Ahead of the annual Patrons of the Arts Awards set to take place next week, Anna Seaman looks at the culture of giving in the local arts industry.
The Patrons of the Arts Awards shine the spotlight on the art of giving
It is an ordinary Saturday in May and, in the otherwise sleepy suburb of Nad Al Sheba, the sound of laughter emanates from a cluster of low buildings. Khalid Mezaina is leading a T-shirt printing workshop for 10- to 18-year-olds at a weekly gathering known as Art Club and later, a group of adults will take part in a graffiti workshop. This is Tashkeel. Couched behind the local police station in a tranquil spot shaded by many trees, Tashkeel consists of a collection of studios, a reference library and a gallery open to the public. As well as providing a lifeline for the hundreds of independent artists in Dubai, the centre also hosts regular workshops and, since February last year, is home to a skate park, which attracts a teenage crowd and opens the door to a whole new genre of urban art.
But all of this could not exist without the generosity of its founder, director and patron Sheikha Latifa bint Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who established Tashkeel in January 2008. Sheikha Latifa has been nominated for the annual Patrons of the Arts Awards, hosted by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), which will take place on May 13. The event, now in its fourth edition, is an attempt to salute individuals and organisations for their contributions, either financial or in kind, towards enriching the cultural and art scene in Dubai.
“If we look at the emergence of the art scene from the very beginning, patronage has always played a pivotal role in encouraging the world’s foremost artists to create and contribute to the global evolving artistic landscape,” says Saeed Al Nabouda, the acting director general of Dubai Culture. “Through the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards, we will once again shine the light on the heroes that have continuously stood behind our country’s art scene, while reaching out to potential patrons who can continue to strengthen the growth of our cultural fabric.”
During the evening ceremony, recipients will be recognised under four categories – Distinguished Patrons of the Arts, Patrons of the Arts, Supporters of the Arts and Friends of the Arts – each distinguished by the amount of money or time donated. The recipients encompass all of the arts and pinpoint those, such as Sheikha Latifa, who have contributed in many ways to the industry,
“We are very lucky to have Sheikha Latifa as our founder, director and our patron. She does a fantastic job not only providing the financial support for the infrastructure to allow the artists to practise but also as a role model for all aspiring artists in the UAE,” says Jill Hoyle, the manager of Tashkeel.
Although she won’t find out until Monday what category of award she will take home, for the past two years Sheikha Latifa has been awarded the Patrons of the Arts award (the second category that recognises contributions that fall between Dh2 million to Dh5m over the course of one year). Other prior recipients include the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, run by Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and Ramin Salsali, a prominent Iranian collector who runs the Salsali Private Museum in Alserkal Avenue.
“For us, patronage also allows us to run projects that greatly benefit the wider community, such as our guest artist programme where two artists come and stay for a year and Artists In Residence, which is run in collaboration with Dubai Culture, the Delfina Foundation in London and Art Dubai,” says Hoyle. “Patronage goes beyond financial support.”
Mandy Merzaban, the collections manager and curator for Barjeel Art Foundation, says that patronage is “an integral aspect of any budding art scene as it has the potential to endorse and support projects that could otherwise fall by the way side”. In the past 18 months, Barjeel has endorsed a number of projects such as Adel Abidin’s large sculpture Al-Warqaa in Lawrie Shabibi gallery during Art Dubai and the Jara Mosque project in Tunisia by graffiti artist El Seed. “Innovative projects that may not necessarily have a commercial core, contribute to the cultural development and enrichment of a city, its character and its people,” says Merzaban. “It is a privilege to be able to give support and opportunities to such projects.”
But not all recipients are so positive. Tala Badri, the founder of the Centre for Musical Arts, says that there is a huge bias towards visual arts and would like to see real changes made.
“Visual arts are very tangible and people can look at the work or hang it on a wall, but performing art is temporary in its nature and so not in the same vein. It is much more difficult to attract sponsors.”
Breakdown of the figures from 2011 show that 51 per cent of all patronage in Dubai goes to the visual arts, a further 41 per cent goes to film, leaving only four per cent for performing arts and literature respectively. Badri thinks that this could be addressed through properly managed government subsidies.
“I wish they would restructure their concept of patronage and look at things in a more balanced way,” she says. “We need a proper arts council that fairly distributes money rather than donors simply giving it on an ad hoc basis. If we want to be like other international cities, this is the way we should move forward.”
Brigitta Dagostin, the chairman of the Dubai Concert Committee, says that she and her team devote thousands of hours to the classical arts and the organisation is totally dependent on sponsors and volunteers.
“In the arts, and especially in performing arts, it is almost impossible to function without patronage and we as humans can’t live without it,” says Dagostin. “Art and culture is the soul of a nation and it has to be nourished. That is why recognising patrons is very important, we need to encourage them and raise awareness. In my opinion the Patrons of the Arts Awards ceremony is a very positive thing.”
• The Patrons of the Arts Awards is an invite-only event and is on May 13
In March 2009, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the inauguration of the Patrons of the Arts Awards and the first ceremony took place in 2010. During the ceremony, patrons were awarded for their contributions over three years (2007 to 2009) but since then the donations, in money or in kind, have been judged over the course of each year from the date of the award ceremony until the next. Although most patrons are large companies such as Emirates Airline or the Jumeirah Group, some individuals are also recognised such as Dr Farhad Farjam, whose large collection of art is displayed in continuous exhibitions in his gallery in Dubai International Financial Centre. He recently established an art foundation to help promote Middle Eastern art to the rest of the world.
• Distinguished Patrons of the Arts (Gold) – to those who have donated more than Dh5 million for three consecutive years
• Patrons of the Arts (Silver) – to those who have donated between Dh2m and Dh5m over the course of one calendar year
• Supporters of the Arts (Bronze) – to those who have donated between Dh500,000 and Dh2m over the course of one calendar year
• Friends of the Arts (Purple) – to those who have donated between Dh50,000 and Dh500,000 over the course of one calendar year
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