A professional development course for curators hopes to ensure the talent to run the institutions and their exhibitions is on hand from the word go.
Curators being tutored in how to 'give life to objects'
ABU DHABI // The ability to breathe life into inanimate objects is a talent so rare it belongs in a museum.
And with some of the world's most anticipated museums and art galleries set to open on Saadiyat Island, nurturing the talent of young curators has become even more important.
Curators need to do far more than memorise the names and numbers of exhibits. They need an extensive knowledge of history, yet must be up-to-date with current affairs. They must have a flair for the art of exhibition, yet have a fine grasp of subtlety.
They must juggle knowledge of trends in their field with an understanding of classical theories, and problems and ethics.
And such abilities are only the starters for what they need to succeed.
The Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy, in collaboration with the California College of the Arts, is tutoring 18 students, including 11 Emiratis, through a four-month programme that drives home how demanding and multifaceted the job of curator can be.
"Ultimately, it is about leaving an impression on whoever steps into a museum or gallery by giving life to the object they happen to be viewing," said Ranya Sihweil, senior adviser at the foundation's arts and culture programme.
"Good curators can create memories with objects that never before had any meaning to you.
"Every object and piece of art has a story."
All of the participants in the professional development course in curatorial practice are working in prominent arts and cultural organisations across the country. The course features workshops and seminars on-site and online.
The course is the third in museum studies that the foundation has run since 2010. It started on January 17 and will end on April 30, by which time it aims to have given the students an "interactive introduction" to the many nuances of the profession.
"I didn't know curators had to consider so many factors," said one of the students, Alanood Al Hammadi, 25, an Emirati who works at Abu Dhabi Art.
"They have such a great responsibility and burden to bear. I finally understood why their name is up there on the exhibition next to the artists' names."
Aisha Deemas, 27, an Emirati curator at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, said she was looking forward to using some of the "tricks of the trade" the course has taught her.
"It gave me a lot of new ideas and I learnt new skills on how to prepare and turn an exhibition into something memorable," said Ms Deemas.
"The context surrounding a piece is very important, and so I think many of us curators who met at this course will now try to find the right context that will interest and captivate the Emirati community."
Other students such as Alia Al Shamsi, a photojournalist from Dubai, and Alia Al Sabi, a Palestinian architect who works at the Sharjah Art Foundation, were inspired by the course to rethink their careers.
"I am already doing some curating at galleries showing grassroots art, but now I want to get into it more deeply and professionally," said Ms Al Shamsi.
For Ms Al Sabi, who says she "does not like to be boxed" into a single career, curating fits in well with her background in art and education.
"It is great to get that chance to leave an impression on someone who visited an exhibition that you put together," she said.
The course is also giving the students ample opportunities to network.
"One of our objectives is to connect all those working in this field, and those who want to work in art, so that there is a strong local network sharing and learning from each other," said Salwa Mikdadi, the head of the arts and culture programme at the foundation.
The renowned art historian and curator, who has more than 25 years of experience in art and museums, held a seminar for the students at Manarat Al Saadiyat yesterday.
"With all these museums opening soon in Abu Dhabi and the many existing museums and community spaces, there is a real need for these kinds of courses to help those involved build on knowledge they already have and keep up with the latest changes," Ms Mikdadi said.
Students who pass the course will receive a certificate from the California College of the Arts. It is being taught by two professors from the US.
One, Leigh Markopoulos, is an assistant professor and chairwoman of the graduate programme in curatorial practice at the California College of the Arts.
The other, Marjorie Schwarzer, has worked in the museum field since 1981 and served as professor and chairwoman of the Department of Museum Studies at John F Kennedy University in Berkeley, California, from 1996 to last year.
Museum-related degrees are also offered at Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and Zayed University.
For a curator's view of the new exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat, visit thenational.ae/multimedia