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Thompson Hotels NYC Influencers X Ella Marder


Hooked on art—A curator shaping New York culture

When Parisian-born Ella Marder moved to New York in 2008 she left behind an already impressive artistic career in France to take a chance in the big apple. After an impressive stint as the Associate Cultural Attaché for the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, she met artist Dustin Yellin and was inspired by his vision to turn an abandoned iron works building in Red Hook, Brooklyn, into one of the most exciting and progressive art institutions in New York.

Marder was Yellin’s first hire in 2013 and as Program Director she has shaped the Pioneer Works Center for Arts and Innovation ever since.

The number of outright amazing exhibitions and events Pioneer works has going on in 2015 is astounding. Let’s start with the Village Fete hosted by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Liv Tyler this month, the 1:54 African Art Fair during Frieze, a concert series with Issue Project Room in June, a partnership with FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival multidisciplinary festival in September, and a partnership with the Performa Bienniale in November. Wow. When does she sleep?!

Checking out Second Sundays (from 4pm – 10pm) is another way to immerse yourself in the unique Pioneer Works vibe. Artist studios are open to the public and there’s live music from world-renowned bands starting from 6.30pm.

Here Marder reveals how she knew she was a creative being from day one, how Pioneer Works maintains its vision and more.

What is the mission of Pioneer Works? 

Pioneer Works is a one-of-a-kind laboratory platform and hub for cross-disciplinary conversation and interactions in the city. Ideas, projects, utopias are born everyday in what used to be one of the largest US Iron Manufacturing Companies in the 19th century. The creative spell lies all around, from the ground to the third floor.

Scientists and dancers, sculptors and photographers, geneticists and painters all work next to one another – in making this world a more interesting place, day after day, and bit by bit. Pioneer Works is a school, a residency program, a performance space, and a museum. But a special kind of museum, that is a museum of process, where the behind the scenes are always visible.

You’ll find very few doors at PW, few walls. And if there are, they are made of clear glass. Our artist’s studios have no 4th wall or door, actually. The residents are essentially “on view” from the day they move in until they end the program.

As Program Director how do you decide which artists to include? Are there certain criteria you look for?

Our curatorial approach—for both exhibitions and performances—is purposefully not pre-defined, and very much a collaborative one within the team. We seek out innovative projects and challenging ideas from emerging and known artists (both dead and alive). We like to give our partners the space and resources to pursue their craft by removing monetary and marketing pressures, which so often suffocate or limit an artist’s freedom and ambition.

We presented over 45 exhibitions in the last two years, ranging from site-specific commissions to international traveling shows and local institutional collaborations (i.e. projects we presented with Clocktower Productions or the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam).

How and when did your fascination with the arts begin? 

Fascination with the arts began in utero, literally. And then right at first cry.

I was born to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations in Paris 30 years ago. My New York native father is a classical bass player and film composer, and my mother a writer and theater critic in France. I was exposed to the arts, and surrounded by artists across the board as early as I can remember. I went to see plays 2 to 3 times a week, and spent most of my childhood traveling around, from theater to music to film festivals. Falling asleep on a restaurant chair, theater seat, in a double bass soft-case – bohemian chic!

Career journey has been a varied one, and quite eclectic. In Paris I founded the cultural column Rue89 (a French media site), I was an art & cinema critic at Liberation (French Daily Newspaper), and I produced exhibitions at the Institut Memoires de l’Edition Contemporaines (Contemporary Archive Library), Paris.

When I moved to New York in Fall 2008, I started working as Associate Cultural Attaché for the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. I left this position in Spring 2013 to embark on the Pioneer Works Art Foundation journey. I met the founder Dustin Yellin at an auspicious moment. The beautiful building and vision for Pioneer Works was all were there but the programs and overall administrative structure, as well as a team, needed to be put in place. That’s where I came in. I am proud to claim the status of first hire. 

Since then I have created, developed, and implemented the activities and operations of Pioneer Works’ multi-arts, education, residency, outreach programs and events. So far the most incredible, unrivaled and wonderful challenge and job I’ve had the chance of taking on!

What are your favorite places in the city to take in the arts and why do you love them so much?

The Metropolitan Museum, for its endless supply of wonders from across the centuries, and beautiful classical music concerts

BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) for its top notch film, theater and dance programs, from all around the world

The Morgan Library for the most inspiring private book collection

– The Neue Galerie for its Cafe Sabarsky and its beautiful permanent Design collection – especially their Art Deco chairs, ashtrays and wine glasses

Dia Art Foundation for its light, layout, and charming town all around

Storm King Art Center for meditative walks and open horizons

– Pioneer Works and MOMA PS1 for their openness, cutting edge mission, and cool vibes

– But really the city itself: its architecture, blue skies and blunt light, buildings, skyline, sounds and heartbeat – all are a big spectacle, that never ceases to amaze and move me, every day.