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Nadine Braquetti – Executive Director of KODA

Nadine Braquetti - Executive Director of KODA
Nadine Braquetti - Executive Director of KODA

Nadine Braquetti is the Executive Director of KODA, a New-York based arts nonprofit dedicated to mid-career artists ingrained in social justice. She oversees the production of art exhibitions, artist residencies, professional development programs, and community-based cultural events. She has lived and participated in a variety of projects, exhibitions, and events in Europe and the United States. She is also an Independent Curator, particularly drawn to in-situ installations that enable multisensory experiences and emotional responses. She previously interned at the public arts nonprofit Creative Time and in the Fine Art Program and Collection at Montefiore Einstein Medical Center. She has volunteered through the Online Volunteering service of the UN Volunteers program on several occasions, to support organizations located in Africa. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration with specialization in International Marketing. 

 What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts? 

One of my very first experiences in the art world was a student internship at the Fine Art Program and Collection at Montefiore Einstein Medical Center in New York. This visual arts program is dedicated to integrating the arts in Montefiore’s healthcare facilities to humanize the hospital experience. The purpose is to provide a restorative and supportive environment in service to patients, their families, caregivers, students, faculty, and the community. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that the presence of visual art in healthcare reduces stress and pain levels, stimulates mental resilience, and contributes to patients’ health outcomes.

This experience gave me the opportunity to meet and work with Director and Curator extraordinaire Jodi Moise. It has been fascinating to learn how certain artworks, depending on color palettes, subjects, and medium, would be more beneficial to certain patients depending on their reason of stay. For instance, artworks in the pediatric department would be more joyful, those in the maternity department would be more soothing, and those in the physical rehabilitation department would be more energetic. Learning how to select artworks to engender a specific effect depending on the patients’ needs, and curating an uplifting setting that can foster well-being and encourage healing, was truly captivating.

Another thing I came to realize after this experience, is that each new person you meet, could be a door open to future exciting projects. This is particularly true in New York: it’s part of the mentality in this city of endless opportunities. For instance, KODA is very honored to have partnered up with the Fine Art Program and Collection at Montefiore Einstein, collaborating with Jodi Moise to commission public artworks in the Gallery in the Gardens at Montefiore’s Moses Campus. These artworks focus on environmentally themes and community enrichment. For the spring/summer of 2021, our past artist in residence Lina Puerta created “Maple Tree of Love Tapestry”, an artwork paying homage to the trees lined outside the medical center, symbols of strength and endurance. For this spring/summer, we are working with a recent artist in residence Sari Carel. She will use an eco-friendly approach to create a piece that will offer a calming pause from the stress of the hospital environment.

 Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?

I was born and raised in Réunion Island, a French overseas department located in the Indian Ocean, on the east of Africa. It’s a tropical island rich in cultural diversity. The majority of people are of mixed descent (African, Asian, and European), forming a rainbow-colored population, all living in harmony. This multiculturalism is reflected in the various religions, cosmopolitan cuisine, and of course, in culture and arts. For example, Maloya, a type of music, song, and dance native to Réunion Island, was created by Malagasy and African slaves working on the island’s sugar plantations, to express their pain and revolt. It has evolved and been enriched further, incorporating other influences. It became a true cultural mixing and is today one of the main components of the island’s identity, accompanying every important event, notably as a means for asserting political rights. It has now been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In visual arts, the multiculturalism, as well as the history of Réunion Island, marked by slavery and indentured labor, are a source of inspiration for many artists. There are great institutions promoting local artists and contemporary art such as La Cité des Arts, and FRAC RÉUNION (Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain de La Réunion). There have been exciting initiatives recently, such as the partnership between five museums of Réunion Island and The Louvre museum’s Department of Graphic Arts, bringing their collections together to present the exhibition Résonances, Le Louvre à La Réunion in 2021.

Coming from a tropical island with beautiful luxuriant vegetation has certainly shaped what I do in the arts today. I sometimes say that I came to art through flowers. After I left Réunion at age 18, I mainly lived in big cities, completely disconnected from nature. After a while, I felt an urgent need to reconnect, and I discovered the world of floral design, where creativity seems endless. To me, the best illustration of this is Fleuramour, a yearly event taking place in the castle of Alden Biesen in Belgium. About 200 of the most famous floral designers gather there from around the world to create in-situ floral installations and designs that last only a few days. This led me to explore the work of well-known flower designers such as Daniël Ost, and of artists using flowers and organic materials to create, such as Rebecca Louise-Law. From there, I grew an interest in land art and ephemeral art, and started to delve into contemporary art in general. Which led to my decision to prepare my second Master’s, in contemporary art, at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. And this opened the doors to the big art world. Also, it’s where I met Klaudia Ofwona Draber, the Founder and President of KODA – and the most brilliant person I know.

 I still have a particular interest for in-situ installation, works that bring dreamy enchantment to a public space, and stimulate emotions. Nature is a recurrent theme in my work as a curator. My first curatorial project, titled “Les Fleurs Sauvages” (The Wild Flowers) was a multidisciplinary exhibition paying tribute to women who have shaped history, and included an ephemeral, site-specific installation made of fresh botanical materials created by artist Hitomi Gilliam, together with other artworks by Evan Paul English, Jeff Henriquez, Julian Iljun Ju, and Dina Lee. Another curatorial project titled “Poem of the Earth: From Ego to Eco” was a low carbon exhibition of “ecopoetic art” exploring the themes of time and cycle, and of human and nature, featuring land art pioneers Steven Siegel and Alan Sonfist, together with newer voices such as Furen Dai, Lena Miskulin, and Erin Turner.

The connection with nature from my background synchronizes a lot with KODA. Actually, the name KODA is also the name of a tree, Ehretia acuminata, which is said to have spread to Australia and South America via Africa, when these continents were still merged. It reminds me of Réunion’s motto: “Florebo quocumque ferar” (I will flourish wherever I am brought). The topic of Nature has also been quite present in our program. Our 2021 residency open call was placed under the theme of “Land + Environment”, with artist Betty Yu and Sari Carel. Our current mid-career survey exhibition, on view through March 5, 2022 at Hunter East Harlem Gallery, “Lina Puerta: Migration, Nature, and the Feminine” puts a great emphasis on the theme of nature. 

 Tell us more about your day-to-day role at KODA. What is one thing you do every day as Executive Director that contributes to the organization’s success?  

In my role as Executive Director of KODA, my day-to-day varies a lot depending on our current projects. Our mission at KODA is to support the artistic and professional growth of mid-career artists, through tailor-made residencies, survey exhibitions, as well as public engagement and professional development opportunities. Consequently, I could be doing a studio visit with an artist, conducting a curatorial consultancy with one of our residents, attending a production meeting with an exhibiting artist, preparing an artist for a public intervention, or doing a site visit for a future event. Or I could be analyzing our marketing data, planning our communication strategy, writing a grant application to support our programming, running a fundraising campaign, meeting a potential project partner, or training a new intern… I feel privileged to have an exciting and versatile job where I never get bored.

My schedule is quite uncommon, but flexible. Since I’m currently based in Europe, I enjoy working quietly in the morning, usually from 8am, when nobody has awoken yet in New York. Early afternoon is “team time”, when I’ll call or be messaging with my colleagues via our virtual office to discuss current projects. And my late evenings would be dedicated to any virtual meetings we have. 

The one thing I do every day that contributes to the organization’s success? While it’s actually not work related, this daily practice surely contributes to my job performance: early physical activity. I wake up at 5:30am during the week to run outside every-other-day in rotation with yoga/stretching at home. Morning exercise clarifies my mind and keeps me energized for the rest of the day. Also, being outdoors while it’s still so calm and peaceful, and enjoying the scenic landscapes of the French Riviera, it’s a real treat.

What has been the greatest challenge leading a nonprofit during these challenging times and how has KODA adapted? 

KODA was founded in December 2019, right before the pandemic hit. Whilst we were still at a very early phase of our development, we grew while adapting to the new reality along the way. All our programming and residencies were designed to take place in a virtual format and we embraced all useful digital tools to organize our work. Actually, our team has always been working remotely. The greatest challenge has been to find ways to continue to best support our artists during this difficult time. We e-met with them monthly to discuss their work, hear their current needs, and prepare for public events. We organized various online events to allow them to engage with and extend their audience. We developed “Home Studios”, a series of interviews to gather Brooklyn artists’ experience of the pandemic. Also, while stressful and enraging, the challenging social and political context acted as a fuel for our work. It made our mission to support artists ingrained in social justice even more urgent and meaningful.

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

 Stay true to yourself, find your tribe, and be supportive. 

What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good supervisor?

A good employee is a team player, someone reliable, a person of integrity. Most importantly, they have a growth mindset. And a positive attitude is always valued.

To me, a good supervisor would be similar to a good gardener. They provide a nurturing setting and tailored guidance to encourage individual growth and bloom, which then produce beneficial outcomes for the community. And they do so in a sustainable way for the people, and the environment. 

What are you most excited for this year at your company or in the art world as a whole?

For the first time, KODA will have its own house on Governors Island, NY, thanks to The Trust for Governors Island. It is a beautiful red brick historic building where we will host our residencies and programming. I can’t wait to meet our future artists in residence for the spring and fall seasons. 

How do you think the art world can become more transparent?

Widespread pay transparency on job postings to address gender wage gap, would be a good start. 

What is the best exhibition you have seen recently? 

The last exhibition I visited was “Tremblements” (“Tremblings”) at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, curated by Célia Bernasconi. It presents a selection of works acquired under the direction of its former director, Marie-Claude Beaud, between 2009 and 2021. The show is located at Villa Paloma, one of the museum’s two locations in the Principality, and one of the finest buildings in Monaco, with its original staircase, stained-glass windows, mosaics, and columns… and the incredible view from the terraced garden surveying the city and the sea. It was stunning to discover these powerful contemporary artworks, by prominent artists such as Nan Goldin, Arthur Jafa, and Yinka Shonibare CBE (RA) to name a few, in such a unique setting.

If you could own work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

I don’t see myself as a collector, but I do like, whenever I can, to acquire work from artists I worked with, as a keepsake of the experience we shared together. To me the artworks symbolize the emotional connection I feel towards these artists. They also represent a glimpse into the unique creative universes I was fortunate to be invited in for a moment in time. Therefore, in my case, this question would mean, who would you dream to work on a project with, or, whose creative process would you love to witness? The list is endless, but on top of my head, I would say: Marina Abramović for her powerful performances, Sophie Calle for her intriguing conceptual work, Doris Salcedo for her in-situ installations, Kara Walker for her bold approach, and Anicka Yi for her fascinating olfactory experiences.

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