How This Organization Is Saving Venice One Piece of Art at a Time

Save Venice, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to preserving the city's historic art and architecture.

Art conservators work on Bellini works in Venice
Ongoing conservation of Gentile Bellini’s Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo, 1500 (left) and Procession in Piazza San Marco, 1496, (right). . Photo:

Matteo De Fina/Courtesy of Save Venice

In 1971, Save Venice, which is based in New York, was established as the premier nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of art and architecture in Venice’s city and lagoon. Venice’s rich history, says Melissa Conn, the director of Save Venice’s Venice office, is not only preserved through museums, but also living and breathing buildings, monuments, and works of art. "What we’re doing is preserving the past," she says. 

Save Venice, an honoree in Travel + Leisure's 2023 Global Vision Awards, has been committed to saving and restoring millions of dollars worth of artwork and architecture. One more timely pursuit, Conn says, has been to collaborate with the stately Gritti Palace, a hotel on Venice’s Grand Canal that has been known to attract celebrities and visitors from all over the world. 

In honor of Save Venice’s 50th anniversary, which was celebrated a year late, in 2022, due to the pandemic, the Gritti Palace hosted a gala, honoring the achievements reached by the organization over the past half-century. "Buildings can still do what they were supposed to do," says Conn as an example of Save Venice’s permanent mission statement. These architectural timepieces, restored and still used for their original purposes, are the result of the tireless work of this organization.

An art conservator works on Titian's Assunta in Venice
Conservator Giulio Bono working on site in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari to restore Titian’s Assunta. Restoration was completed in October 2022.

Matteo De Fina/Courtesy of Save Venice

The Gritti Palace will also work with Save Venice to select a specific art conservation project, which they will sponsor for restoration. The idea that a city can be brought back to life — and become not new, but instead exactly as it was hundreds of years ago — is what lies at the heart of Save Venice, an organization dedicated to archival and historical legacy. 

"Nothing new can be built in Venice," says Conn, pointing to the historical import of the Italian city. "You don’t have to worry about tearing things down and starting over." What Save Venice seeks to retain, in a city where a through line of age and architecture reign, is the memory of what once was. "We don’t like to see a lot of transition. We don’t want to see a church become a museum.” 

An art conservator works on mosaics at the Church of Santa Maria and San Donato on the Venetian island of Murano
Students from the Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali restoration school assisting Giovanni Cucco during the conservation of 12th-century mosaics at the Church of Santa Maria and San Donato on Murano.

Matteo De Fina/Courtesy of Save Venice

Even the most challenging projects — the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, for instance, Conn says — are not irredeemable. Such a recent project — a building that's 1,000 years old — has been painstaking, but not impossible to bring back to life, and to its original purpose. "We saved it, but we were a little worried at one point with some structural issues," says Conn. 

Like so many other Save Venice projects (the preservation, for instance, of Vittore Carpaccio’s Narrative Cycle in the Scuola Dalmata, painted in the early 1500s), the Laguna Islands’ Church of Santa Maria has survived — a testament to the thoughtful and time-intensive work the organization has put forth in the name of preservation. Saved from the brink of extinction, this church now lives on, hopefully in perpetuity, a reminder of the human impulse to create art that is both lasting and useful.

Venice’s "cultural patrimony," says Conn, is enduring, so much so that a place like the city, where history seeps into the very walls of every living, breathing place, can continue to move forward — a bridge between past and present. And Save Venice simply helps that bridge to stand a little stronger.

The Travel + Leisure Global Vision Awards aim to identify and honor companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences. Not only are they demonstrating thought leadership and creative problem-solving, they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. What's more, they are inspiring their industry colleagues and travelers to do their part.

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