Alserkal Avenue separates out its non-profit activities

The businessman and cultural patron behind the Alserkal Avenue development, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, has added an arts foundation to his portfolio.

This is a logical development of Alserkal Avenue’s existing non-commercial activities, providing a degree of separation (and clarity) that reflects the differences between the real estate development and the cultural ecosystem that is growing up within it.

The Alserkal Arts Foundation is described “as dedicated to fostering artistic development in Dubai, and to creating cross-cultural exchange between local and international artists and scholars”; it will operate through four core initiatives: public art commissions, residencies, research grants, and educational programmes.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal established Alserkal Avenue fully 11 years ago. Since then, and in no small measure because of the pump priming that Alserkal Avenue provided, the art scene has grown dramatically. Alserkal Avenue provides a useful – and necessary – hub for the arts. “When I founded Alserkal,” said Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, “I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to arts and culture in the UAE and in the region”.

In 2007 around 10,000 people visited Alserkal Avenue. Last year the total was 250,000. Currently there are more than 90 tenants, with art galleries and design agencies being joined by Cinema Akil, The Junction theatre, a couple of non-profit galleries in the form of JPNF and the recently arrived Ishara Foundation, several indy F&B outlets, a few interiors shops, and creative enterprises like The Fridge and hip digital agency LMTD.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal described the Alserkal Arts Foundation as cementing his family’s commitment to artistic development in the region and beyond.

Effectively it will be a not-for-profit umbrella for a number of existing initiatives while providing a mechanism for future developments. Although Alserkal is described as a socially responsible cultural enterprise, Alserkal Avenue is currently a commercial operation, part of the Alserkal Group and essentially a property developer; it makes sense to distinguish that side – which builds, leases and operates the physical spaces within Alserkal Avenue – from the cultural activities.

So the Foundation serve as the non-profit arm of Alserkal, providing a new, formalised structure for the organisation’s existing non-profit activities. It will become the visible promoter of existing projects like the exhibitions that go into Concrete, the Alserkal Residencies on-site residency programme, and Alserkal’s collaborations and annual public art commissions.

The recently opened Rhodiola, a project by Athens-based collective 3 137 exploring the idea of maintenance in everyday life, is actually the nineteenth artist commission at Alserkal Avenue.

Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal, added a couple of extra points at the Foundation’s opening: “In establishing Alserkal Arts Foundation, we’re continuing to challenge convention by fostering artistic development in Dubai and by supporting collaborative, socially engaged and multi-disciplinary practices.”

Vilma Jurkute at the Alserkal Arts Foundation announcement

‘Challenging convention’ suggests that most artistic development in Dubai has basically been commercial, and Alserkal Avenue has indeed been ploughing a lonely furrow in terms of delivering non-profit initiatives – the Jameel is the only other large-scale arts institution in Dubai that doesn’t seem to have a commercial motive, at least in terms of delivering professionally supported visual arts activities and projects.

The Jean Paul Najar Foundation and the Ishara (both Alserkal Avenue tenants) are free of profit motive but operate on a more modest scale. Abu Dhabi has The Arts Centre at NYUAD and Warehouse421; Sharjah has the Sharjah Arts Foundation and its many activities. And that’s about it for the UAE in temrs of non-commercial arts.

“This is a natural progress,” Abdelmonem said in interview, “and the latest in a series of milestones, as the art scene in Dubai matures.”

Going forward, we’re told that Alserkal Arts Foundation’s commissions will take place annually each spring, much as at present. Its Educational Programmes will be delivered through “colloquia, seminars and reading groups” – it will be interesting to see where that takes us. And a new programme of Research Grants kicks in later this year, intended to support “inter-disciplinary proposals, comparative studies, and societal discourses that link the arts, humanities and social sciences in the context of the MEASA (Middle East, Africa and South Asia)”.

“Individuals and collectives that dynamically aim to disrupt conservative boundaries between conventional disciplines are invited to apply,” say the guidelines, “Applicants who demonstrate a strong interest in pursuing broad, intersectional, and experimental approaches to research in their respective fields” will be preferred.

Grants will be worth up to $5,000 for individuals, $10,000 for teams and independent publishers. Applications will open in October with the first grant recipients announced in Autumn 2020. We’ll highlight all this in our Opportunities listings when we have more details.

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