This month, NOW talks to Francesca von Habsburg, the founder of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation that believes art has the capacity to be a transformational force. The TBA21 Collection includes large scale installations, sound compositions, endurance performances and contemporary architecture, and the TBA21–Academy brings together artists, researchers, and thinkers from various fields concerned with today’s most urgent ecological, social, and economic issues. Find out more at https://www.tba21.org.
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
I’m a philanthropic activist. I partner with artists to provide the kinds of support they need to produce exceptional art projects that defy traditional categorization and address the most urgent issues of our time through the lens of art.
Which is your favourite part of your job?
Realising that impact is not as unreachable as when you start. And collaborating with the fascinating people that I meet on my way, who want to make a difference too. We are indeed creating a movement for change, and to achieve that we need to rethink just about everything. Its an amazing time in which to find your own creativity towards solutions. Its not enough to cut and paste solutions that work elsewhere.
Which is the part that you enjoy the least?
When I run into bureaucracy or corruption, or both.
Who is your greatest influence?
The Dalai Lama, because he showed me that I should trust my instincts and not to be intimidated by academia. He also taught me to never give up!
Best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t play to people’s expectations of you. Always surprise them.
What was your Plan B?
There is no plan B, there is no planet B.
Your personal indulgence?
Travel and scuba diving in remote places.
How do you like to travel?
Favourite sustainable hotel or other place to stay?
The Franciscan Monastery of Lopud in Croatia.
What steps do you take to make your life more sustainable?
I make sure to weave the local communities into the conservation projects that I support. Philanthropists and activists need to integrate local communities into our projects and work directly with them to produce real results. Parachuting into localities with only a western perspective or experience, as excellent as it may be, tends to erode over time when not fully accepted and woven into the fabric of the local community. After all they are the ultimate guardians of that area.
Hotels or other places to stay who walk the talk on sustainability in your experience?
The Alpina Gstaad is a perfect example. It was built sustainably form the beginning and a choice example of tourism with a conscience.
If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?
The Pope. And I would ask him to continue his pioneering statements about the environment. It’s the first time a Pope has ever spoken about climate change.
Any regrets so far?
That I trust everyone! But it’s better than going through life not trusting.
What must happen NOW to help make our planet more sustainable?
At a time when governments are stepping back from collectively working on global issues and core human values are overridden by financial gain and political expediency, it is artists who are stepping forward to produce works that address the most pressing issues of our times. Their engagement provides new sources of compelling information, generates empathy and awareness, and catalyzes action.
As investigators, creators, knowledge-synthesizers, and inspired communicators, artists provide the detailed insights and visceral analysis that the news media is unable to achieve. This is why I feel NOW is the time for us to look at the world through the lens of art, especially since it has always had the power to galvanize people across national boundaries and chart pathways into the future.