x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Emiratis learn the fine art of fine arts

Emirati students are being readied to work at the major museums expected on Saadiyat Island.

Sorbonne museum studies master's students Alia Lootah, left, and Mona Al Gurg, who have recently returned from internships in Paris.
Sorbonne museum studies master's students Alia Lootah, left, and Mona Al Gurg, who have recently returned from internships in Paris.

ABU DHABI // Alia Lootah has always aspired to a career in the art world.

As a fine arts undergraduate at the University of Sharjah, she dreamt of working in at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Now Ms Lootah has lived the dream, along with fellow students on the master's programme in art history and museum studies at the Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi.

They have just returned from a three-month compulsory internship in Paris, one of the cultural capitals of the world.

"It is the most important part of the course," Ms Lootah said, adding that taking part in high-level operations was a vital part of professional development.

"When I started in Paris, I didn't realise how important it would be. Then suddenly I was attending top acquisition meetings, talking about loaning pieces to New York, new collections.

"After 18 months of study, it was time for us to see how it worked in the real world, the practical side."

Ms Lootah is among the first batch of 10 graduates from the university primed to work in Saadiyat Island's museums and galleries when they open.

They are preparing to finish their master's studies at the end of the summer once they complete their dissertations.

"It's a niche thing," said Mona Al Gurg, 25, from Dubai, whose work experience was with the French National Library.

Ms Al Gurg said there were advantages to being in the first course of its kind in the country.

"I don't think there are a lot of locals with such a specialisation in areas like curation," she said. "A lot of people have work experience with no academic background, but for us, we have both."

Many of the teachers are flown in each week from Paris.

Ms Lootah, 22, also from Dubai, said it was crucial to have Emiratis at the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, planned for Saadiyat.

"It's important to have that local voice," she said.

Zayed University will be launching its master's programme in museum studies in September, with a full class of 25 for its first cohort and a waiting list of several more.

Dr Jane Bristol-Rhys, head of the programme, has been planning the course since 2005 but the previously overcrowded university had to wait until it moved to its new campus.

The university will be in partnership with St Andrews University in Scotland, from which academics will visit to deliver lectures in each semester of the 18-month course.

A master's degree at Zayed is Dh95,000, much less than the Dh180,000 fees at the Sorbonne.

Most of the students at both universities already work in arts across the Emirates, and many are sponsored by their employers or philanthropic bodies such as the Emirates Foundation.

Noura Al Meraiki, 24, one of five students to intern at the Louvre, said sponsorship was vital to attracting more nationals to the sector.

"Right now we need to have experts from abroad as this area is new for us," Ms Al Meraiki said.

"But the UAE Government must support nationals so we have people to take over when the likes of the Louvre hand the projects over in 30 years."

Dr Bristol-Rhys said Zayed University's programme complemented the one offered at the Sorbonne, which was more technical in terms of preservation and conservation.

She said the local course suited Emirati women who might not be able to travel to Paris for three months for an internship.

Sophie Mouquin, from the Ecole du Louvre and the academic director of the Sorbonne programme, said the cost of the internships was regarded as an investment.

Much of the funds were spent bringing academics in from Paris and funding the three-month internship.

"Any professional master's like this somewhere like the US would cost the same," Ms Mouquin said. "These students are ready to work in these museums and galleries now."

mswan@thenational.ae