x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Expert help from British Museum

The world famous institution will lend its years of experience but the narrative of nation's landmark will be homegrown, officials say.

A computer rendering of Saadiyat Island. From left, Guggenheim, Zayed National Museum and Louvre.
A computer rendering of Saadiyat Island. From left, Guggenheim, Zayed National Museum and Louvre.

The British Museum will help set up the UAE's national museum through the loan of art and assistance with exhibits on falcons and the oil and pearl industries.

The Zayed National Museum will receive advice on the training of its Emirati staff and the establishment of its programming from the world famous UK institution.

But the UAE facility will tell its own narrative, officials said at the unveiling yesterday of its design and exhibitions.

Mubarak al Muhairi, the managing director of Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), said the overseas advice will help fine-tune the visitor experience. The British Museum will counsel on the museum's design, construction and operations.

The London landmark "is very rich in its collection and knowledge of the region, brings tremendous feedback to the design and will add to future content of the galleries," Mr al Muhairi said.

The agreement with Abu Dhabi was the British Museum's biggest overseas venture yet, and the first time it has contributed in the building of a museum from the ground up. It approached TDIC in 2006 on news that the UAE was planning a museum.

"We have a long history of working internationally, supporting other museums as they develop, and we want to extend this to the Gulf region," Justin Morris, director of strategic planning at the British Museum, said.

"The story of Sheikh Zayed, the transformation of the Emirates, the deep history of the country and its important role in the region is a fascinating one and we are excited to be able to work with the Government of Abu Dhabi to create a completely new museum within which to tell this story."

The British Museum also announced that it will launch a museum management course in the UAE through Cambridge University that will begin next year, which it hopes to develop into a full diploma course.

It is not clear what, or how often, the British Museum will contribute to temporary exhibitions. It has initiated collaborative projects with governments and cultural organisations around the world, and in 2008 held a calligraphy exhibition at the Dubai International Financial Centre called Word Into Art.

"Initiatives such as the Zayed National Museum allow us to engage with new audiences in strategically important regions and to further develop our long-term relationships," Mr Morris said.

The British Museum has a World Collections Programme, which establishes partnerships between UK cultural institutions and organisations in the Middle East, India, China and Africa.

Kiprop Lagat, assistant director at the National Museums of Kenya, said the British Museum has provided training to staff there since an agreement was made in 2005. Staff members were taught exhibition development, conservation, mounting and public programming.

It has also upgraded storage of research results to international standards and made improvements to infrastructure, and had an international loan exchange of African art between the museums in 2006.

"Given the level of experience and expertise gained from some of these programmes, (the National Museums of Kenya) has been able to offer practical training to some other institutions within the region," he said.

The content about the late Sheikh Zayed's life, the unification of the nation and its cultural heritage will all come from the UAE, Mr al Muhairi said.

"Their main focus will be on training Emiratis and preparing them to work in the museum, and at the same time preparing for museum operations," he said.

The 66,000 sqm museum will have a library, fine dining restaurant, falconry centre and educational facilities, as well as galleries that focus on themes including faith, heritage, conservation and history.

The stories will be told through film, audio, multimedia, art and archaeological material from around the region.

The British Museum was established in 1753 and has a collection of more than seven million objects that document the history of human culture.

econroy@thenational.ae