Abdelmonem Alserkal, the businessman and patron behind Alserkal Avenue, Dubai’s pedestrianised art quarter, announced today the establishment of the Alserkal Arts Foundation.
The foundation will support a range of contemporary art practices via commissions, research grants, residencies and educational programmes, and will be based in Al Quoz.
In essence the new foundation formalises the activity that Alserkal has already been engaged in over the past decade, via the non-profit organisation that commissions public artworks, hosts talks and events, and runs the Alserkal Residency programme. All these activities will now go under the umbrella of the Alserkal Arts Foundation, which will also add new strands of cultural support, such as a programme supporting art practitioners in research on the MEASA (Middle East, Africa, South Asia) region.
“Today we cement our commitment to fostering artistic development in the region and beyond, with the establishment of Alserkal Arts Foundation,” Alserkal said in a statement. “When I founded Alserkal, I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to arts and culture in the UAE and in the region — one that was befitting of the values of the Alserkal family.”
Alserkal today opens a new commission as part of its established non-profit programme, such as Rhodiola, by the Athens-based collective 3 137 that models itself on the way plants grow organically. The project will unfold over six weeks via talks, exhibitions, performances and other events in Nadi Al Quoz, and was developed in part by the former Alserkal Residency artist-in-residence Kosmas Nikolaou.
Alserkal’s activity has been distinct to that of the commercial galleries that are located in the Alserkal Avenue district, and though it seems minor, this new title will help disambiguate the various strands of programming as they expand. Alserkal Avenue initially began over a decade ago, when a handful of commercial galleries, such as Carbon 12, Lawrie Shabibi, and Green Art, moved to the site to set up shop in its large warehouses spaces.
Alserkal proved an important patron for these galleries, and founded the Alserkal organisation in 2007. He turned the site into a pedestrianised art district with coffee joints and eateries, expanding it in 2015 to its 500,000 square foot size, and now also supports non-profit ventures like the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation and the Ishara Art Foundation that are also housed in the neighbourhood.
The area has become internationally well-known, and features frequently in travel reports on Dubai and as a spot for dignitaries to visit. Vilma Jurkute, who will remain director of the Alserkal Arts Foundation (most of the staff will likewise transfer over), has also been instrumental in developing the site as an urban asset; the organisation joined the Global Cultural Districts Network in 2017, for example, and hosted its first conference in the Middle East the following year.
Alserkal also supported the first Rem Koolhaas-designed art site in the UAE, named Concrete, which sits in the centre of the district in the section known as the Yard. The building's technical flexibility enables it to operate as a performance, exhibition and event space Concrete will remain distinct from the Alserkal Arts Foundation, though the foundation will run the two non-profit exhibitions per year that will take place at the site.