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December 4, 2006 10:25 am

Big interview: Marina Galvani

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Marina Galvani has spent her professional life at the intersection of culture and economic policy.

As curator for the World Bank Art Programme, Ms Galvani – a native Italian who earned her Masters in Management from Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration – manages the institution’s art collection and works to promote contemporary art from its member nations, particularly developing countries.

“I am the cultural translator between these two worlds,” she says. “I make sure that the artists are not completely run over by the economists and that the economists are not completely baffled by the artists.”

The bulk of Ms Galvani’s work is organising exhibitions that support the mission of the bank – recent exhibition themes include democratisation, eradicating homelessness and tsunami reconstruction. Her programme also serves as a clearing house for artists around the world who have limited financial resources by helping them create portfolios, put on installations and protect their creative property.

“My professional life has zigzagged: in my negative moments, I think that I am neither fish nor meat, but in my positive moments I am happy that I understand the mentality of both worlds,” she says. Ms Galvani grew up in Vicenza, a small city in northern Italy, about an hour’s drive from Venice. She received a classical education – studying Greek, Latin, art history and German and Russian literature. But her education was not confined to school. “My parents exposed me to high culture at an early age,” she says. “We went to lots of theatre, art exhibitions and operas. It was a wonderful way to grow up.”

After secondary school, she enrolled in Universita Ca’ Foscari di Venezia, a public university in Venice. But after a while in Venice, she found herself hungry for experiences. She moved to Milan to finish her studies at Universita Luigi Bocconi. It was her peak aesthetic experience. “Milan was a dream,” she says longingly. “It is has beautiful 19th century architecture from the industrial revolution. And of course it is famous for design and fashion so there are great ideas all over the place – from the way people dress, to the windows of the shops to the beautiful buildings.”

She greedily consumed all the culture she could, attending regular theatre and art exhibitions. “It made for a stimulating cultural life,” she says. “It was thrilling – perhaps a bit like an American going to New York for the first time and getting a glimpse of the bigger world. Either you’re scared to death or you fall in love for life.” Ms Galvani was decidedly “in love for life” and became determined to figure out a way to have a career in the arts. But she made an unusual decision: rather than obtain a master’s degree in art history, she decided to move to Vienna to attend business school at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration.

Vienna University is part of the Community of European Management Schools (CEMS), an alliance of schools and businesses that offer a pan-European Master’s in International Management programme, a combination of education and professional experience. She chose to study economics, she says, to round out her education. “There was an angle I thought I was missing,” she says.

She says she relished the challenges of business school and still uses many of the lessons she learned in her coursework – particularly lessons on European and international law. “In my job I am constantly looking at questions surrounding the protection of cultural heritage,” she explains, adding that business school helped her learn the framework of cultural property laws.

After earning her business degree, Ms Galvani naturally thought she would try her hand at the business world. She applied for and was offered a job in Munich at a multinational marketing and strategy company. On a whim, however, she also left her CV with several museums and galleries in Vienna.

She had her flight tickets to Munich in her hand and was packed to go when she received a call from the National Museum of Vienna.

“I went in for the interview and [was enthralled by] the fantastic bookshelves full of dust and the slightly eccentric curators who were interviewing me,” she recalls giddily. “I loved it. I said: ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but please hire me’.”

She got the job. Her first assignment was helping the museum’s curator with an exhibition on Isabella D’Este, one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance and a leading cultural and political figure. She remembers fondly working late into the night doing research by candlelight.

The display was nominated as the best European exhibition of 1994.

From there, Ms Galvani moved on to a job at the Danube Krems University developing a cultural studies curriculum for students from Eastern Europe. She also opened
a small consulting business primarily helping the European Union promote economic growth and stability through art.
Art and culture are
integral forces of development, she says, adding that her job with the EU was a rewarding experience.

At a lecture, she received a tip that the World Bank was opening a special programme on cultural heritage. She sent a copy of her CV and was hired. She arrived in August 1998. “I had a terrible culture shock in my first month,” she remembers. “I was used to being in an environment where culture was in the air – where you talked about theatre and art with colleagues and you sat in cafés talking about ideas, and it’s not like that in Washington.

“The second shock was the bank – I found I was dealing mostly with bureaucratic issues.”

Ms Galvani, who has since earned her Masters in art history at the University of Maryland, says she has got over the culture shock and is now very much enjoying her work at the World Bank.

She says she makes a special effort to hire employees with a background in both culture and business. “You can be a fantastic scholar and expert but have no clue about economic policy. And you can be an economist who doesn’t have an understanding of art history.”

You need an understanding of both to operate in Ms Galvani’s world. “You have to know what you’re taking about.”

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