Supporting creative work by women
Valeria Orani founded Umanism as a platform to support European arts in New York City. Before moving to the Big Apple, she worked in public and private Italian theatre institutions as Administrative Director, Coordinator and Executive Producer, supporting a large number of artistic projects. In 2003 Valeria founded 369gradi, a center for the promotion and distribution of Italian culture, to investigate new possibilities in contemporary art, performing arts and drama.
Valeria spoke to Works by Women about the meaning behind Umanism, the best advice she can give, and what it’s like to work in Europe and the United States. Plus, she is supporting the US premiere of Pitecus, a new piece by Italy’s Rezza-Mastrella, at La MaMa October 13–16.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about Umanism. Where do you see the company going and growing?
VALERIA ORANI: Umanism is the crasis, i.e. a term which combines the Italian word “Umanesimo” (the cultural movement of the XV century) and the American term “Humanism”. Its aim is to create a bridge between the Italian arts scene and the US, and link creative planning with enterprise. Umanism was created following two years of research to find out the most effective strategies for the development of a company which would take care of the business, services and cultural promotion of Italian and European artists. I can now comfortably say that our agency is fully dedicated to supporting cultural relations internationally. New York is an exceptionally significant staging area, and being here helps us not lose sight of our mission. It is possible to support artists who decide to invest in their work promotion, by helping them become highly visible and by finding their audience or potential clients. Our customers are artists, but also craftsmen or skilled workers, designers, chefs. By re-interpreting tradition in any shape or form so as to inspire creativity is a trend which will likely support another Renaissance.
WBW: You’ve produced in Italy and New York. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
VO: Our proposals, whether a theatre premiere, the launch of an exhibition or a dance symposium, all have one feature in common: a core idea which gradually takes shape and becomes something more concrete. From that point of view, our work is fairly similar regardless of what it produces.
The difference between one project and another is rather made by all those who are involved in the operations and by the funds which are allocated to make it happen. Public funding is far superior than private funding in Italy and Europe. This means that when an Italian artist wants to challenge the New York scene he/she will hardly know what to do to find resources. When you start your project here from the very beginning, it will typically develop into a more dynamic way, making it easier for everybody to fund the required resources.
WBW: What makes cultural exchange so important and powerful?
VO: Globalization is often blamed for many problems. It has, though, one positive feature, which is the creation of a ‘global village’, where arts may facilitate blending by avoiding the ‘re-run’ trap (like on TV) and by opening new doors. The power of human nature is dialogue, and creativity makes dialogue more lively and powerful. This is all incredibly important.
WBW: Why theater? What draws you to it?
VO: It is my karma. I started when I was a teen ager, and have never given up since then. It is my passion, not just a job. I am a lucky person.
WBW: Tell me about the current projects you are supporting?
VO: As well as taking care of the full events organization, Umanism offers support planning services. We are currently working on the promotion of Pitecus (pictured above), a show by Rezza-Mastrella, which will be onstage at La MaMa from 13-16 of October. We are also hoping to establish partnerships with an array of artists who will be visiting New York throughout the new year.
So far, we have worked closely with Armitage Foundation led by Karole Armitage, an important choreographer and arts director of several successful team effort events. Her “American Dream” was a grand and challenging show which was produced in New York, but was performed in Ravello, Italy. It involved may dancers and had the first dancers of the New York City Ballet and Ailey II as featured guests, and the lead of Richard Move.
Umanism’s planning efforts currently focus on the Italian Playwright Project which has been developed with the The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York City. This is a very important project for me because it gives me the chance to promote the written work of Italy’s most important contemporary authors, with the aim of supporting their international launch by translating it and disseminating it.
WBW: Who or what inspires you and your work?
VO: Because of my job, I have had the chance to meet many masters. Fulvio Fo, who taught me theatre organization, continues to inspire me a lot. Furthermore, the Buddhist doctrine which I have been practicing for nearly twenty years has helped me consolidate my objectives and constantly provides me with a level of self confidence I need to pursue my dreams and make them come true. The awareness I have and which I share with others gives meaning to my work.
WBW: What is the best piece of advice you’ve every been given?
VO: The first few years in New York are not easy, particularly if you are a mature person with a specific objective to follow. My best advice, with all my heart, is to always remind yourself that you are here because you need this city to achieve your objectives. Living in New York is not my objective. My objective is simply to create ‘something’ which will serve to introduce Europe’s contemporary talents to New York. My advice, though, includes at least ten other additions, the most important of which is to always believe in yourself and in what you have to offer.
Picture of Valeria Orani by Roberto Murgia