Meaningful, immediate participation in the arts is a belief shared by the experimental theatre company Theater Mitu and Bill Bragin, the new executive artistic director of the NYUAD Arts Center.



By Clare Dight

Bragin, who joined the university from the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in New York in December, is charged with strengthening community ties on NYUAD’s new Saadiyat campus and with the city and the wider region, through a strong and varied arts programme that will be multidisciplinary, compelling and (whisper it) fun.

“Fun is important,” Bragin tells me. “Sometimes there’s a sense that the performing arts are just about education or enlightenment or elevation and that is part of it, and there will be certain programmes [at the Arts Center] that will be about that, but that also doesn’t mean that it won’t be fun.”

What interests Bragin is not the distinction between “high” arts and the popular arts but making excuses for everyone to come ­together. “Part of the mission is to enliven the campus,” he says, and to create natural meeting places; at the end of this month, the East Plaza in front of the Arts Center will host Just A Band, the well-known music and art collective from Kenya.

“You come together to dance and party with your neighbours and meet new people because there is just something that happens when you chance upon people in a crowd that helps to build connections,” Bragin says.

As you might expect, the partying serves a higher purpose. As well as drawing a diverse crowd of people from campus and beyond, the presence of Just A Band builds on academic faculty and student interests in a way that has a wider intellectual resonance.

“There is a whole movement now about Afrofuturism, a conversation globally about artists from African-American heritage who are drawing on science fiction aesthetics and redefining what the images are of what it means to be African. [Just A Band] are very much in that ­conversation.”

Bragin has been impressed by the warmth of the welcome he’s received in Abu Dhabi, a place that he believes is unique for its mix of people from so many different ethnicities and walks of life.

His hope is that the university’s Arts Center, the NYUAD Institute’s lecture programme and faculty and student events create a blueprint for the Saadiyat cultural project. “Part of the attraction is to be part of this project to make culture a central component of Abu Dhabi’s identity. And to be here at the beginning before the Louvre opens up, before the Guggenheim opens up, to set the parameters for what that might mean, that’s a unique ­opportunity.”