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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

The Happy Studio: magic isn't just for children at the Dubai pop-up 

Al Darwish created the pop-up in Alserkal Avenue as a way for people to disconnect in a busy world and just have fun 

Jumana Al Darwish, founder of The Happy Studio, with Pushka the Beetle. Pawan Singh / The National
Jumana Al Darwish, founder of The Happy Studio, with Pushka the Beetle. Pawan Singh / The National

It’s an attack of the senses – in a good way. Glitter covers every surface; rainbow hues are floor to ceiling. Step into the converted warehouse in Alserkal Avenue and you’ll be dodging balloons and ribbons right and centre.

The space is home to The Happy Studio, a direct descendant of subscription service The Happy Box. Both originated with Jumana Al Darwish, the philanthropist-turned-entrepreneur who harnessed her creativity and her role as a mother to create themed, monthly activity boxes for children.

Since its launch in 2014, The Happy Box has grown to become a well-recognised brand across the region. It stands for creativity, unicorn and glitters, art and happiness, for quality time with your children, creating art and memories. They were all concepts that Al Darwish believed in, and wanted to cement further as her calling cards.

“I’ve realised how much I like creating an experience for people; immersing them into a world that is over-the-top, far removed from everyday life, if only to remind them of how fun and beautiful life can be,” says the 35-year-old Jordanian, who has lived in Dubai for more than a decade.

The Happy Studio became her ultimate goal: a “pop art community space” as she calls it, where she could bring to life over-the-top, bright, colourful and unique art installations, and have people of all ages – from all walks of life – stop by and enjoy them, and where she could work with emerging artists to create “art for the senses”.

This weekend, the studio will host a free-for-all party dubbed #thehappydip, and will invite everyone to “dip” into a ball pit filled with yellow emoji balls, while dodging a rainbow-coloured cornucopia of balloons.

“I’m giving people a chance to disconnect in a world that’s all go, go, go,” says Al Darwish. “When you step into The Happy Studio, you have only one job to do: have fun.

“Come in, decide if what you’re seeing is art or pure fun, connect with strangers, jump into an emoji ball pit, swim in a tub full of yellow rubber duckies, dress up in a unicorn onesie, pop some balloons; just let your hair down and have fun.”

Al Darwish’s start-up has outgrown her living room, where she spent years boxing up her product and mailing it out to subscribers, and now she needs a “Happy Factory” with space to manufacture the arts and crafts unique to her company.

The warehouse in Alserkal was outfitted to incorporate offices and a small workspace cum factory on the upper floor, and a space for events, birthdays, shoots, secret dinners and, most importantly, interactive art installations that people can touch and feel, downstairs at the entrance. This type of art, says Al Darwish, is on trend, not least because it’s so conducive to sharing on social media.

And when she’s not parked outside in an attempt to lure visitors in, the downstairs is also home to Pushka, a small, vintage VolkswagenBeetle that is dressed up according to Al Darwish’s whims.

“Pushka is basically our mascot, together with unicorns and teddy bears and massive amounts of glitter,” she says. “I wanted a quirky car that can go to events, be filled with arts and crafts for kids to get into. We once filled her with Build-a-Bears that we then gave away. Now she’s parked in front of our studio, we dress her up every two weeks; we’ll have artists dress her up, we will light her up at night, we’ll use her as an intro to who we are and what we do.”

When the studio opened in November, and when it hosted its one-off installation back in March before any work was done on outfitting the interior, the events went viral. More than 5,000 people showed up each time, lined up in Alserkal’s grey, concrete streets, eager to be part of something so different.

“We’re no competition to the renowned, established art galleries of Alserkal; we offer something completely different,” says Al Darwish. “Soon, we plan to launch a small cafe serving ‘unicorn’ treats, and we aim to become a fun community space and work hub for ‘unicorn’ adults.”

“Unicorn”, she insists, is a key word in describing what it is that she does. “I love that it’s always madness in here, that people are in awe when they walk in, that they start giggling and snapping pictures and letting their guard down. We’re allowed to be quirky here, to play.”

Age plays no factor, insists Al Darwish, in who is welcome through the doors of The Happy Studio. This is her way of branching out from catering to kids and attending to adults’ needs.

“If you need a pick me up, just stop by the studio, even for five minutes, and have a look around. Just like children, adults crave a little bit of a disruption in their day to day schedule, something different that’s just for the sake of fun. You’ll find it with us.”

The Happy Studio, in Warehouse 73, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, welcomes visitors this weekend from 10am to 10pm, to enjoy its second art installation #thehappydip or to jump into a pool filled with emoji balls, as part of the urban culture festival Street Nights in Al Quoz (Dubai Food Festival)

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Read more:

What's in the box? Inside 7 subscription boxes available in the UAE

Find your happy place: Where UAE residents go in the Emirates to lift their spirits

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