From industrial dust to thriving art hub

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, developer of Alserkal Avenue and patron of the arts, talks to Vision about how he transformed an industrial area into a hub for art and creativity in the Middle East

Vision: How did Alserkal Avenue grow into a creative district? Was it a knock­‐on effect, where each gallery followed the last one, or was it more intentional?

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal: Alserkal Avenue grew together with the promising art scene of Dubai and the UAE. We endeavoured to create a platform that brought creative talent and inquisitive minds together; a place where artistic ingenuity would be nurtured and celebrated. 

Over the past seven years, Alserkal Avenue has become a leading hub for contemporary arts and culture in the region, housing the most prominent homegrown galleries and receiving international acclaim. We have transformed an industrial area of Dubai into a centre of creativity where pioneers take risks and exchange ideas and visitors come from all over the world to see the best of what is developing in the UAE art scene. The concept of community is imperative for sustainable growth and supporting homegrown initiatives and local talent remains one of Alserkal Avenue’s core values. 

V: Alserkal Avenue evolved very naturally as a district, but there are other projects globally which are the result of specific government action -­‐ for example, the Creative Cities Project, which encourages urban regeneration in places like Gdańsk in Poland. Do you think one of these ways is more preferable than the other? And is there an ideal way to create a district? 

ABEA: There is no set formula for launching or growing an arts district. Alserkal Avenue’s growth has come about very organically, with the first gallery opening up its doors in 2007. Now we are home to over 15 prominent, contemporary galleries such as regional pioneers, The Third Line, and the renowned Leila Heller Gallery from New York.

V: How do you think districts such as yours make cities more liveable? What do you think Alserkal’s effect on Dubai has been? 

ABEA: Dubai has evolved into a cosmopolitan city in a very short period of time. Despite its status as a nascent art landscape, Dubai is already serving as a commercial arts hub regionally. International interest continues to grow. Last year, over 70 museum groups participated in Art Dubai. There’s been a growing interest from important International art institutions in the MENA region, further shaping the cultural dialogue, especially leading to World Expo 2020.  

Alserkal Avenue is becoming both a destination and an organisation in its own right. In 2015, we officially established our own homegrown programme dedicated to supporting dialogue and the production of performance, public art and social practices by artists living and working in the MENASA region. By encouraging art making that is collaborative, participatory and ephemeral, Alserkal Avenue looks to further strengthen the art eco­‐system. For the first time in the UAE, Alserkal Avenue will launch live‐in artists’ studio spaces to support local and regional talent by ensuring artists have opportunities to create work not easily supported by the regional market.

 

Look out for Art Week in Alserkal Avenue starting March 14. The 2016 Art Week will feature gallery openings, commissions, projects and public programming.