Liberatum: All Tomorrow’s Parties

Pablo Ganguli Reveals the Secrets of Hosting the World's Artistic Elite

Bringing together an eclectic array of contemporary cultural fixtures, from Gore Vidal and Zaha Hadid to Courtney Love and Kirsten Dunst, Pablo Ganguli is the impresario behind cultural events agency Liberatum. The Calcutta native has been curating events since 2001, hoping to create stimulating and publicly accessible, multi-disciplinary festivals around the globe. “In Paris, London, Milan and New York people are so used to the same media, in the same places. What we want to do is to give people an injection of something beyond what they are used to on a daily basis,” says Ganguli. “We are constantly looking for ways to provoke people, and give them something that they haven’t seen before.” Highlights at Liberatum’s Istanbul-based festival Istancool this year included talks with the likes of actor Tilda Swinton, photographer Ryan McGinley, director Terry Gilliam, and a workshop with designer Haider Ackermann. Next year Ganguli will be adding festivals in Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro to his constantly expanding roster. Here the self-styled “cultural entrepreneur” shares his thoughts on seating charts, social networks, and playing dress-up. 

How did you build your impressive social network? 
I do not see myself as someone who builds networks. I leave that to Mark Zuckerberg.

The most crucial elements for a successful evening? 
I have not decided yet. Like the time when this little Indian girl asked me if I were a boy or a girl.

Any steadfast rules when creating a seating chart? 
Never put a difficult woman next to a difficult man, and definitely never put a difficult man next to another difficult man! Also, it’s crucial to ensure that on the one side, you seat an acquaintance, and on the other, a stranger. There is no mystery or excitement if everyone already knows each other, it’s all about creating a mix of alluring strangers who you are curious about and people you know extremely well. 

What was your first social faux pas? 
Dressing up as Nabokov's Lolita to meet a minister of state when I was 17. I learnt Russian literature can be a great ice-breaker.

Any favorite spots to head out to when you’re not working? 
I’m actually very anti-social—I realize the irony of course, considering what I do is all about the public sphere, but I really try to go out as little as possible. I like to work from behind four walls. 

Your most memorable social encounter at Liberatum events? 
The Queen and the Papua New Guinean High Commissioner in London. At Buckingham Palace, the High Commissioner presented Her Majesty with Liberatum's Golden Jubilee Best Portrait Prize-winner's portrait of The Queen but painted in a fascinating Papua New Guinean style. 

Most humorous guest you’ve hosted?
Katrine Boorman. She possesses the rare gift of making everyone in a room laugh. What more can I say?

Most difficult city you've encountered so far?
Mumbai was extraordinary and difficult in equal measure. In terms of logistics, transport co-ordination and infrastructure, it was the most temperamental. I found Marrakech charming and Moscow dynamic. 

Who would you love to get on board for the future? 
Cormac McCarthy, Charlotte Rampling, Shirin Ebadi—she is an Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Prize for Peace and is a great voice for women’s and children’s rights in Iran—and Daniel Barenboim. And that’s just to name a few.

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