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Sun 1 Apr 2007 01:06 PM

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Re-branding the UAE through culture

"Can you buy culture? Yes. But can you imbed culture into people's hearts? No."

"Can you buy culture? Yes. But can you imbed culture into people's hearts? No." This was just one of the controversial sentiments expressed at the DIFC Global Art Forum last month where international artists, collectors and gallery owners gathered together to discuss the issues affecting the industry.

In the focus group entitled ‘Branding cities through culture' Jill Silverman Van Coenegrachts, partner of the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, talked of the ‘Bilbao effect' or the ‘Guggenheim phenomenon' which describes the act of taking a homespun concept such as New York's Guggenheim Museum and transplanting it in a foreign land, thereby manufacturing an arts scene. The ambitious plans of Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island are a prime example of this occurrence.

The most recent addition to the UAE capital's plans is the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre set to open in 2012, which has sparked increased global interest in the region. Within the art industry certainly, the building of these museums and galleries can be viewed as a concerted effort by the UAE to inject contemporary culture into a region that is often berated for lacking the centuries of cultural history of its European counterparts.

Dubai is still essentially a migratory society though, and is it possible to have a thriving arts scene in an Emirate where most residents are temporary? Does its transient nature mean that it is extra-difficult to create a city of culture? One key issue raised at the forum that is actually in the Middle East's favour is the concern that the European and US arts markets are being homogenised as this opens up a gap for niche art styles, such as Islamic art, to gain a stronghold in the industry.

Homogenisation stops the enrichment of diversity and omits the local character, which is why it is important to cultivate local artists and a local identity. With commercial interior designers often looking for ways to retain a ‘sense of Arabia' in their projects, investing in original works by regional artists is a great way to do it, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also through the need to boost the artistic community in the UAE that has too often been overlooked.

Art and the finishing touches in commercial projects are often the victims of a budget tightening at the eleventh hour. But with a brighter spotlight on the UAE from more discerning clients attracted to the region for the quality of the culture, designers may have to up their game and banish the prints.

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T Crowe Semler 13 years ago

Can you buy culture?... Or can you buy cultural artifacts ? The UAE has the wonderful opportunity to "hybrid" a multicultural flavor within the "cultural art scene". The application of the traditional schools of Islamic Art as well as the multiple schools of global art...it isn't just about Western Art...It is about ART... the whole spectrum of cultures / arts and the ability to appreciate the creative processes and the products produced. Masha'Allah invest in community, people, and art. Then you will have a inspired heart felt culture rather than an imbedded artificial culture. The social construction of reality... or culture is defined by our "collective consciousness"... Keep it real... to the possibilities The Cosmopolitan Khaleej... I am yours truly, T Crowe O'Rourke Semler