Tatyana Franck is a bit of a history buff — especially when it comes to art. When the 38-year-old became president of the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) in 2022, she quickly unearthed some unique bits of trivia.
“I’m not sure if you knew that Marcel Duchamp created the library of the French Institute,” she says, referencing one of the two organizations (the other being the Alliance Française de New York) which merged in 1971 to create FIAF. I did not know this. Nor was I aware that during the 1920s and ’30s, it partnered with the Louvre in Paris to organize New York shows of Cézanne, Rodin, and Renoir. This lapse in knowledge is something she’s trying to change. “It’s really a fascinating history that I would like to share more [of].”
This passion for cultural history is what made Franck the ideal candidate to lead FIAF. She made a name for herself as the director of the museum Photo Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she not only oversaw a major revamp of the building but worked to build community engagement. Since taking her position, Franck moved from Switzerland to NYC. Her four-year-old son is enrolled in FIAF’s preschool. They enjoy exploring their new city and its surrounding areas, including skiing and trips to Dia Beacon. Her move came at an opportune time — just as New York was recovering from lockdown.
“People are eager to go out, eager to go back to the theater. They’re eager to gather—you can see that the restaurants are starting to get full,” she muses. “[New Yorkers] have been extremely welcoming to me. And what I found here, compared to Europe, is that really anything is possible when you have the energy and dynamism, and the willingness to achieve things. People want to be part of that and want to help you.”
It must have been a welcome discovery for a president with such ambitious plans for FIAF. In addition to continuing the institution’s French classes for all ages, she’s been furthering its cultural reach by promoting global Francophone culture (rather than just France) through live performances, a cinema program — including Animation First (the only Francophone animation festival in America)—and gallery shows. A recent exhibition explored the work of the late illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé, who created more than 100 New Yorker covers.
It was the first show of Sempé’s work since he passed away, though it was conceived by Franck and Sempé’s wife while he was still alive. “I would like to bring visual arts back into the DNA of our institution… This is why the program in our gallery is of really high quality,” she says. “This is how I would like to stand out from the noise and attract a lot of visitors, because our exhibitions are free, and I really want them to be seen broadly. We want to amplify voices and build bridges from the entire Francophone world to New York and beyond.”
Connecting with French enthusiasts in New York, as well as French speakers around the world, are, separately, large jobs. Together, it’s mammoth. But Franck describes herself as someone who loves challenges. She describes herself as a builder.
“When I got the offer from FIAF, I thought, ‘This is a unique opportunity. I’d love to be the head of a cultural institution,’” she recalls. “It’s unique to run an organization whose mission is not only culture but also education. You can’t teach language without knowing a culture.”