x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Abu Dhabi Art Hub: a place for creative collaboration, communication

The Abu Dhabi Art Hub offers a wide variety of services to artists across the capital.

The Art Hub's main gallery is overlooked by private studios. Silvia Razgova / The National
The Art Hub's main gallery is overlooked by private studios. Silvia Razgova / The National

It is not often that Mussafah is compared to Montmartre.

The somewhat homogenous buildings of Abu Dhabi's industrial zone bear no resemblance to the quaint inner-city village in Paris's 18th arrondissement, but, according to Ahmed Al Yafei, they have one thing in common.

"They have communities that create creativity," says the Emirati who founded the Abu Dhabi Art Hub in November last year. "The Art Hub is not about one idea, it is about the whole concept. We are not creating a commodity here but the tools to help artists to create art."

In the 2,500-square-metre facility, Al Yafei has created an artistic community complete with residential facilities, galleries and space for workshops.

"This place is very unusual," says the director, Karen Hart. "We are an artist community, one of only 1,500 in the world and the only one in the UAE. "

Inside the hub, the noise, dust and traffic of Mussafah fade away. The main gallery is cool and airy, overlooked by an inner balcony populated with private studios that can be rented as work or exhibition space. The rear part is a labyrinth of further galleries and offices, and the upper level is home to five or six apartments for resident artists.

The outbuildings hold more apartments (bringing the total to nine), 16 offices and workshops for classes.

"Something like this is very important for Abu Dhabi society," Hart says. "It offers something different. The timing is also right. We have the new museums coming and more and more people are getting to know Abu Dhabi."

Al Yafei and Hart have plans for an art supply shop, internship programmes and a Friends of the Art Hub scheme that will draw members and corporate sponsors.

Last weekend featured the opening of Matt McCobb's exhibition for the forthcoming charity sale, and works from a group of Italian artists who have just completed a residency were unveiled.

Every month, the centre takes in a handful of international residents from a rotating roster of countries. As well as accommodating them on site, Al Yafei takes him to his property in the Liwa desert for an overnight camp. Weekend painting sessions take place on the Corniche in the winter and in Dalma Mall in the summer. After four weeks, the students are invited to show their work in the hub and share their experiences with fellow artists.

Bassam Al Selawi, the manager of applied arts and crafts, says that working together can really boost artistic practice. "When you share experience, that also creates competition, which means artists learn from each other and make more progress than they would alone."

Margarita Germanos, who runs her art consultancy business Art in Question from one of the offices, says: "You need like-minded people to come together," she says. "You can't be an entity on your own so you need to bring collective consciousness together. There is a collaboration here and it is a built environment."

It is not too much of a leap then when Al Yafei compares the Hub to Montmartre. They share the intention to bring artists together to collaborate and communicate.

"We conducted a number of studies before we opened," he says. "We looked at history and we looked at international and regional trends. It is a challenging business to be in, but in my opinion it is more than a matter of figures. This is about the benefit we are bringing to society. At the end of the day it is my responsibility to give something back to my community and my culture."

Italy Art Month is on show now at Abu Dhabi Art Hub


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