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Sun 4 Mar 2007 12:00 AM

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An artful investment

ME companies have yet to make their mark on the region's burgeoning art scene.

What do Microsoft, Deutsche Bank and Monsoon all have in common aside from being global brands in IT, banking and high-street fashion? They are each renowned for their patronage of the arts and as such, feature in the top 40 corporate art patrons across the globe. This makes them members of an elite group of businesses who recognise the mutually beneficial relationship that can be struck between the business and art worlds — a fact yet to be fully embraced in the Gulf region.

Corporate patronage of the arts is not a new concept — artists have relied on patrons for centuries with perhaps the most famous being the Guggenheim family — one-time mining and smelting dynasty turned art aficionados.

The basics of the relationship between patron and artist have remained the same since the Medici family were in power in 17th century Florence: the artist benefits from the financial injection and association with a trusted and wealthy benefactor while the benefits to the corporation, although varying, dependent on the nature of their input, are numerous.

The purchasing and exhibiting of art within business premises can create a stimulating, vibrant atmosphere and provides a creative medium through which a number of companies communicate their brand ethics to visitors — in essence it is a creative form of advertising.

On the next level, the development of a collection not only supports galleries and artists, but is also an asset for the business in itself — in terms of enhancing its reputation, driving business and being a financial investment. The sponsorship of an exhibition provides an arena for corporate networking, while the patronage of an arts prize communicates the message clearly that as a business you are dedicated to funding and fostering talent.

But this begs the question that with such clear advantages to embark on a foray into the world of art, why is the Gulf region perceived as being so behind the rest of the world?

As a regional community, businesses and the art world need to collaborate to ensure that the growth that is beginning to happen in the Gulf continues its momentum.

It was just a few years ago that Singapore suffered a similar void in corporate patronage — a hurdle the country overcome by introducing the ‘Patron of the Arts Award’ to encourage and reward businesses who have supported the nascent arts industry. A similar proactive approach is truly needed here.

The regional art community is bursting with talent. It seems that everyday a new gallery or exhibition is opening or showing the latest regional work. Businesses should grasp the opportunity to give something back to the community and its cultural growth as well as work to raise the calibre of the art being created at a local level.

Art acts as a visual history of a society, its people and the richness that they produce. It challenges people and helps them gauge the environment they live in and adjust to. The cultural, educational and historical significance of the industry should not, in fact, never be overlooked.

Businesses wishing to embark on an arts programme, however, should do so cautiously. A link between the company and the artist or gallery is essential — be it as mundane as a shared target audience or as peripheral as a shared vision.

At EFG-Hermes, our partnership with The Third Line gallery was bred out of a shared desire to support artists originating from or working in the Middle East. Determined in their goal to nurture partnerships between artists and people of the region, The Third Line gallery is taking the lead in championing corporate patronage.

The forthcoming Gulf Art Fair pledges much in the way of progression of the region’s art industry — and if international enthusiasm for the event is anything to go by, it will more than deliver on these promises. At the very least it will stimulate discussion between the art and business worlds. With the breadth of local art talent in the region it is imperative that it is supported by those with the means to do so — local and international businesses.

It is an investment decision that makes perfect sense and hopefully it will not be long until a regional company features proudly in the top 40 list of corporate art patrons.

Shayne Elliott is CEO of the EFG-Hermes Group. EFG-Hermes is collaborating with The Third Line gallery for the second Dubai solo exhibition of internationally renowned Egyptian photographic artist Youssef Nabil. For more information go to:
www.thethirdline.com

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T Crowe Semler 12 years ago

We should all be thankful, Masha'Allah for the illuminated visionaries promoting the new Gulf Art Fair... What a wonderful event to bring attention and support to all the fine artists in the Gulf region. Best wishes...Insha'Allah the success of this event will expand the appreciation of collectors for local produced art. I am yours truly, T Crowe O'Rourke Semler