Young Emiratis learn the business of art

Twenty young Emirati dancers, painters, writers, filmmakers and photographers are learning to transform their skills into viable businesses thanks to an 18-month vocational training course.

The Cultural Excellence Fellowship Programme, run by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (Admaf) in partnership with the British Council, requires the students to attend one-day business focused workshops every other weekend.

Each seminar is led by professionals and academics who offer training on issues such as artistic programming, audience development, financial management, digital development, arts education, community outreach, marketing, branding, people management, cultural policy, international development and evaluation.

The students, who are known as “proteges” in the programme, will also be mentored by UAE-based professional artists.

“The Cultural Excellence Fellowship is a long-term initiative that seeks to make a significant contribution to the shaping of the country’s cultural scene,” said Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, founder of Admaf.

“I believe the programme will foster entrepreneurialism among Emirati youth as well as elevate the creativity of the UAE, nationally and internationally.”

The students, all between the ages of 21 and 30, had to submit an application and pass an interview to demonstrate superior understanding and involvement in arts and culture.

“We hope to bring together the best of the emerging talent of the Emirati cultural and creative industries, with established cultural leaders from the UK, the UAE and beyond to make a contribution to the fast evolving UAE cultural sector,” said Marc Jessel, country director, British Council-UAE.

At their most recent meeting, the students spent the day at twofour54’s The Space learning about the moneymaking side of art and culture from Zayed University College of Business assistant professor Constance Van Horne.

One student compared the programme to a godsend.

“It’s like Allah has answered my prayers, this is exactly what I need,” said Ahmed Alanzi, a 29-year-old from Abu Dhabi who aspires to create a blog dedicated to design. “I’m given all these tools by Admaf and the British Council to enlighten me on what culture is and to give me those tools that can assist me to become a cultural entrepreneur or a cultural leader.”

Maitha Abdallah, a 25-year-old painter and photographer studying at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, said she wants to focus on selling her art after her imminent graduation. The programme is helping her learn “how to get out there”, she said.

“Being just an artist in the United Arab Emirates, it’s not a thing that a lot of people do and I guess I just want to learn how to be an artist and yet pay the bills,” said Ms Abdallah.

Layla Al Khouri, a 27-year-old aspiring dance teacher, said the workshops had been “really intellectually stimulating”.

“It completely exceeded my expectations and, honestly, everyone in this programme are proteges. Everyone is just, I mean, so creative and so motivated and so confident. That was the first thing I noticed in our first session, was just how confident everyone was and how passionate they are, you can just feel that energy in this group.”