Abu Dhabi Art makes some new friends

Abu Dhabi Art has unveiled a Friends initiative, designed “to facilitate new models of public cultural philanthropy” and “help support the dynamic art eco-system in the UAE”. More than 40 local art enthusiasts have signed up (we count 43, in fact).

Abu Dhabi Art’s director Dyala Nusseibeh described them as “cultural philanthropists” and said she was “hugely grateful” to the Friends. They would “play an integral role in supporting emerging artists from the UAE… and engaging the wider public with their work”.

Specifically, this year Friends of Abu Dhabi Art will support Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond: Emerging Artists, the exhibition strand curated for 2021 by guest curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath of Art Reoriented. Abu Dhabi Art announced a few weeks ago that Bardaouil and Fellrath will commission three new works for Beyond: Emerging Artists from the UAE-based artists Hashel Al Lamki, Maitha Abdalla and Christopher Benton, all interesting choices (top).

Dyala Nusseibeh didn’t spell out what the Friends’ support might involve, but membership costs AED 1,000 per month for individuals or AED 1,500 for a couple,. For that you get to be “involved in commissioning new artworks for Abu Dhabi each year”, and for 2021, the Friends of Abu Dhabi Art will be “credited for supporting” Beyond: Emerging Artists 2021 “and will be part of this initiative”. A ‘thank you’ plaque with names of Friends will be displayed next to the commissioned works each year.

More practically, Friends get to participate in a private virtual talk with the commissioned artists and curators, a ‘behind the scenes’ studio visit for see work in progress, and a pre-exhibition private view with the artists to see the finished work.

By our reckoning a year’s membership subscriptions from the 40 inaugural signees has to be worth something above AED 450,000 in this first year (depending on discounts, if any, and how many members come as a couple) presumably minus a fee for Abu Dhabi Art’s managing body DCT Abu Dhabi for providing the secretariat. That would be a useful stipend or commission fee for two or three young artists looking for time and space to produce new work.

Nadine Maalouf of 81 Designs, one of two ‘co-heads’ of the group, declared that “Friends of Abu Dhabi Art members are ready to support the UAE art ecosystem through this new platform and to play a part in enabling emerging artists from the UAE to develop their work and reach new audiences”.

There was a little more from the other co-head, Nadia Sehweil, CEO of Bodytree Wellness. “Friends of Abu Dhabi Art is not limited to financial support. It is an endeavour to encourage independent activity by community members for the benefit of the local art ecosystem … Friends of Abu Dhabi Art will play a significant role in strengthening Abu Dhabi Art’s programming, as well as provide a platform for funding, knowledge exchange, and networking initiatives for the different players in the sector.”

So we can deduce that while fundraising is a core function, input into Abu Dhabi Art’s decisions (and especially programming) might be another. Networking and generally spreading the word would be a third.

Afra Al Dhaheri, Tasreeha (2020). Installed at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, as part of the Beyond: Emerging Artists curation for 2020

One interesting question is what happens to the work that the Friends fund. Presumably commissions are made by Abu Dhabi Art, or DCT Abu Dhabi, and are therefore owned by one or the other. The Beyond: Emerging Artists work gives three artists a year long programme of support and mentorship to realise ambitious projects that remain on public exhibition for several months after the fair ends; so a nice collection must be building up since the programme’s inception in 2017, and the Friends will be helping to add to it. Maybe a permanent space could be found for it in the Manarat or maybe the Cultural Foundation?

Abu Dhabi Art runs from 17 November to 21 November, though presumably the Friends get those special previews before that …

The Friends are looking for new members; if you’re interested, there’s an enquiry button here.

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