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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

This year’s Abu Dhabi Festival is about education, says founder Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo

The Abu Dhabi Festival founder founder and artistic director Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo says that education is at the heart of this year's festivities.
The festival founder Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo. Christopher Pike / The National
The festival founder Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo. Christopher Pike / The National

The Abu Dhabi Festival returns for its 11th edition this week, with a month-long cultural programme including concerts, dance performances and exhibitions by artists spanning from the legendary to the emerging.

But dig beneath the onstage glamour and you will find the theme of education running through the festival. “This is what I am passionate about,” explains Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, founder of the festival and Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation.

“With each new festival I am ­interested in exposing people to new things. I believe that culture is one of the best ways to educate and this mission is at the heart of the festival.”

Last year the festival celebrated a decade of excellence. With the 11th edition, are you starting once again from scratch?

Every festival feels like the first for me. After 10 years of the festival, with its cultural programme and its community outreach, I had to sit back and reflect. I had to ask myself: why are we still doing this? Why should we continue to invest in cross-cultural communication and community outreach? I found that this is due to the strong belief that we need to keep innovating. This is why I made it the theme for this festival. This where I see the future is heading: creative innovation – and only the youth can lead us on that.

With them in mind, would you say this year’s programme is as experimental as before?

I wouldn’t say it’s experimental but it offers opportunities. Over the festival’s 10 years I can say that we have matured with our society. The youth of today demand to have their own opportunities and to put their own perspective on how they see things. This is why there is a big youth focus this year. In the festivals before, we used to have a Young Artists Day where the youth can participate in different programmes across the UAE.

Today, we have youth at the festival who are performing music – such as Gustavo Dudamel with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and soon the European Youth Orchestra.

Also when it comes to Herbie Hancock performing in Abu Dhabi, he will be joined by the young Emirati artist Hamdan Al Abri. We also have youth showcasing different kind of arts, from painting to animation.

The Abu Dhabi Festival has a reputation for bringing in artists that other, more commercially driven promoters wouldn’t consider. How important is that to you?

Absolutely it is very important. Because this is what I mean by cross-culture. The festival then becomes a place to explore new dimensions and share new ideas. I could bring some popular artist to the festival but this is already happening in the UAE. I want people to have a new experience of arts and see different cultures and disciplines. At the same time, you have to know that the people are ready to experience these new ideas. This is the strength of a festival director, to be on the ground, you meet the people and feel where they are at and at the end of it you decide and take that challenge.

With the festival’s mission to educate, how do you then measure success?

When it comes to assessing the impact of culture I believe you can measure it. Ten years ago I would not have thought of having youth at the Abu Dhabi Festival. But today the vision of the UAE is to invest in the youth and innovation with art and culture being at the heart of it. The Abu Dhabi Festival plays a major part in doing that.

What aspects of the festival give you satisfaction personally?

Each festival gives me satisfaction. There are also moments in nearly every festival when I see young people who are inspired by a performance or something they witnessed and then say: I now have a dream and I want to achieve it. When that happens then I am not just satisfied, I become truly happy.

•The Abu Dhabi Festival runs until March 31. For details of the various parts of the programme, go to www.abudhabifestival.ae

sasaeed@thenational.ae

*This article has been amended to correct an error in the title for Hoda Al Khamis.