How the Sheikha Salama Foundation is nurturing the next generation of art professionals
As part of a national drive towards boosting arts and cultural programmes, the Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation put nine university students through an intense programme of visits, workshops and internships in the UAE this summer, which concluded with an educational trip to Copenhagen.
After completing the Explorations in the Arts programme, the participants are now set up to take their place as part of a future generation of innovators and creative thinkers, says Salvatore LaSpada, the executive director of the foundation.
“Our mission is investing in the future of the UAE by investing in its people,” he says. “This is part of a much bigger shift in society – that is the amazing growth in the arts and culture of the UAE – and we hope we can contribute to that by working with people who will be the drivers of that sector.”
Expanding the programme
Explorations in the Arts began last year as a smaller initiative called The Art Trip, in which high-school students were taken on a cultural awareness trip to Tokyo. This year, however, after evaluating the results of the initiative, the foundation decided to shift the focus to university students and to extend the programme to cover aspects of arts and culture in the UAE.
“One of the goals of the programme is to educate the students as to what are the available jobs out there in the industry of art and culture, both at home and abroad,” says Khulood Al Atiyat, the manager of arts, culture and heritage. “This is the first step to showing them what changes they can bring to the field.”
The students began the programme in June, spending Saturdays visiting cultural hotspots in the UAE such as Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, the Sharjah Art Foundation and Manarat Al Saadiyat. In July, they each began month-long internships with various institutions such as Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre and Lawrie Shabibi Gallery.
Last month, the students spent six days in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, visiting museums and galleries and meeting key players in the arts and cultural scene there. They came back brimming with ideas.
“I really enjoyed seeing the difference between art in the UAE and Copenhagen,” says Sheikha Fahed Al Ketbi, a visual arts student from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. “Over there, art is totally integrated in the society and it made me inspired to transfer that here. It opened my eyes to a different kind of art.”
Looking to the future
The primary goal, from the foundation’s point of view, was to give the students a clearer vision of the practicalities of running a successful arts and culture programme by showing them real-world examples.
Omar Ali Al Zaabi, an applied media student, explains that he was “blown away” when he visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art to the north of Copenhagen.
“It was not only painting and sculptures, they made everything art – both inside and out in the gardens,” he says. “The architecture was also amazing. In the UAE, architects are only architects, but in Copenhagen an architect is an artist. It gave me a lot of ideas.”
Mariam Mohamed Al Binali, a graphic design student, came away with a vision for her own future.
“I made a connection with my experience in the UAE, between how things are going on here and there and it gave me a realistic view of what I want to do in the future,” she says.
Ahmed Essa Redha, an applied media student at Dubai Men’s College, says the programme gave him the confidence to find a relevant career path.
“Now I know that you don’t have to be an artist to work in the arts,” he says. “There are so many different departments and it takes a whole team to support each other.”
Preparations are already under way for next year’s trip, which will take another group of students to Berlin, and the foundation will be contacting universities across the UAE to nominate the best candidates.
• For more information visit www.salamabinthamdanfoundation.org