We had the good fortune of connecting with Ombretta Agro’ Andruff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ombretta, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
If you ask my husband, I am a workaholic; if you ask many of our friends, we live a dream life, with the perfect balance of work and play…how is it possible? It is because I absolutely love what I do and, while I might work long days, it rarely feels like a ‘job’.
And that is the key, at least for me, to achieve this almost-perfect equilibrium. I chose long ago, at the very beginning of my career as a contemporary art curator, to work independently. I knew right away that I wasn’t made to trade my time for someone else’s money: that I needed the liberty to chose my own schedule, to select the partners and collaborators I wanted to work with, and, the kind of projects I was interested in pursuing. While it has not been always an easy ride, with many exhilarating ups and as many extremely deep downs, I would not change a minute of the past 25 years I spent on this thrilling ride.
Our decision to move out of New York City, after an amazing 16 years stunt, and relocate to Miami Beach, in late 2012, has definitively had a positive impact on the work/play scale. I always loved the ocean, but had lost my connection to it while living in Manhattan. The move to Miami rekindled that passion and it led to establish the platform I now run, ARTSail Residency and Research Initiative, which brings together artists and cultural producers with scientists, marine experts, and climate activists to investigate how climate change and man-made pollution are impacting our precious waterways and the marine life that inhabits them. So now restoring corals while diving, snorkeling along a marine biologist, sailing on research vessels, or recording underwater sounds along one of our resident artists, has become part of what I do for living. I invented my dream ‘job’ and so, if you ask me…. I do live the dream life and I am grateful for every second of it!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have built my curatorial career on an independent practice that has enabled me to travel and work extensively, collaborating with artists, galleries and institutions virtually the world over. The challenging projects, in particular, have provided me with incredibly rich learning experiences that have fostered the ability to adapt to diverse working environments and collaborations with a broad range of partners.
In my projects, I frequently work with a variety of media, often crossing the evermore porous boundaries between visual art, sound, dance, architecture and design; addressing the specific topic/issues within each endeavor by way of exploring them from a number of angles and contexts.
In 2015, in partnership with ArtCenter / SouthFlorida, now Oolite Arts, and the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science, I created ARTSail, a nomadic multi-faceted platform providing artists and cultural producers with an opportunity to study Miami’s coastlines and waterways. As a result, my curatorial approach has shifted toward a more activist stance, addressing the threat of the climate crisis not only through my curatorial practice, but also through organizing workshops, panel discussions and a variety of outreach programs to connect with audiences both within and outside the walls of traditional art institutions.
In my view, there is no doubt that cultural producers offer creative solutions that awaken or increase community awareness about environmental matters. My goal, through ARTSail, is to facilitate the production of artwork with advocacy value, and engage the general public through discovery, preservation and protection of South Florida’s remarkable, yet fragile, waterways including the sea life below the surface.
While this all sounds amazing, it has not been a walk in the park: working independently, and setting up your own organization, means spending less time on creating content, and more time fundraising, which can be extremely frustrating. But it’s a reality, and a challenge, that I had to accept in stride. So, now, writing grants, a lot of them, organizing fundraising campaigns and knocking on people’s doors for support has become part of my professional life. I wish I could say it gets easier with time, but it actually doesn’t. Yet, the incredible people I am meeting along the way, the inspiring artists we work with, the activists who tirelessly fight on behalf of the environment, make it all worth it!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Miami is a unique place, where tropical paradise meets Gotham City, pristine beaches blend into run-down neighborhoods, and high-brow culture mixes with local folklore. It’s a city that requires a real commitment if you want to know its inner core, past the glitter, the party life and the white beaches.
My suggested itinerary starts in South Beach with an early beach walk and a dip into its turquoise water at sunrise, before the crowds take over. Breakfast will be at Lilikoi, a lovely and intimate café at the southern end of South Beach, at the edge of the wonderful South Pointe park, a great spot for a run, yoga or rollerblading.
There are many museums that have re-opened that are worth a visit, I would start with the The Wolfsonian-FIU, located in the heart of the Art Deco District of Miami Beach: a museum, library and research center that uses its collection to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design between the two wars. Take a stroll through the famed Art Deco district up to the Bass Museum, a contemporary art venue, located in a historic limestone art deco building featuring diverse art, artifacts & sculpture garden, plus films & lectures.
Lunch at the Betsy Hotel followed by a stroll on the Lincoln Road mall, a pedestrian street designed in the 1950s by renowned architect Morris Lapidus. Don’t miss the newly opened SHOWFIELDS, a concept store that merges contemporary art with interesting brands, focused on sustainability. In the evening check out Sound Scape Park for potential outdoor programs, be it a film projection or a live-stream of a concert by the New World Symphony, a world-class music academy hosted in a Frank Gehry designed building. Dinner at the newly opened Mila, or Chotto Matte, if you’re looking for trendy-chic spots, and if you’re lucky enough to get a table. If you’re looking for a more intimate, low-key experience I recommend Sardinia or NaiYaRa in Sunset Harbor. If you have time, squeeze a cocktail at the Standard on Venetian Way, one of the few places where you can enjoy our spectacular sunsets. For a fun night outing, go to the speak-easy hidden behind the bathroom door at The Bodega y Taqueria on 16th Street.
Spend the following day in the Design District and Little River, enjoying the amazing architectural feat achieved by visionary developer Craig Robins, founder and CEO of Dacra, where you can shop most luxury brands, visit the cutting edge shows at ICA, Institute of Contemporary Art, and the many outdoor art installations and pop-up shows and galleries curated by DACRA fantastic curator, Claire Breukel.
From the District stop for lunch at Mandolin Aegean Bistro and venture north to Little River and Little Haiti for some more art. First the Piero Atchugarry Gallery and Foundation, then the Little Haiti Cultural Center. There are several artist studios complexes if you’re interested in seeing the spaces where the creative magic happens, such as the Fountainhead Studios and The Bakehouse Art Complex. There are also many galleries in the area (Nina Johnson, Primary, Bill Brady, Emerson Dorsch) that are worth checking out. For dinner have some Haitian flare at Chef Creole in the heart of Little River. After dinner, take a night cap in the magical Palapa in Upper Buena Vista.
If you’re interested in more art, the following days don’t miss the spectacular Rubell Museum, unveiled two years ago, and Espacio 23, hosting, respectively, the private collection of legendary collectors Mera and Don Rubell, and of real estate mogul George Perez, both in Allapattah; then immerse yourself in the newly opened Superblue, hosted in a warehouse across from the Rubell Museum, it was created to commission and deliver large scale immersive installations by the likes of James Turrell, and Japanese tech wizards teamLab.
Have lunch at Leku, inside the Rubell museum, and head south to Little Havana for some Cuban action. Stroll through bodegas on Calle Ocho, enjoy watching the pros playing at Domino Park, at Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue, and have a traditional Cuban meal at Versailles, or if you’re looking for more contemporary twist, eat at Café La Trova, by James Beard award winning chef Michelle Bernstein. After dinner check out who’s playing at Ball & Chain music venue.
Other neighborhoods and sites I would recommend visiting with the remaining time are Brickell City Center Mall, for a true Gotham City experience take the Omni elevated train to get there; stroll downtown Miami in Bayside Park and walk up to the Frost Science and the Perez Art Museum, where you can have lunch at Verde and hang for the entire afternoon enjoying the art and the gorgeous view of Biscayne Bay.
Lastly, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a boat, don’t miss Stiltsville, a group of wood stilt houses located one mile south of Cape Florida, on sand banks on the edge of Biscayne Bay. They are the remains of a series of speak-easy built in the early 1930s during the prohibition to facilitate gambling which was forbidden on land. There are some amazing snorkeling sites in the area so don’t forget to bring your mask and fins!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This might sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, but my husband is probably the person that I am mostly grateful for, for his unwavering support, and for going along on this wild ride for the past 23 years.
My dad taught me since a very young age to love and respect the ocean, he was my very first long distance swim companion and diving buddy, and I know I would not be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for him.
Professionally I am grateful to a few amazing accomplished business women who gave me the chance to refine my curatorial skills at the very beginning of my career, amongst them Myra Fiori, former Marketing Director for Illy Caffe’ North America, and Bobbi Paley, founder of the advisory firm Art Assets.
And most recently, the shout out goes to George Cummings, an SDG 14 Ocean Ambassador and a true blue heart down to his deepest core. The fact that he worked with Her Deepness, Dr. Sylvia Earl, makes him even more special. He inspires me every day with his tireless efforts to restore and conserve the Blue lung of our Blue Planet.
Instagram: @art_sail @ombrainbow
Photo for cover (inside the elevator): Photo by Carolina Kleine Samson Photo of myself wearing motorcycle helmet: Photo by Monica McGovern