x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Montegrappa and Paulo Coelho are honoured allies of the arts

The Life: Business has long supported the arts. But how do companies decide which cause to fund?

A musical interlude at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards which honours businesses who support the arts.Antonie Robertson / The National
A musical interlude at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards which honours businesses who support the arts.Antonie Robertson / The National

As the author of one of the best-selling books of all time, Paulo Coelho is well qualified to spot a talented young writer.

But few companies are likely to have the clout to ask the writer of The Alchemist to review entries for a student writing competition. Montegrappa, a maker of luxury pens, is different.

"He is a major part of our company," says Charles Nahhas, the managing director Montegrappa Middle East.

"We have made several pens for him, including one for The Alchemist," Mr Nahhas says. "He is very much involved with writing initiatives … And he was impressed by some of the talent in the UAE."

Montegrappa is just one of many businesses supporting the arts in the Emirates. And it was among 47 organisations and individuals honoured this week in Dubai for their contributions.

It is not known exactly how much businesses spend on the arts in the Emirates each year.

But those recognised by the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards contributed more than Dh165 million (US$44.92m) to visual arts, performing arts, film and literature last year alone.

The corporate world has long supported the arts. Yet the category is broad, so how does a company decide which sliver of the market to fund?

Many, including Montegrappa, support endeavours with whose themes they are associated. Last month, the pen company was honoured for its sponsorship of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and student writing competition in English and Arabic.

"We support the arts because art is an intrinsic part of what Montegrappa [does]," says Mr Nahhas. "Montegrappa [makes] handmade, sculpted writing instruments, and the handwork that goes into it is very much artistic based."

Montblanc, a fellow maker of luxury pens, was named a friend of the arts for its support of the Dubai Concert Committee in the organisation of 10 classical-music concerts.

But it also promotes the importance of reading and literature in the UAE.

"In terms of linking back to some of the work that we do, we have supported writers here such as Qais Sedki, who is an Emirati writer who wrote the first manga [comic book for children] in Arabic," says Joe Nahhas, who is the brand director at Montblanc for the region and is related to Charles Nahhas, the Montegrappa executive.

Other companies, such as Ketchum Raad Middle East and The Tribe, which were also named friends of the arts, support the literary festival because they work in creative industries.

But where do financial companies fit within the arts sector?

Abraaj Capital may not work in the arts directly, but it does invest a lot of money in promising ventures.

Four years ago, it initiated one of the world's richest art prizes, the Abraaj Capital Art Prize.

The firm allocates 5 per cent of its top-line revenue to philanthropic projects geared towards entrepreneurship.

"Artists, for us, are cultural entrepreneurs," says Frederic Sicre, a partner at Abraaj Capital, which was named a distinguished patron of the arts.

"Also, there has been very little patronage of the arts by the private sector in this part of the world … so we wanted to show a little bit of a pioneering stand," he says.

Deutsche Bank was named a supporter of the arts for its sponsorship of the Dubai Concert Committee, a dress-code project and art installation in Dubai International Financial Centre.

"Promoting contemporary art is part of our social responsibility commitment in the Middle East, and especially in the United Arab Emirates," says Philippe Vollot, the regional operating officer and chairman of the Deutsche Bank Middle East Foundation.

But the organisation knows more than a little about art.

"Being one of the world's biggest corporate art collectors, with more than 50,000 paintings, supporting arts is within our DNA," he says.


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