Scuola Holden was founded in 1994 by five friends, all in their thirties (those were the years of optimism and nobody was thinking that we were going to go straight towards a world economic crisis). The idea was to create a school for storytellers. Back then, the word “storytelling” was definitely out of fashion. And in Italy, as well as in “old” Europe generally speaking, people tended to believe that teaching people how to write and things like that were useless, perhaps even noxious, but definitely annoying anyway. The five thirty-year-old friends had a different way of thinking.
The school was named Holden because the idea was to create a school Holden Caulfield would never have been expelled from. In other words, a place for out of the ordinary people. In a way, choosing that name represented a commitment. To this day, in fact, the school has had a very singular way to “raise” students. The methods, principles and rules that are used at Scuola Holden are quite difficult to find in other schools. It’s not without reason that the last three lines of The Catcher in the Rye has and always will be the motto of the school.
It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything.
If you do, you start missing everybody.
For twenty years, Scuola Holden was quite of a small school with about sixty students in the main course and another couple of hundred in other small courses or courses spread around Italy. The main offices were in a liberty style building in Turin near the river Po which was as big as a couple of tennis courts. The classrooms looked a bit like those in the elementary schools where we all grew up with blackboards and geographical maps on the walls (upside down, nobody ever knew why). It’s hard to believe it now but lots of things happened in those twenty years. Over three hundred students graduated, the school was about to close down a couple of times but then it became the most famous school of its kind in Italy.
Since 2013, Scuola Holden has grown much bigger. It moved from its original location into a beautiful old bomb-making factory that had been lying abandoned for years before Turin city council put it out to tender and invite bids. Then, in less than a year, the school turned into a place where storytellers are made instead of bombs. It took a lot of work, a fair amount of leaning towards optimism and a fair share of luck. New Scuola Holden opened on the evening of 14 September 2013, with a lesson held by Renzo Piano (and afterwards there were even fireworks!). At the moment there are between 250 and 300 students, depending on the year, and they all look quite happy.
Every day there are about fifteen employees, dozens of freelancers and thousands of teachers working to make the school function (and most of them look quite happy). “How to make the most beautiful school in the world” is what is said while walking about the school by those who’re summarizing their objectives. In some (actually rare) lucid moments, the sentence is rephrased to a softer version: “how to make the school we all dreamt of when we were at school”. And everybody believes that that is definitely an achievable goal.
Scuola Holden is a private school, in the sense that it’s not financed by public funding. It is self-sufficient and is owned by four partners: Alessandro Baricco, a writer, Carlo Feltrinelli, a publisher, Oscar Farinetti, the inventor of Eataly and Andrea Guerra, one of the best managers in Italy. Curiously, when it came to appoint the chief executive officer, the decision ended up being Mauro Berruto, Italy’s national volleyball team ex coach. If somebody ever asked those four why they undertook such an endeavour, the answer they would probably get is: “come and see the school and you’ll understand”.