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Asia Art Projects

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Company: Asia Art Projects, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Company Description: Asia Art Projects is an art agency that conceptualizes and executes contemporary art projects with the aim of bringing visual art to the broader public, be it through festivals, exhibitions or other collaborative projects. It also functions as a visual arts consultancy for international arts councils and other organizations that wish to develop their arts programmers and engage with wider audiences.
Nomination Category: Individual Awards Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Female Executive of the Year in Asia, Australia or New Zealand

Nomination Title: Elise Foster Vander Elst, Executive Director

Describe for the judges the activities and accomplishments of the nominated executive since the beginning of July last year (up to 525 words):

I am the Executive Director of Asia Art Projects (AAP), an art agency that I founded in Mumbai, India, in 2011. AAP conceptualizes and executes visual arts projects that bring painting, sculpture, photography and performance out of traditional commercial galleries (that only cater to an educated and wealthy audience), into the streets, and unconventional spaces.

AAP produces sustainable art exhibitions, festivals and projects that are free to the public and do not have the art market as a raison d’être. Through these activities we are developing cultural and creative infrastructure in the city. These intelligent, thought-provoking exhibitions provide a platform for Mumbai’s residents to interact with contemporary art, and encourage them to question and critique the socio-political environment we live in.

Over the last year I have founded several new initiatives and publications, and led important, existing visual arts projects. They have all been ground-breaking in their approach and have been lauded as successes across India:

- October 2012: Issue 1 of the Mumbai Art Map launched. The map is a beautiful free guide to cultural activities in the city. Released every 6 to 8 weeks, it makes art accessible to those not 'in the know'. It has successfully reached out to new audiences and a significant rise in attendance in numerous cultural events has been reported.

- January 2013: Co-curated and co-organized "Encounters - powerPLAY" a 2 week public art event outdoors where hundreds of regular people encountered art whilst going about their daily routine. The artworks encouraged Mumbaikars to discuss issues of power and conflict in the city ( I was responsible for forging collaborations with local and international arts organizations from Hong Kong, Australia, Italy and Germany to bring artists to Mumbai to participate in this event. Bringing together local and international artists to collaborate was of great value not only to the art community but also to the audience who engaged with the works produced. A ground-breaking project, it celebrated cross-cultural collaboration, and elegantly reached out to an uninitiated public.

- January – August 2013: A few days after the close of "Encounters - powerPLAY", “Homelands” (, my largest project of the year, was launched. I was responsible for managing the British Councils most important art exhibition tour of 2013. It opened in Delhi in January, travelled to Kolkata in February, Mumbai in April, and finally Bengaluru in July. The incredibly successful program included workshops, tours, talks, and outreach program that, along with the exhibition, reached over 50,000 people. It is now being used as a case study for future British Council exhibitions.

- March 2013: I launched FOCUS photography festival, a celebration of photography and the city ( FOCUS was the first of its kind celebrating the work of 100+ photographers, with 24 exhibitions across 2 amazing weeks in Mumbai. FOCUS had the participation of 52 different partners, hosted 30+ events, was free and open to all, and was enjoyed by 30,000+ visitors. I led the project, and was one of three co-founders who conceptualised and developed it from scratch. The festival was heralded as a triumph by partners, visitors and the media, who await the next edition in 2015.

Provide a brief biography of the nominated executive (up to 125 words):

Elise has been working in the art world since 2003. An art historian by training, she started her career in New York at MoMA P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.

After a Masters in contemporary art at the Sorbonne, she joined a parisian art gallery to set up their Indian department, followed by a move to Bonhams (the British auction house), where she ran their first French sale. In 2009 she moved to India to launch Gallery BMB in Mumbai. In 2011 she founded Asia Art Projects, and has been working on cross-cultural visual arts initiatives ever since. Elise Co-Curated the 2013 edition of the “Encounters” public art initiative, and co-founded the first “Focus Photography Festival”, a biannual event launched in March 2013 in Mumbai.