page of the Siena Art Institute ( ), allowing our young artists to speak about their work and answer questions from the public.

The participants in our Spring 2020 semester come from a variety of institutions (the Athens School of Art and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College and the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts (USA), and Oberlin College in Ohio (USA).  Our Greek students were selected to participate in the Siena Art Institute’s Spring 2020 semester program thanks to a special scholarship offered in collaboration with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Looking forward to the Spring 2020 Show Launch Saturday May 9

Looking forward to our Spring Show 2020, launching online Saturday May 9, here is a message from our photography instructor, Jacqueline Tune, reflecting on the challenging circumstances during this spring semester and how our students from the Siena Art Institute & Siena School for Liberal Arts have been able to create remarkable work in the face of numerous obstacles.

Join us for our students’ live online broadcast on the Siena Art Institute‘s Facebook page, Saturday May 9at 5:30pm Italy/ 11:30am NYC/ 08:30 L.A. showcasing the many projects they have completed during the past few months, and our digital exhibition will go live at the same time here on our blog. We hope to see you then!

Preparations for our Spring 2020 Show Launching online May 9!

Preparations are underway looking ahead to our Spring 2020 Show, launching online in 1 week!

Spring show cover evento

Here is a glimpse “behind the scenes” with musician Alípio Carvalho Neto, working with student Ike Fenner in his musical compositions. Join us Saturday May 9 at 5:30pm (Italy time) for a live broadcast on our Facebook page plus our digital exhibition at highlighting the fantastic work created by our students of the Siena Art Institute & Siena School for Liberal Arts during this challenging semester, including music Ike has created under Alípio‘s mentorship!

show announcement illustration credit: student Fernando Torralba

StARTers Live! online broadcast series

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-20 at 12.34.22.jpeg

What does it mean to be an artist during this quarantine period? This spring we are discussing with writers, architects, and visual artists from all over the world for STARTERS LIVE, our new web series live every Tuesday and Friday on the Facebook page of the Siena Art Institute.

Follow the live broadcast at
The broadcasts are viewable to the public, even if you don’t have a Facebook account, and will last appx 20 minutes beginning at 17:30 Siena (11:30am NYC, or use this time zone converter to know what time it will be where you are:

The presenters in our broadcasts are artists from around the world well-known in Siena, who demonstrate their affection for our Tuscan city through their participation:  Madyha J. LeghariLaura MarshCarlos EstévezSusan BarbourGabriel FeldNicoletta di GaetanoLisa Corinne Davis,  Alexandros GeorgiouMagdalena MaslerzNeil GoldbergJulie Wyman, & Mikayel Ohanjanyan.  Find more information about this ongoing series on our StARTers page, and on our Facebook event.

For more info, email

Calender for StARTers Live: Spring 2020

April 21 – Madyha J. Leghari, artist and writer (talk in English)

April 24 – Laura Marsh, visual artist (talk in English)

April 28 – Carlos Estévez, visual artist (talk in English)

May 5 – Susan Barbour, poet, scholar, artist, perfumer (talk in English)

May 8 – Gabriel Feld, visual artist and architect (talk in English)

May 12 – Nicoletta di Gaetano, textile artist (talk in Italian)

May 15 – Lisa Corinne Davis, visual artist (talk in English)

May 19 – Alexandros Georgiou, visual artist (talk in English)

May 22 – Magdalena Maslerz, goldsmith and designer (talk in English)

May 26 – Neil Goldberg, visual artist and performer (talk in English)

May 29 – Julie Wyman, film-maker and performer (talk in English)

June 5 – Mikayel Ohanjanyan, visual artist (talk in Italian)


Students working remotely, Digital Spring Exhibit May 9

Siena Art Institute Onlus

Despite the limitations of having to work from home, our students are tenaciously and creatively continuing with their artistic projects, and making use of the digital platform of our blog to be able to share their work with each other and with the broader public.

Don’t miss our Digital End-of-Semester exhibition launching on Saturday May 9 through our blog and social media channels!  Starting at 5:30pm (Siena time) the young artists and students from the USA and Greece of the Siena Art Institute and the Siena School for Liberal Arts will be the protagonists of our first DIGITAL EXHIBITION live broadcast on Facebook between two continents, celebrating the projects they have created during this spring semester!

Siena Art Institute Onlus

See the pages for our Silversmithing, Ceramics, Music, and Photography classes above with work-in-progress, and check out the projects from the Spring 2020 Art & Society course at the top of each participant’s individual blog page:

StARTers Live: Digital Artist Talks Beginning April 21

Siena Art Institute Onlus

What does it mean to be an artist during this quarantine period? Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday April 21st, we will launch a series of online talks with writers, architects, and visual artists from all over the world: STARTERS LIVE, our new web series live every Tuesday and Friday at 5:30pm Siena (11:30 am NYC).  Join us at FACEBOOK.COM/SIENAART!

The visual artist Madyha J. Leghari will open the season of STARTERS LIVE Tuesday April 21st connecting with us direct from Lahore, Pakistan (presentation in English). Leghari was artist-in-residence in the early months of 2020 at the Siena Art Institute. The protagonists in the upcoming appointments for our broadcasts will be other artists well-known in Siena, who want to demonstrate their affection for our Tuscan city through their participation: Laura MarshGabriel FeldAlexandros GeorgiouMagdalena Maslerz and many more!

Happy Easter

Our photography teacher, Jacqueline Tune, proposed a fun project for each student to create a self-portrait photograph wearing an “Easter Bonnet” they have designed themselves.  Needless to say, materials are somewhat limited under the current “lockdown” but the results are truly fabulous!  Happy Easter everybody!


Rozalia Tegougianni

Fernando Torralba

For more info on the photography class’s current activities, visit:


Art & Society mid-term projects

The five participants in our Art & Society course have just completed their mid-term projects, all using their creativity while working remotely to address the unexpected situations in which we currently find ourselves!  Check out the projects at the top of each participant’s individual blog page:

Responding artistically to Covid-19


Our Greek student Rosa (Rozalia Tegougianni) has created an artistic project in the context of her silversmithing course responding to the use of face masks amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Working safely from her apartment, she has created a metal facemask as an object of art, provoking us to consider its complex meaning and symbolism.  #contemporaryart #stayhome 

Per il corso di artigianato orafo, la nostra studentessa greca Rosa ha prodotto un progetto artistico ispirato all’uso delle mascherine durante la pandemia di Covid-19. Lavorando da casa, la giovane artista ha creato una mascherina di metallo, invitandoci a riflettere sui complessi significati e simbolismi di questo oggetto.  #artecontemporanea #iorestoacasa


Product description:
The surgical disposable face mask covers your nose, mouth and chin, 
offering you full protection.

Age: adult
Color & Style: bronze, ear-loop
Material: sheets of copper-plated zinc
Gender: unisex
Fluid Resistance/Anti-fog: fluid resistant Multiple protections 
to block dust, harmful substances, gases.
Packaging Includes: 1 pc
Place of production: Siena, Italy