Campus Art Dubai helps class acts look towards the future

The pilot programme of Campus Art Dubai, which trains artists and curators over alternating Saturdays for six months, just held its graduation.

Anabelle de Gersigny at her residence in Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

Every March, for just over a week, Dubai and all its inhabitants suffer art fever. During Art Week, the annual art fair brings collectors, gallerists and experts from all over the world and top-quality pieces for us all to enjoy. But outside of those few days, the fair is all but forgotten and usually, when summer approaches, the art world enters hibernation as galleries close and cultural devotees head for cooler climes.

Last weekend, however, a pilot programme called Campus Art Dubai (CAD) came to a close, with 40 artists and curators having taken the first step in an initiative which could very well be the building blocks of a new kind of education for the art community in the UAE.

“Through the fair we have a lot of access to experts and potential tutors who we wanted to encourage to be involved year-round. We also wanted to encourage a new generation of artists and curators,” explains Antonia Carver, the director of Art Dubai. “So we partnered with the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and came up with the idea to have an alternative Saturday school.”

The result was that one Saturday a month, between January and June, 40 participants – split equally between an artists’ course and one for curators – were tutored through a day of intensive seminars, bolstered with invaluable critiques on their ideas and projects.

Thanks to the support of Dubai Culture, the course was completely free and the next day, on the Sunday night, these lessons were followed with a public lecture.

During the rest of the time, the participants worked on their final proposals under the guidance of Lee Xie, the Campus Art Dubai coordinator who also offered one-on-one consultations.

“The critique format and the one-on-ones are two of the pillars of art education and they have been really successful in this context,” says Xie. “It is about being accountable for your practice in a public setting as well as a one-on-one setting and knowing there will be some kind of consequence for your work.”

The curriculum was designed to offer a comprehensive cross-section of topics and involved the expertise of high-profile figures in the art industry.

In the first session, for example, Aaron Cezar, the director of the Delfina Foundation in London, led a workshop titled The Artist’s Toolkit, discussing the range of local and international opportunities available to artists living in the UAE. He also reviewed the participants’ portfolios.

On the curator course, Tirdad Zolghadr, the senior academic adviser at the centre for curatorial studies in Bard College, a top American institution for curating, led a class about writing on art and lent his much-lauded expertise to the sharply tuned ears of his audience.

In the session on art and the law, led by Daniel McClean, a consultant at Howard Kennedy FSI, and Harriet Balloch, a senior associate at Clyde and Co, Carver describes the atmosphere as electric, with people “firing” questions.

“There is clearly a thirst out there for people wanting to have this kind of opportunity – but it is very much a two-way process,” she clarifies.

“We are encouraging a new generation of artists and curators but also making sure that a range of international curators and critics who are interested in this part of the world have a directed and longer-term presence here and can begin a relationship with the UAE that is a bit more profound than a one-week visit in March.”

Dina Ibrahim, an art writer and curator who is also gallery manager at The Third Line, says she took the course because as an emerging curator she wanted to get more involved with emerging artists. “In that sense this course has been really good and it was also great to get the critical feedback from the very prominent artists and curators.”

Although it wasn’t planned at the start of the course, the projects will now be presented in concurrent exhibitions at a variety of venues across Dubai in October. That month will also see the start of the next course and in 2014, Campus Art Dubai will culminate during Art Dubai.

“The underlying aim with this is to rethink the art school format for the UAE,” concludes Carver. “Rather than import an art school, we are trying to think how do people learn best and how do we best equip them to go out there and carve a career as artists or curators.

“It might take us four or five years to hone that concept, but maybe we can come up with something that is different to what is offered elsewhere in the world and something that is compelling and gives people the tools they really need.”

Case Studies

Anabelle de Gersigny: Studio Spaces

Anabelle de Gersigny worked on the museum project in Abu Dhabi but later moved to Dubai and decided that, because she would stay in the country on a more permanent basis, she wanted the city she lived in to be more suited to creative individuals. Having founded a grass-roots studio space in London, de Gersigny saw the CAD course as an opportunity to do the same here: “During the CAD course I asked myself what it was that made me feel I could live in a city and that is the existence of a creative community, where there are small businesses and initiatives and where things can happen organically.”

De Gersigny then made a proposal for a public art studio space, which could make artistic practice more accessible. Initially the project will be solely for the artists on the CAD course but, if successful, will become a part of the artistic infrastructure allowing creative individuals round-the-clock studio access in a communal environment.

“It’s about putting in place the nuts and bolts of an art scene,” she says. “The idea stems from research I did into how areas of cities get built up when creative communities inhabit them and it is also about the fact that there is a creative spirit here but there has never been a physical space that you can go to to express it.” The studio spaces project will undergo its testing phase at Capsule Arts warehouse in Al Quoz with the support of Tashkeel, where de Gersigny now works.

Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi: The Polaroid Project

Hamdan Buti Al Shamsi enrolled on CAD’s artist course to hone his multifaceted practice. The artist, who lives and works in Al Ain, uses photography, collage, painting, calligraphy and sculpture and is driven by the desire to capture the human spirit. He is also inspired by his country and some of his work revolves around preserving culture for the next generation. His project for the CAD course is rooted in that intention. The Polaroid Project is an interactive art project where Al Shamsi is collecting family snapshots on Polaroid film to create a collection of memories. “One day I collected my old family albums and I found a lot of Polaroids. It gave me the idea that if everyone from the GCC shared their Polaroids with me, I could create a documentation of life here. The aim is to have an art journal because we don’t have many visual art books here and we artists have a responsibility to do this.”

For two more case studies, visit our Scene&Heard blog at

Follow us

And follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.