Antonia Carver is the fair director for the fifth annual Art Dubai, which officially opens today. She discusses how art-based businesses in the UAE fared during the downturn, and the challenges that remain:
For the uninitiated, what is Art Dubai?
It's an art fair in which galleries sell and collectors buy. But it's also a kind of festival where we have performances, commissioned projects, activities for families. There are 81 galleries from 34 countries, and each one puts on a mini exhibition. Last year, we had 75 galleries. This year's is the largest event so far, and the most geographically diverse.
The recession hit some galleries pretty hard. Is the worst for the industry over?
I think so. People were very surprised at the resilience of the art market in the global financial crisis, nowhere more so than Dubai. The art scene here somehow managed to get by, and even thrive through it. This week, two new major galleries opened in Dubai. There's a potential still there to be mined.
What potential opportunities are there?
I was speaking to one gallery that just opened a new branch, and they were saying because rent is coming down this has been a time of growth for them. They could afford space they couldn't before. You might open a gallery in Europe or America, and it might be one of 100 and run-of-the-mill. People might not take notice. Here, you can really transform the way the local art scene works. I think that's enormously exciting.
But what challenges remain for the industry here?
The challenges everyone faces in our UAE art scene is really to do with filling in the bits of the puzzle that are missing, particularly with education. We have an internship programme at the fair, but it's obviously on a very small scale through the year and then a huge programme - with 80 interns - at the fair. It would be fantastic to have more collaborations in that area, and the business of art taught in schools.
What programmes are there for people who want to learn about the business side of art?
It's mainly through apprenticeships that people get that information. It's hard to study art theory, or how to become a curator. Those opportunities are only starting now. We also have a global art forum at Art Dubai with speakers and international expertise. Alongside those are a set of practical workshops, where you learn about art law, relations between artists and dealers. There are workshops every day on these kinds of subjects.