Last night the first cohort of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Student Ambassador Programme were celebrated in an intimate event at Manarat Al Saadiyat.
The select group of young Emiratis were feted with speeches by Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs, Saif Saeed Ghobash, director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority (TCA), and Manuel Rabaté, director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, given certificates of appreciation and gathered for a group photo. The event felt like a graduation ceremony, which was appropriate given the age of the ambassadors and the initiative.
The 24 students had been recruited for the youth-focused capacity building and outreach initiative from seven universities in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and were being recognised for the efforts they have made to raise awareness about the new museum among young people throughout the emirate.
The 19 women and five men had spent the past year engaged in training sessions and workshops, visiting the museum construction site and devising imaginative ways to reach out to their contemporaries, something they had succeeded in doing, Mr Rabaté said, on more than 4,000 occasions.
Student Abdulla al Shasmi, receiving his certificate from Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs. Ravindranath K / The National
“You have been essential to the success of promoting Louvre Abu Dhabi and your project was an essential tool for reaching out to university and high school students,” the Louvre Abu Dhabi director said, using the occasion to reiterate that the museum will open in 2017.
“You have witnessed the progress and challenges of building a new museum of international standard that is yours, a museum that is anchored here, in Abu Dhabi, in the region, in your home town.”
The evening was hosted by TCA’s Joud Mohamed Khalifa Al Marar, the ambassadorial programme’s project manager, who kick-started the scheme in September 2015.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to engage with young people while the Louvre Abu Dhabi was still in its pre-opening phase,” Ms Al Marar said before the event. “And we also wanted to reach out to and to have a direct connection with Emirati youth and to understand their perspective on this unprecedented project.”
Rather than expecting potential ambassadors to come to her, Ms Al Marar and a team from TCA spent a month touring universities in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, holding meetings with the institutions and making presentations about the programme to students, who were invited to apply for the scheme online.
The students, who had to be 19 or older, were asked to submit their grade point averages and a CV and also had to answer questions about themselves and submit a proposal for how they might spread the word about the new museum and its universalist message.
“Their perspective and creativity was crucial for the success of the project because they understand the youth and how to interact with them, sometimes better than we do,” said Ms Al Marar.
“So it was very important to keep that element of creativity that they can offer.”
The responses were used to whittle the initial batch of applications down to a shortlist of 80 candidates who were then invited to interview by a panel composed of staff from the museum and TCA.
“Our main criteria was to have as wide a selection of backgrounds as possible. Languages were also important, we have ambassadors who speak Korean as well as English and French, of course, but so was field of study. We have biomedical and mechanical engineers, art history [students], archaeology and economics,” said Ms Al Mara.
“The reason why we wanted that variety is because we didn’t want people to think that the museum is only about one field, which is art history. Of course that’s very important, but there are other pillars to the project, like its architecture and engineering, that are also important.”
One of the 24 who made the grade is the postgraduate engineering student Fahad Al Shaibani, who was able to attend the ceremony thanks to a winter break between terms at the University of Oxford, where he is now studying at Magdalen College.
Louvre Abu Dhabi student ambassador Fahad Al Shaibani, 22, from Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National
“When I joined the programme I was studying biomedical engineering at Khalifa University,” the 21-year-old said.
“When the programme roadshow came to KU, I found it very interesting that an art project would come to an engineering school, so I knew that this must be something more and something different,” he said.
“A lot of people might think that doing something like this might not contribute to a career in engineering but from the perspective of personal growth, I think it did and that’s something about the programme that I’ve really appreciated.”
Mr Al Shaibani was one of five students, including four men and one woman, Nora Al Mansoori, an undergraduate majoring in aerospace engineering, who were recruited to the programme from Khalifa University.
Rather than developing five separate outreach proposals, the group collaborated to form an art club that held meetings, organised competitions and used social media to spread the word about the new museum to their fellow students on the co-education campus.
Other ambassadors, such as Mouza Al Mansoori, who is studying history and archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, returned to her high school, the ABZ Private School, where she gave presentations to more than 1,000 students while Abdullah Al Shamsi, who is majoring in media at Abu Dhabi’s Higher Colleges of Technology, developed a radio show that broadcast programmes about the Saadiyat Island project.
Louvre Abu Dhabi student ambassador Fatima Karmostaji from Abu Dhabi. Antonie Robertson / The National
Fatima Karmostaji, 21, is in her final semester at Zayed University but is also one of the six ambassadors who has taken the opportunity to intern with TCA’s Louvre Abu Dhabi team, where she is currently working as part of its marketing and communications department.
“I’m never really interested in joining programmes, I normally focus more on my studies, but this was something different,” the communications and media sciences major said.
“I’d never applied for a programme like this before so I had no idea about whether I was any good or not but it turns out that I’m really good at interviews,” she said, laughing.
Ms Karmostaji’s outreach project involved conducting a series of internal online and WhatsApp surveys to assess the views and ideas of the ambassadors, the outcome of which will also feed into the new museum’s future youth-focused education and outreach material.
“I think it is great to build this kind of museum in Abu Dhabi. The museum really cares about teaching the new generation about culture and art from a young age,” she said.
“I can say today that I was a part of the creation of a masterpiece named Louvre Abu Dhabi, and that for me is a great honour and something to always smile about.”