Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian Ph.D

Founder, Designer of Experiences and Filmmaker

Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian PhD is an award-winning designer of experiences with over a decade of working to advocate for plurality and to manufacture impossible productions and complex events and projects. who creates multidimensional experiential projects at the intersection of film, science, tech, theatre, politics,music and design. Wired awarded her their inaugural Innovation Fellowship, and Icon magazine recognized Dr Ben Hayoun as one of the top 50 designers “shaping the future”. Nelly was distinguished as the first on the list of the top 50 women on the speaker circuit by The Drum Magazine; while Creative Review named her one of the Creative Leaders 50, selecting 50 creatives they felt were “driving change, not just within their organisation but in the world at large”, Dezeen selected her as one of the '50 inspirational women in architecture and design’ and most recently she won a Karman fellowship for her unique global cultural achievements to astronautics and space exploration. Nelly is the founder of both NASA’s International Space Orchestra , the tuition-free charity University of the Underground and design agency Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios. Her large scale projects have included collaborations with political activists like Noam Chomsky, Pussy Riot, or Arjun Appadurai and artists like Massive Attack and Kid Cudi, The Avalanches to name a few. She is known for challenging institutions from within through events, and she has done so at the United Nations, NASA or the International Astronautical Federation where she is Vice Chair of the Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space (ITACCUS), a member of the IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee (SEOC), and a member of the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics) Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) permanent committee.Nelly is the author and director of five feature-length documentaries (ie: The International Space Orchestra, 2013; Disaster Playground, 2015; I am (not) a monster, 2019; Tour de Moon (2023) and Doppelgangers3 (2024)). In 2020, Nelly became a grantee of Sundance Institute with her new documentary- currently in production- called Doppelgangers 3. Through role-play, magic, and doppelgängers, the film Doppelgangers 3 offers an experimental vision and template for future diasporas beyond Earth. Set in Algeria, Armenia and France, the film asks How will human inhabitants of the moon understand origin, borders and nations? For this film, Nelly investigates her family origins in Algeria and Armenia- which led to the start of her radio show on underground radio -on Worldwide FM- the Nelly Boum Show. In 2016, she was awarded with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London Teaching award. When she is not making films, Nelly is a keynote speaker and has spoken worldwide about the value of experiential design practices in the context of nightlife, outreach, community and education. Her design work has been exhibited at the National Museum of China, MOMA, V&A, the MET and other leading design institutions. Nelly is also an amateur boxer who trains at the legendary Gleason's Gym in NYC in the fighting crew of trainer Hector Roca. She has two doppelgangers who work with her to appear at multiple places at the same time, a Barbie doll and a Lego made of herself. Nelly received a BA in Textile Design at ENSAAMA Olivier De Serres (college of applied arts) in Paris, a MA with distinction from the Royal College of Arts in Design Interactions, she holds a PhD in Geography (Human geography and political philosophy) from Royal Holloway, University of London. Most recently, she led a free nationwide festival across the United Kingdom called ‘Tour de Moon’ in collaboration with more than a thousand youths and nighttime workers. Tour de Moon is composed of immersive experiences and live events developed in collaboration with our “universal satellite”: the Moon, seen as a character, a landscape and a prompt for radical imagination. Nelly is passionately committed to supporting the creation of organized communities in building new beginnings. To this end, she actively works to build platforms for others to experience plurality, decolonial practices, social and racial justice, solidarity and equity, so that History does not repeat itself on earth and beyond, to this end she is a senior fellow of the Hannah Arendt Center, which supports humanities and human rights across the globe.

AWARDS & ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Ben Hayoun was appointed as "Ambassador for the Underground" by the independent self-declared artist republic Užupis in Lithunia in 2019.

  • Arts Council Exceptional Award 2014 for project Disaster Playground in collaboration with Near Now in Broadway Cinema in Nottingham

  • Best of The Year 2016 and 2017 by the Metropolitan Museum (MET), 2016 and 2017 

  • In 2020-2022 -Nelly was the creative director and founder on new nationwide LGBTQ+ STEAM festival- Tour de moon- for youths touring all around the UK- celebrating youth countercultures and nightlife and working to redistribute wealth and public funds through commissioned project with thousands of youths involved, which led to the creation of both digital and physical assets. For this project, her team and herself brought together thousands of contributors across the globe and they won a multi million pound public grant from the four governments of the UK as a part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK- this was the UK’s most ambitious showcase of creative STEAM collaboration including free large-scale events, installations and globally accessible digital experiences.

  • One of Nelly’s latest immersive experiences and solo show in paris- shiny gold was an exploration of the world's sources of energy, developed in collaboration with the Marie Curie Institute and La Gaité Lyrique.

  • Author and director of five feature-length movies screened and nominated for vision and grierson awards at SXSW, BFI London Film Festival and more film festivals .

  • Indiewire SXSW Highlights Women filmmaker, 2015, Indiewire 

  • Grantee of Sundance Institute and BFI Doc Society Feature Fund for film Red Moon/ Doppelgangers 3 2020-2024

  • Ben Hayoun has origins in Algeria and Armenia, which led to the start of Nelly Boum Show, her radio show on underground radio's Worldwide FM. Every month, the show explores a theme in a multiverse of possible new futures, touching on economy, politics, and other systems through music and conversation, including a focus on North African and Armenian music and experts.It can be heard here

  • Ben Hayoun was the chief of Experiences at file transfer service Wetransfer for 10 years (2012-2022) working with president Damian Bradfield towards building a sustainable B Corp Business, Nelly helped the business development in the USA. During Ben Hayoun time at Wetransfer the company grew its client base from 10,000 users to 90 millions active users a month.

  • In 2018, Ben Hayoun was a part of the executive design team at AirBnB which funded the experience department and technology application at AirBnB

  • From 2018 to 2020, Nelly Ben Hayoun joined the team at Mini/ BMW as their Global Head of Research and programmes. In her role she created a new global curriculum, curated and hosted an international year long programme- providing both strategy, reports, programming development, audience participation and learning and set design.

  • In 2023, Nelly worked with Porsche to create a new electric concept car making use of new 3D software 

  • Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London Teaching Award, 2016 

  • Senior fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Humanities and Politics at Bard College since 2019

  • United Nations Goalkeeper for education since 2017

  • Director and founder of the postgraduate University of the Underground- world's first tuition-free university and charity supporting free, transnational and pluralistic education based under the urban space and teaching unconventional research practices. With board members Noam Chomsky, Prof. Arjun Appadurai and Pussy Riot amongst many others.

  • Nelly is passionately committed to supporting the creation of organized communities in building new beginnings. To this end, she actively works to build platforms for others to experience plurality, decolonial practices, social and racial justice, solidarity and equity, so that History does not repeat itself on earth and beyond. She is one of the director of Union of Justice, a European, independent, people of colour (POC) led organisation dedicated to racial justice and climate justice.

  • Trustee and volunteer at Pedro Youth Club, in Hackney London, one of the oldest functioning youth clubs within the UK.

  • Nelly received a BA in Textile Design at ENSAAMA Olivier De Serres (college of applied arts) in Paris, a MA with distinction from the Royal College of Arts in Design Interactions, she holds a PhD in Geography (Human geography and political philosophy) from Royal Holloway, University of London

  • Principal Investigator and Analogue Astronaut at Astroland Agency in 2023. Ben Hayoun led an expedition to an analog lunar site set in an isolated, confined and extreme environment in a cave in Spain. This mission brought together a group of pluridisciplinary international experts in the field of genetics and epigenetics, collective trauma and space exploration to answer the following question: 'Is collective trauma influencing the definition of our futures in the diasporic population?'.

  • Karman Fellow 2022, The Karman Fellowship is a one-year programme designed to support 15 carefully selected global leaders to strengthen personal relations, meet with thought-leaders in technology, science, business, politics and the arts, and take personal commitments to further advance space-related  agendas for the betterment of humanity.

  • SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute Designer of Experiences at NASA Ames Research Center since 2013. Founder of the Experiences department at the SETI (search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, which extends outreach and education activities in terms of scope, scale, public and methods of engagement towards architecture, installations, immersive environments, social systems, performances, experiences, and narratives as events. 

  • Nelly has led and created multiple large scale scientific and cultural expeditions, trained special forces such as FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the USA or the United Nations on space disasters such as near earth objects and asteroid impacts. Ben Hayoun’s design practice brought her investigation to the empty lands of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Large Hadron Collider, CERN situated 100m below ground. She has also collided atoms at SLAC (National Accelerator Laboratory), in the Soyuz rocket capsule in Baikonur Cosmodrome,and experienced a sonic Booum in the neutrino Observatory Super Kamiokande in Japan while hunting for extremophiles and the worms of Hell in platinum mines in South Africa.

  • Faculty at the International Space University, Strasbourg, France since 2013

  • Member of the Space Outreach and Education Committee and Vice-Chair of The Committee for the Cultural Utilisation of Space (ITACCUS) at the International Astronautical Federation since 2013

  • Founding member of the International Astronautical Federation Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Administrative (IDEA) committee in 2023

  • Advisory board member of the METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International since 2018

  • Committee member at the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics) SETI permanent Committee since 2017

  • Chair and founder of the Space Culture session at the International Astronautical Congress since 2017

  • Chair and founder of the Decolonial Practices session at the International Astronautical Congress since 2023

  • Director and founder of the International Space Orchestra in NASA Ames Research Center since 2012