The New York Times profiles Executive Artistic Director Bill Bragin
This article was first published by The New York Times SEPT. 22, 2014
A Globalizer for N.Y.U. in Abu Dhabi
By BEN SISARIO
Six years ago, Bill Bragin, the music programmer whose hyper-multicultural lineups put Joe’s Pub on the international map, surprised the New York arts world by moving uptown to Lincoln Center. Now he is making an even bigger move, to Abu Dhabi.
On Monday, New York University Abu Dhabi — the institution’s four-year-old branch in the capital of United Arab Emirates — will announce that Mr. Bragin, 47, will become the first executive artistic director of the new university’s performing arts center, giving him command over a 700-seat theater, two smaller performance halls and a screening room. The arts center will be located on Saadiyat Island, a $27 billion planned cultural hub that is to eventually include branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.
Mr. Bragin, who since 2008 has been Lincoln Center’s director of public programming, overseeing summer programs like Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Midsummer Night Swing, is known for insightful pairings of far-flung musicians from around the world, and for mixing traditions old and new. That has given him a wide influence in New York and beyond, but Mr. Bragin said that helping to shape the vision of a new institution at a major global crossroads like Abu Dhabi was just too interesting an opportunity to pass up.
“This allows me to test all of my ideas about curation, about audience development, about building communities through arts presenting,” Mr. Bragin said in an interview. “And also challenge my own worldview every single day in a cultural context that is really different but has these strong links to New York.”
N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi opened in 2010 with a mission of providing a world-class education to a globalized generation. The 263 students in its current freshman class are from more than 75 countries and speak 66 languages, according to the university.
“It’s diverse in a way that inspires me,” said Mr. Bragin, who will move there this fall but retain ties to New York programs like Globalfest, the annual showcase of up-and-coming international artists of which he is a co-producer. Mr. Bragin said that his wife, Lisa Philp, a philanthropy expert at the Foundation Center in New York, would take on new responsibilities including a focus on the Middle East.
N.Y.U. has come under scrutiny over labor abuses in the construction of the Abu Dhabi campus that were detailed in an investigative article in The New York Times in May. The university has formally apologized to any workers who were mistreated and said it would investigate.
Alfred H. Bloom, the vice chancellor of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, praised Mr. Bragin in an interview and likened his eclectic programming approach to the university’s broader educational goals. “It’s the juxtaposition of ideas that so often allow people to grow,” Mr. Bloom said, “to break down the assumptions they’ve had about the way things are and to start seeing life in a new and more possible framework.”
BEN SISARIO is a staff reporter for The New York Times, covering music and culture.