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Turning Dubai into a culture capital

Turning Dubai into a culture capital

Art Season and SIKKA Art Fair project manager Walid Moosa Ahmed discusses Dubai’s growing arts and culture landscape

How has the arts and culture landscape changed in recent years? Is the environment more supportive of individuals and businesses in this sector?

One of Dubai Culture’s primary aims is to enhance Dubai’s arts and culture landscape by supporting and nurturing talent in this sector, and over the past 10 years, our efforts have indeed created an environment where both individuals and businesses can flourish in line with our leadership’s vision for cultural development.

We support this vision with major initiatives like Dubai Art Season, which is our flagship umbrella arts event and holds pride of place in the city’s busy cultural calendar, featuring a two-month citywide activation of arts events including the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, SIKKA Art Fair and Art Dubai, among hundreds of other creative initiatives and activities across Dubai. Dubai Art Season strengthens Dubai’s cultural fabric by providing local, regional and international talents with myriad platforms for showcasing their work, collaborating with one another, and reaching out to the public and the wider world, which is the essence of a thriving arts and culture sector.

SIKKA Art Fair plays a particularly important role in this endeavour as it is the first annual initiative of its kind to focus on showcasing and celebrating Emirati, UAE and GCC-based artists, which reflects our mandate to support local talent.

How important to a society is a thriving arts and culture scene? How can this be encouraged and sustained?

Dubai Culture believes that a thriving arts and culture scene is an essential element of the happy society imagined in the Dubai Plan 2021. In fact, bringing happiness to our society is the purpose behind our mission to empower the culture, heritage, arts and literature sectors.

We encourage a thriving arts and culture scene by developing creative and innovative projects and initiatives locally, regionally and globally, and by partnering with other government entities and private organisations to sustain momentum and progress.

SIKKA Art Fair is an excellent example, because it is an innovative initiative that provides local and regional emerging talent with a unique platform for showcasing their work via a range of exciting exhibitions, art installations, workshops, film, music and performing arts. At the same time, SIKKA Art Fair works to raise happiness and positive energy across all communities within Dubai by immersing visitors in the joy of art and giving them an opportunity to experience and celebrate the home-grown talent that is driving Dubai’s thriving arts scene.

SIKKA Art Fair grows in scope and ambition each year and 2018 was no exception, being more engaging than ever before, working with partners including the Dubai Police, the Emirate’s Youth Council, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Meraas and Samsung, as well as with local macro and micro influencers, to bring new elements to the programme.

What is Dubai Art Season’s role in promoting and developing art, artists, and the culture sector? How does its different events and initiatives give a platform to those looking to develop a career in the arts and culture sector?

Held under the patronage of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice Chairman of Dubai Culture, Dubai Art Season was launched by the Authority in 2014 to support its vision of establishing Dubai as a global, creative, and sustainable city for culture, heritage, arts and literature.

To empower these four sectors and bring happiness to Dubai’s society in line with the Dubai Plan 2021, Dubai Art Season celebrates the Emirate’s growing creative landscape internationally through a series of city-wide activations including outdoor art projects, interactive initiatives, workshops, exhibitions, panel discussions and performances, among many other events. We are in the midst of the fifth edition of this much-anticipated event, with two months of the Emirate’s flagship cultural events across March and April.

Has participation in SIKKA Art Fair increased over the years? If so, what do you attribute this to?

For SIKKA Art Fair 2018, we received a record number of over 200 submissions, which is double the number of applications we received in 2017, to select the 50 final artworks for the fair. In addition to the 50 chosen artists, over 10 further artists were welcomed to be part of the fair.

This is a testament to the growing popularity of SIKKA Art Fair and fulfils our aim to grow the number of participants year-on-year, encourage artists to showcase their work on various platforms at the fair, and engage the community to celebrate the region’s home-grown talent. This year’s submissions show that SIKKA Art Fair has grown in diversity, especially in terms of the participating artists, who have not only met the selection standards but also raised the bar for the quality of submissions, which furthers our efforts to position Dubai as a global hub for culture and creativity.

In what ways can arts and culture benefit private sector companies? Would you like to see more private companies supporting art and culture, and developing their own initiatives?

Dubai Culture is committed to establishing partnerships with private companies and organisations, because public-private sector cooperation is an essential part of our government’s plans for building a sustainable and competitive economy based on knowledge, expertise and diversity. The arts and culture sector offers private companies exciting new ways to reach out to the public and make a real difference in our society, and we are delighted to see them becoming increasingly involved in Dubai’s cultural development.

Our partnership with Samsung at SIKKA Art Fair is a good example of the mutual benefits that such partnerships can offer. At the ‘Creatopia Frame Art House’, visitors can view Creatopia digital art displayed on ‘The Frame’ TV screens, which were designed by Samsung to seamlessly bringing art into people’s everyday lives by ingeniously doubling as digital displays for photographs and works of art.

Creatopia is an exclusive Dubai Culture-created platform that pioneers a new perspective for art and tech, and also provides online accessibility to expert curation for inspiring talents across the globe. By working together, we are supporting ‘Creatopians’ and enhancing the SIKKA Art Fair experience with digital art, while also raising awareness of Samsung’s innovative technology among a wide audience.

With events such as SIKKA Art Fair and Art Dubai, do you believe Dubai now has the right to call itself the ‘art hub’ of the Middle East?

Our mission is to establish Dubai as a global art hub, not only the Middle East, and we are focusing our future efforts on achieving this ambitious goal.

For now, we are confident that Dubai is already considered the art hub of the Middle East, because events like SIKKA Art Fair and Art Dubai have made our city the most exciting meeting place for artists and professionals in the region’s art world, and indeed beyond. This is also aligned with our mission to consolidate Dubai’s position as the hub of the Islamic Creative Economy, in line with our government’s aim to establish Dubai as the capital of the Islamic Economy as whole.

SIKKA Art Fair supports our leadership’s wider efforts to boost cultural activity within the UAE and encourage projects and initiatives that promote the country’s cultural products. The cultural sector plays an important role in supporting the UAE’s economic development, as well as in consolidating the nation’s international position and competitiveness, and SIKKA contributes to this by strengthening the future of arts across the region, celebrating national talents, and increasing the presence of UAE youth in the country’s cultural scene.

Art Dubai represents an integral part of Dubai Art Season, which is now in its fifth edition. Art Dubai has grown in scope year on year and the fair now includes a new element, the ‘Art Dubai Residents’ gallery programme, which complements other residency programmes that are already part of Art Dubai including Artists in Residence (A.i.R) and Campus Dubai. Together, these initiatives will enrich our local art scene, provide artists with a new platform for sharing their UAE-inspired work with the public, and fulfil our mandate to support and nurture creative talent.

What advice would you give to artists striving to build a career in the region?

Dubai Culture’s calendar of artistic initiatives is designed to support exactly these people, so whether they are in the art, music or theatre sectors, I would encourage aspiring artists to make the most of the opportunities they have to get involved in the region’s art scene.

This could involve applying to participate in SIKKA Art Fair, enrolling in the Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre, contributing to Creatopia online, or simply attending events to gain inspiration and advice from more established artists, for example at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature or the Middle East Film & Comic Con.

Dubai is home to a thriving artistic community that is very welcoming to new talent and Dubai Culture’s mandate is to nurture that talent in any way possible.

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