ABU DHABI // Art has rarely been seen as a fast-track to financial success but now young Emiratis are learning how to use it to build a career.
Zayed University's College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, which opened last September, offers a range of courses that combine the worlds of culture and business. It is the country's first national stand-alone college of art and design and has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
"Art student numbers were really low for a long time because the culture here had not really accepted art as something viable," said associate professor Ayyub Hamilton, who teaches sculpture and video. "Bringing the idea of enterprise into the equation showed people that this really is something you can take on and make more than just a hobby; it's something you can pursue a career in."
Another assistant professor Dr Michele Bambling, who teaches art history, museum studies and the visual arts, said: "It's very much true that the students are taking art as a professional practice, they want to have a professional life in the arts. Very few of them are taking art as a hobby.
"Many of the visual-art students aspire to be professional artists, and they want to decide what that means so they can work with galleries and even open their own gallery.
"They spend a lot of time understanding how careers are built and they are conscious of being emerging artists. They're knowledgeable about sources of funding and places where work is exhibited."
Noora Al Shaikh, 21, from Al Ain, who is studying visual arts at the Abu Dhabi campus, said: "The tutors sort of carve you in a way. In the beginning you have this rough idea of being an artist but then you start having a goal. My goal is not just to create artworks and have exhibitions, I want to promote art here in the UAE. In the beginning my family were sort of not sure if this was the right major for me. They were insisting that I had to choose something more useful, like education or business. But, in the end, they encouraged me to do what I like."
Nadiya Al Hashmi, 22, was also leaning towards a business degree. "But I went along to majors day, where they present the different courses for new students, and I was really surprised that we had an art major in Abu Dhabi," she said. "I thought, 'This is me, I want to be an artist', so I enrolled. I'm thinking about first working as a graphic designer, and maybe in the future I will have my own company."
The college evolved from the university's art department, and many of the students who are halfway through its inaugural academic year began their studies at the department.
A key element is a professional artist course that teaches the students practical aspects such as compiling a portfolio, how to communicate in a professional manner and preparing a CV.
Prof Stephen Tarantal, the college's dean, said: "We are going after accreditation for our degrees from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design in the US.
"We are adjusting our degree curriculum to meet their standards totally and are working towards gaining accreditation next October.
The vast majority of the college's 300 students are female, but Prof Tarantal added: "We're encouraging men by running an animation and game design programme and multimedia courses. These seem to be attracting men."
Amna Ahmed, 22, who is studying interior design in Abu Dhabi and plans to pursue a career in the field, said: "I want to use traditional elements such as features from old buildings in my work because it is important that we never lose our heritage. I want to create the interiors of buildings for my country, it would make me proud."