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Al Ahli plans Dh40m arts 'cluster' for Dubai

Centre will provide 2,800sq m of studio space, gallery space and classrooms, and promising artists will receive seed money and business assistance from the company.

DUBAI // A proposed Dh40 million arts centre aims to cultivate and capitalise on the creative community, developers say.

The centre will provide 2,800 square metres of studio space, gallery space and classrooms where artists will be able to work, exhibit and teach.

Promising artists will receive seed money and business assistance from the company driving the project, Al Ahli Holding Group.

Mohammed Khammas, the chief executive of Al Ahli, said: "We don't have a cluster where creative talent can actually be harnessed.

"We think that this is needed so much that even during what seems to be dark times economically right now, it still looks like a winner for us.

"Artists, fine artists, graphic artists, fashion designers, photographers the target is anyone and everyone who is willing to enhance their skills or create a business out of them."

The firm plans to secure a return on its investment through both the development of up-and-coming artists and from the fees it will charge to use the facilities. It expects, however, to need at least a decade to recoup its costs.

"It's a long-term development," Mr Khammas said. "Definitely a 10 to 15-year financial recovery."

Under one proposal, the centre would be located next to the Dubai Outlet Mall in the largely-undeveloped 9,000,000 square metre Outlet City, which Al Ahli plans to rename. It is expected to open by 2012.

The facility would bolster a budding art scene in the UAE where, in recent years, dozens of studios and galleries have opened and sales of Middle Eastern art have flourished.

Auction house Christie's, since opening a salesroom in Dubai in 2006, has sold US$200 million (Dh734m) of mostly regional art.

To further its mission of grooming young talent, the company has invited recent college graduates to design the new building as part of a two-month competition called Fekra (Idea).

Six teams of about four people will each receive coaching on designs and presentation and are expected to submit their plans on December 18.

Al Ahli will pick a winning design by the end of January. It will tweak it, if necessary, in collaboration with the winners and a few months after that, break ground.

Khawla Darwish, a 23-year-old Emirati who graduated from Zayed University in January with a degree in visual arts, said: "This would be a great opportunity for me to have one of my designs built."

She has been working with her two teammates nearly 40 hours a week on their design, on top of her own painting, sculpting and exhibitions.

As an artist, Ms Darwish said, she would prefer to paint and sculpt in the new centre than in her bedroom-turned-studio or in the smaller workspaces around town, which don't always carry all the equipment she needs.

"I would love to have a studio where you have everything around you," she said. "Just seeing other people work brings ideas to your mind."

Nasreen Al Tamimi, a project development manager for Al Ahli who is overseeing the project, said the new building will cater to professionals but also to amateurs and tourists.

"Someone who doesn't know what kind of talent they have - those are the kind of people we're trying to get," she said.


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