Art Jameel has announced a new art centre that will be built in Jeddah, opening spring 2019. The complex, called Hayy: Creative Hub – from the Arabic for neighbourhood – will operate as a multi-disciplinary site, hosting different arts organisations, galleries, and art and design studios.
This means that the Saudi-based art foundation is opening two major spaces within a year of each other, substantially changing the field for arts institutions in the Gulf. In November 2018 it will open the Jameel Arts Centre on Dubai Creek.
Uniting Jeddah's broad but 'isolated' creative community
“We thought through what each city has already, what the creative community needs, and how we can fulfil something that isn’t there,” explains Art Jameel director Antonia Carver about the two projects.
“In Dubai there is quite a developed infrastructure around entrepreneurship and the wider contemporary arts, including theatre, but there isn’t a contemporary visual arts institute that can complement everything else that’s happening.
“In Jeddah there’s a really broad and active creative community, but people tend to be a little isolated – working away in pockets around the city. We felt it was really urgent to bring those communities together and allow for cross pollination between them.”
Will house a restaurant, theatre & more
Hayy will stretch across 17,000 square feet – roughly the size of three football fields, or the Frick Collection in Manhattan – and will offer permanent and temporary galleries for the Art Jameel collection, a theatre and restaurant, as well as three floors with shaded walkways, all opening onto a central courtyard. The spaces will be available to a range of different organisations, in a mix roughly comparable to that of Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, but with a greater emphasis on facilitating the needs of the creative community.
“We’re talking to art galleries, commercial galleries, coffee shops, people that are involved in co-working spaces, entrepreneurship, the filmmaking community, and we are thinking of what they might need – such as digital studios with shared facilities," Carver tells me.
“Jeddah has this very DIY attitude and young creatives are used to getting up themselves and doing something with it, but have not necessarily had access to mentorship and courses to help them take their work to the next level.”
The building is designed by Ibda Design, who are based in Dubai, and have worked on a number of projects with Art Jameel before. It’s the architect’s biggest commission to date.
"The surrounding area is a residential neighbourhood so we didn't want to intrude on the residences around us. The building is introverted, but the facade itself is not a blank wall. It's more like a blank canvas on which art can be projected and displayed. The building itself becomes like an art canvas," Wael Al Awar, principal at Ibda Design, says.
While works from the foundation's collection are often loaned out and exhibited, this will be Art Jameel’s first dedicated gallery space in its home city. The Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai will also house part of the organisation’s substantial collection of contemporary work, which draws mainly from the Middle East, while also containing a library that will be open to scholars – something particularly crucial in a region in which archives have been hard to access. Both sites will collaborate with other art organisations to host or co-curate exhibitions.
Currently, Art Jameel's public face in the UAE is its Project Space in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, but the organsation also runs Photography Jameel, a series of photography workshops and courses in Jeddah, as well as the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah, which trains artisans in the restoration of the intricate carved wooden architecture of Jeddah's old town, Al Balad. They also collaborate with the Met Museum in New York and, in a long-standing partnership, with the V&A in London, among other institutions, and indeed, other projects in Cairo and Dubai. Art Jameel also runs the Jeddah Sculpture Museum, which contains work by Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Alexander Calder, and others. And so on.
Helping to 'mature a scene'
One of Carver’s key roles as director is to coordinate these different projects – to make sure, as she puts it, that the programmes “add up”. Carver was appointed from her previous position as director of Art Dubai two years ago, inaugurating a period of growth for the organisation.
“Over the past two years,” she says, “Art Jameel has developed further its own programmes, in-house, as the team grows and we prepare ahead for the opening of the two arts centres. We’re developing an identity for the organisation and growing it, and communicating what we do and why we do it to a broad public. This all comes from a sense of urgency around art as a space for debate, both in the world generally and particularly in this region.”
While Art Jameel has been active since 2003, it was previously part of Community Jameel, another of the Jameel family’s philanthropic arms, which focuses on job creation, education and social welfare. Art Jameel has recently become its own entity as a sister foundation to Community Jameel, with an internal infrastructure distinct to the social welfare organisation.
The establishment of the Hayy centre in Jeddah comes at a particularly important moment for the Saudi art scene, which is quickly growing due both to the efforts of young artists, designers, and filmmakers in the country, as well as to Mohammed bin Sultan’s encouragement of the cultural sector. In May 2016 the Crown Prince established a General Entertainment Authority and in 2017 announced the formation of the Misk Art Institute, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and whose director will be Ahmed Mater, a photographer and important cultural figure in the Kingdom.
Hayy wades carefully into this changing art scene, with the kind of attention to the grassroots landscape that Art Jameel has become known for. “Sometimes there can be a compulsion for an organisation to do what it wants to do, regardless of what’s needed,” says Carver. “I really believe in thinking, what are the missing pieces of the pie that matures a scene, and how can we contribute with the skills that we have?”