A deep connection to the creative process began early on in my life in Poland. My mother was a seamstress. Our hours were filled with sorting through colourful fabrics, cutting them out and piecing them together. My Kenyan father was just starting out his international business. Visits to clients’ offices included a curious six-year-old, observing people in suits discussing ambitious technology projects. A love for work-in-progress and witnessing ideas come to life, inspired me to eventually establish an artist residency for mid-career artists—KODA.
Following your passion is both incredibly rewarding and easier said than done. Growth comes with finding comfort in being outside of your comfort zone, because, as Steven R. Covey says in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “the better you get, the very nature of the challenge changes”. So, when you excel at something, the work doesn’t stop—it requires adjustments. I hope that my story will inspire you along your journey, whether as part of the Diploma Programme (DP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), the new MYP Student Innovation grant or in your independent endeavors.
“After graduating from the IB programme in Warsaw, there was this eagerness to explore exciting areas but also keep an open mind.”
Be curious & set your vision
Life kept enticing me with its variety, but art has been the one constant throughout. My friends are dancers, writers, designers, musicians and artists. Being trained as a contemporary and folk dancer myself, I understand creative expression. It took me some time to realize that the love is not only for being around artists but also for working with them. Their ideas and their art reflect both the hardships and the wonders of existence.
After graduating from the IB programme in Warsaw, there was this eagerness to explore exciting areas but also keep an open mind. Undergraduate studies in social sciences took me on a study abroad journey to Paris and to volunteer at an arts non-profit with 30 artist studios. Experiencing the creative energy of the space gave inspiration to the blueprint of KODA, the dream. Now, how to make your dream come true?
Start by defining and mapping out your vision. It will guide you and make it easier to respond to opportunities. And even if it feels like you’re lost at times, you’re still gaining valuable experience. Several years of curating exhibitions and managing projects equipped me with vital skills and knowledge. But to set yourself up to succeed, you should aim to put yourself in the right setting. Pursuing a master’s degree at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York, was the perfect setting for the business plan for KODA to be developed. The non-profit was incorporated soon after and launched at FiveMyles with a survey exhibition Hidemi Takagi: Stories exploring gentrification in Brooklyn.
Collaborate & listen
Following your passion requires guidance—mentors play a significant role. The IB programme and the support of teachers opened up new perspectives and encouraged self-confidence. Later, the master’s advisor taught me that change comes from within, and that to be a leader you first need to take care of yourself, before you are able to give back to others. Developing a business from scratch can be terrifying. It often materializes as a huge void screaming “Why?” and “What next?”. So, there is a great sense of comfort from knowing you’re not in this alone. Reach out to people who have the experience you seek and learning from their mistakes.
Most importantly—create with others! This will help you stay accountable. Nadine Braquetti, now the programme director of KODA and I met at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. We spent hours seeing shows and curating together. It is the natural alignment of our work styles and the complementary aspects of our personalities that make us great partners. We also rely on the guidance and support of our experienced board of directors.
Being a curator and arts administrator allows for constant contact with brilliant artists—collaborating with those you wish to serve is crucial. KODA’s inaugural programme included a focus group session, where we asked artists what they needed, in terms of community, practice and resources. The artist residencies are now being actively designed in line with the feedback received. Ask and listen to make sure that you’re actually responding to the needs of those you wish to serve.
Enjoy the process & give back
“Growth comes with finding comfort in being outside of your comfort zone.”
Everything takes time and it can be challenging to juggle priorities. But don’t forget to enjoy the ride and stay true to your purpose. Part of that is finding opportunities to give back and inspire. KODA is launching an internship programme for those interested in curating and arts administration, because entrepreneurship and leadership are also about sharing your skills with others. Being committed to social justice, we seek to develop meaningful community-based arts education programming such as a photography workshop with students from Madiba Prep Middle School for Social Justice and Innovation.
The word entrepreneur, which comes from French, means, “undertaker”—a person who undertakes new projects. The best way to learn is by doing, so go and seek out opportunities to make an impact. This could be teaching choreographies to your fellow dance-mates, leading a group project or organizing a group of friends to support a local food bank. Your values and interests will lead you to the path to follow your dreams.
Klaudia Ofwona Draber is the executive director and curator at KODA, an arts nonprofit based in NYC. Connect with KODA on Instagram here. Previously she managed projects in Africa, at UBS and the British Council. She completed MA in Art Business at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York and MSc in Economics at the Warsaw School of Economics, with a focus on the art market. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she enjoys trips to the ocean and walks in Prospect Park. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at email@example.com. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!
If you enjoyed this story, consider reading more below: