x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

New museum body aims to unite national culture

With two years before Guggenheim, Louvre and Zayed National Museum open, group plans best ways to support cultural storehouses.

With two years before Guggenheim, Louvre and Zayed National Museum open, a group is planning the best ways to support cultural storehouses.
With two years before Guggenheim, Louvre and Zayed National Museum open, a group is planning the best ways to support cultural storehouses.

DUBAI // As the nation gears up for the 2013 openings of two prominent art galleries, as well as Zayed National Museum, a group is working behind the scenes to establish one body to oversee all cultural institutions – a first for the Arab region.

The fledgling Emirates Association of Museums is the work of graduates of the Museum Studies Foundation Course, offered by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. The courses were launched last year to introduce museum professionals and graduates to curation, museum management and collection care.

Although the new association has yet to be approved by the government, “it will happen”, said Salwa Mikdadi, the head of arts and culture for the Emirates Foundation.

“This is such an important step for the future of the cultural institutions of the UAE,” she said. “It will create increased communication and a pool of knowledge, which will have positive effects on the whole nation. All the people employed in museums will feel they are representative of this country.”

With two years to go until the opening of the Zayed National Museum, which is being developed in co-operation with the British Museum, and the Guggenheim and Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, there is an increasing need for a proficient and home-grown staff base to ensure the UAE gets the most from the new cultural additions to its landscape.

The Museum Studies Foundation Course was conceived at John F. Kennedy (JFK) University in Berkeley, California, in conjunction with the Emirates Foundation. When the first batch of 12 graduated in June last year, some started working on establishing the museums association while others went on to continue their studies.

Last month, the foundation announced they were sponsoring three of the graduates to earn master’s degrees in History of Art and Museology at the Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi.

The second batch of 15 began the online course in December and this week completed the first of two practical sessions.

Alya Burhaima, a 26-year-old Emirati who is the education manager in the interpretation department at the Sharjah Museums Department, said the course was helping her see how to improve the department’s institutions.

“There is a lack of attendance from Emiratis in our museums in general and this is a problem,” she said. “The government spends so much money hosting high-quality exhibitions but nobody comes apart from media and people already involved in the industry.

“This course is helping us think of creative ways to get newcomers through the doors.”

Ms Burhaima said she struggled to persuade even her own family to visit museums, but she now has more ideas to involve the community.

Marjorie Schwarzer, the chair of the department of Museum Studies at JFK University, is leading the week-long practical session at the Farjam Collection in Dubai International Financial Centre. She said the course was essential to bring the museums up to international standards.

“There are certain techniques that we use within museums that are truly unique; we have an internationally trained group of museum professionals who will pass on that expertise,” she said. “This course will help bring an esprit de corps to the country and people will be able to rely on each other between the institutions.”

The course includes analysis of museum theories, how to create a successful museum visit and education programming, as well as teach preservation and conservation techniques. Maha Gargash, author of the popular Emirati novel Sandfish, and Emilie Faure, the collection and exhibition manager at The Farjam Collection, were guest speakers.

The next step, said Ms Mikdadi, is to organise internships for those who have never worked in museums or graduate school for those wishing to excel in their field.

Ms Burhaima said she wanted to change foreigners’ perceptions.

“I have spent time in London and the US and everyone thinks we either live like bedouins in tents, or we have lots of money but no culture or history. It is our role to change this.”

The course runs until May 15 and Emirates Foundation hope to continue it for 2012.

aseaman@thenational.ae