Paola Vojnovic: Italian connector and cultural entrepreneur

Paola Vojnovic: Italian connector and cultural entrepreneur

Originally from the former Yugoslavia, via Arizona, Paola Vojnovic is a cultural entrepreneur and a natural connector of people in Italy.

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Mon 13 Mar 2023 3:02 PM

In life, one encounters certain individuals who enchant, fill us with wonder and somehow in ways we might hope, but never expect, make our existences infinitely better. Paola Vojnovic is one such person. How to even describe her? A magical multi-hyphenate, to be sure.

Paola Vojnovic. Photo by Tracy Russo

One day will see Paola hosting her online “Studiolo”, named for the special room in 15th-century palazzi designed for study and contemplation. World-renowned scholar and author of Brunelleschi’s Dome, Ross King, was Paola’s first guest three years ago. Other speakers have included superstar authors like Betty Edwards, whose Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain taught millions of people how to draw; former FBI agent Joe Navarro, author of 11 books and leading expert on non-verbal communication, whose talk focused on the secrets within the artworks of Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo; Keith Christiansen, curator of the European Collection at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the list goes on. People subscribe and sign into these live events from all over the world, and subscribers include some of the world’s most famous art historians, curators and academics, as well as many patrons who just love Italy and the arts, and wish to know more. 

Another day might see Paola’s appearance on an ABC TV special about Dante, a PBS special about the 1966 flood in Florence, or even a character in the feature film I produced and directed, called Dante and Beatrice in Florence. On yet another day, one might find Paola leading an expertly curated tour of secrets in Florence or Venice. And then one might find Paola’s byline on arts-related articles published in periodicals from Florence to Australia. She has also had the honor of being cultural advisor to international government cultural ministers, such as the Serbian minister of culture. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that if you need to get in touch with the world’s finest museums, art and religious institutions or leaders in any cultural field, Paola is the person to engage.

Paola was born into an artistic family in the former Yugoslavia and her earliest memories include joining her beloved father, a painter, in his studio and on visits to the studios of artist friends. Oil paint remains a familiar smell, a scent that immediately recalls home. In 1995, Paola’s family, her mother, Olgica and her father, Vlatko, along with her two siblings, brother Viktor and sister Inja, left their war-torn country and made their way to Arizona in the United States as refugees, where they were welcomed. Paola remembers that her father’s only request was to go somewhere warm. With only 50 dollars in their pockets, the family of five knew no one in the United States when they arrived and, as a testament to how great America can be and the hard work of Paola’s family, they were able to make a life for themselves in their new home. 

Paola and her father, Vlatko Vojnovic in the Basilica of Santa Croce

As a young entrepreneur, Paola developed, owned and managed the WIP Arts Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. She remembers selling artworks even before her gallery sign had gone up! After that, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in art history, having already earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from Arizona State University. This was followed by an invitation to study for a Master’s in Renaissance art history from Syracuse University, which brought her to the program in Florence, a great honor as such positions are limited. She gained a second Master’s degree at the University of Siena, in the preservation and management of archeological, historic and artistic heritage, and did internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and Palazzo Pitti in Florence

All of this resulted in lecturing at major American universities in Florence and, even more stunningly, working for Opera di Santa Croce, a non-profit body connected to the Basilica of Santa Croce, where she led fundraising efforts for major restoration works, such as the restoration of the loggia of the Pazzi Chapel, which gained supporters across the globe, as well as campaigns for the restoration of the tombs of Michelangelo and Machiavelli, and other great artworks. While at Santa Croce, Paola was also fundamental in producing the Sisters in Liberty exhibition, which appeared at New York’s Ellis Island Museum of Immigration in October 2019. Paola co-authored Santa Croce in Pink, a guidebook of women buried or celebrated in the basilica and edited The Basilica of Santa Croce: American Reflections, which shares the impressions of Americans such as Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson who had visited the basilica over the years. Then there was the memorable time guiding Reba McEntire to find a hidden passage, hearing Beyonce sing as she entered the Pazzi Chapel to try out the acoustics of Brunelleschi’s architecture, and standing with James Ivory on the very spot as he reminisced about filming Room With A View.

Paola’s small group of travellers in front of Nicolao Atelier in Venice

Paola’s experiences are magical, and that is because Paola herself emanates the sense that one is in the presence of a magical person. It has become a “thing” to seek out Paola in order to bask in her wisdom, access and warmth. For Venice’s 2023 Carnevale, an international group sought out Paola to curate a cultural, historical, culinary and theme-oriented experience. Besides bringing the group to museums, balls and meals rarely experienced in such an intimate way, Paola called on her friend, the world-famous Venetian designer Stefano Nicolao, who styled Hollywood movies such as Elizabeth with Kate Blanchett and Casanova with Heath Ledger, to costume her guests for the carnival season. From May 7 to 13, Paola is curating an exclusive six-day Florentine experience in association with her Venice-based counterpart Mimi Todhunter. (Contact Paola directly for more details: paola50122@gmail.com.) There will be private museum tours; dinners in palazzi with noble families; a visit to a secret Florentine garden, open only one month each year; and Gregorian chants in an ancient church. As with everything Paola does, this too promises to be a magical ride through works of art and the sublime.

Magical Paola indeed. www.PaolaVojnovic.com – I implore you to touch base. Your artistic life will forever be changed.   

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