Marianna Gatto is the executive director and cofounder of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA), a historian and author with nearly two decades of experience in public history, non-profit leadership, museum development, historic preservation, grant writing, and education.
Gatto has dedicated most of her career to chronicling and generating awareness about the history of Italian Americans in Southern California. As the museum’s director, Gatto oversees exhibitions, development, programming, education, grants, and preservation initiatives, as well as advocacy and marketing. She authored and co-curated the IAMLA’s permanent exhibition, an award-winning exhibit that examines the 200- year history of Italian Americans in the region and nation. She has grown the museum’s collection to a rare repository of several thousand photographs, artifacts, oral histories and archival documents.
In 2008 and 2009, Gatto spearheaded an advocacy campaign that resulted in an allocation of substantial public funds from the City of Los Angeles to renovate the Italian Hall, the historic building in which the IAMLA is located. Gatto became the executive director of the IAMLA in 2010 and has raised most of the museum’s major gifts.
Gatto’s research produced Los Angeles’s Little Italy (2009) and Beyond Little Italy: Italian Americans in the City of Angels, which will be released in 2020. Her writings are featured in national publications, and she has appeared in several documentary films including the PBS series The Italian Americans and Finding the Mother Lode: Italian Americans in California. Gatto has collaborated on local and national initiatives including California State Assembly Concurrent Resolution 68, and the historic designation of Tuna Canyon, a WWII-era detention center for Japanese and Italian Americans. Gatto is a frequent lecturer on Italian Americans in Southern California. She facilitates diversity and inclusion training for corporations and government entities, which have included the Department of Homeland Security and Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
In 2008, Gatto created what has become the IAMLA’s signature annual event, Taste of Italy. She also researches and writes the histories of the museum’s elite cadre of donors known as the Founding Families. Among the temporary exhibitions she has created for the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles are The Sicilian Cart: History in Movement, Italianità: Artists of the Italian Diaspora Explore Identity, Leo Politi’s Los Angeles-Works of Love and Protest, and Fantasy World: Italian Americans in Animation.
Gatto began her career as an educator in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. She then worked for the City of Los Angeles, overseeing matters pertaining to history and preservation, museums, and education. Her years with the City of Los Angeles produced acclaimed exhibitions including L.A. 225: Los Angeles Through the Eyes of Artists, Sacred Memories: Honoring the Dead Across Cultures, and Sunshine and Struggle: The Italian Presence in Los Angeles, 1827-1927. The California Education Standards-based curriculum guide she authored, My City, My History, was used in the region’s schools.
A lifelong resident of Los Angeles, Gatto attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and California State University Los Angeles, graduating magna cum laude with degrees in social science and history, before pursuing a teaching credential in secondary education and a master’s degree in history. Gatto has served as an advocate and consultant for non-profit organizations and the private sector in fields of policy, planning, and development. Gatto has been honored by the City of Los Angeles for her work on two occasions, and has been recognized by the State of California for her contributions.
Gatto is a dual citizen of the United States and Italy. She resides in Los Angeles, is married and has adult sons.