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Thu 11 Jun 2009 07:38 AM

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Dubai eyeing new fashion, design district

Culture chief says he wants law changes to persuade foreign artists to set up home.

Dubai Culture and Arts Authority is aiming to build a fashion and design district and change legislation to persuade foreign artists to take up residence in a new arts neighbourhood.

The plans are the latest move in a major attempt by energy-rich Gulf Arab states to put themselves on the global arts map with prestigious museums, festivals and exhibits.

Mishaal al-Gergawi, projects and events department head at Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, told Reuters Global Luxury Summit in Dubai that the entity's billion-dollar budget was dedicated to "developing the culture in the city ... and infrastructures for artists".

Dubai Culture plans to create a neighbourhood dedicated to fashion, high-end design and gastronomy, he said, without giving more details.

The authority is also developing legislation to allow foreign artists residency rights if they have only part-time or non-profit work, which is currently not possible.

The UAE will set up an area of galleries and affordable housing for artists, similar to Spitalfields, an open market area in London featuring independent boutiques, selling fashion, music and jewellery.

Gergawi said Dubai will also build a Kunsthal museum with no permanent collection within the next 24 to 30 months to house temporary exhibits from around the world.

"We want to bring (works) from international museums who have universal collections of pre-historic times, contemporary, impressionist, antiquities, Islamic, and take them out of their comfortable space," said Gergawi.

Agreements have been signed with the Dresden, Munich and Berlin state museums in Germany to provide exhibits, he said.

Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, is building a branch of the Paris Louvre museum and New York's Guggenheim designed by world famous architects on Saadiyat Island, a luxury resort with marinas, shops and art centres.

Qatar, the world's leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, recently opened an Islamic art museum.

Dubai, one of seven emirates comprising the UAE, saw an economic boom spurred by high oil prices over the past six years, resulting in a large influx of tourists and expatriates arriving for year-round sunshine and modern living.

But as the emirate suffers from a property crash and liquidity squeeze, population growth has slowed.

Dubai's tourism industry saw a setback in the first quarter with hotel guest nights falling 16 percent and revenues dropping 15 percent as the global recession hit the sector.

Dubai Culture did not have to reduce its budget due to the financial downturn, said Gergawi, but had to "reschedule" it.

"I like the crisis ... it has really made you have to justify your existence," he said.

Gergawi said family pressure and cultural expectations were holding back Emirati nationals from engaging in artistic pursuits. "You have a lot of pressure from the family ... and no support for anything alternative or not in the mainstream." (Reuters)

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geg 11 years ago

And will it work? We can only pray it does. Oops! That might contradict cultural norms. Mishaal al-Gergawi must be commended but just by comparing Spitalfields to the proposed project just smacks of monkey see monkey do again. Art has great value but little value is attached to it or even acknowledged as an entity within local curriculum. The rich love the bravado only Radio is an art in itself; advertising in its entirety is art; Telecom prompts such as Call Centre response systems are art but NONE are perceived as such, hence we endure such abysmal levels of professionalism and creative thought across the board and it seems nobody cares from the top to the bottom, thus so few have an inkling of how psychologically damaging bad art is to their image. Out of the entire Gulf, Dubai tries hardest, but art has no nationality, yet they try to nationalize it by implementing ridiculous scenarios such as; only locals can be hairdressers (Bahrain at one time) or limited vocabulary radio presenters and so on. 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' thus visual art such as design and fashion has some abstract value by its individual appeal, but if you cannot touch it, it has no trading value as perceived largely in the developing world and increasingly beyond as we become less sophisticated and dumbed down. For an 'individual' artist such as a gifted director, producer, or a creative mind to financially survive in this part of the world, he or she needs a gram of sophistication to exist within the community. Telecom companies such as Bahrain's Batelco, large corporates and so on, still go by the lowest price 'tender' for art, instead of a the sophisticated pitch for what might be beautiful and image enhancing. They just don't see value in it, but this proposed project is a start, let us hope it paints a better picture.