A cultural challenge for the new year that involves the whole family

Anyone who calls the UAE home will benefit from visiting museums and learning about the country's rich history

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - Guests looking at Dr. Azra Aksamija's art at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization.  Leslie Pableo for The National for Salam Al Amir's story
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One of my favourite college professors would say, if you wish to accomplish anything worthwhile in life it requires two things: drive and a firm step forward.

This is fundamentally why we take on challenges – to push ourselves forward. Now, the UAE is no stranger to challenges. Almost every year, a nationwide campaign is launched to motivate people to overcome their reluctance or their fear to accomplish what they had deemed difficult or impossible to achieve.

Just the term "challenge" can propel people’s interest and enthusiasm. In many cases, people take on challenges to prove to themselves that they too are disciplined, capable and keen to accomplish a goal. And the beauty of a challenge met is that it encourages positive action in the future.

In the past, here in the UAE, we have seen a fitness challenge, a literacy challenge and, among others, an innovation challenge. To build on the successes of those, why not consider a cultural challenge?

The criterion would be straightforward. Families and individuals would make a commitment in the new year to visit museums, performance spaces or register for an art workshop as a family, watch a musical, attend a lecture, take a pottery class – whatever they feel they would all enjoy or perhaps have not experienced before.

This should be easy as the UAE has a lot to offer in the space of arts. Although many people engage with culture regularly, some simply do not. Often when I ask friends or family why they have not been to a particular museum or why they did not attend a cultural event, I hear excuses about there being no time.

I do understand that we all lead very busy lives and making time for leisure and learning is not always possible. However, with planning and prioritisation, time can be made to make those visits – to not just museums.

There are plenty of cultural spaces in the UAE. And while this is by no means a comprehensive list, the purpose of recommendations is to provide a starting point. So whether it is the Splendid Archaeology of Kuwait at the Sharjah Archaeology Museum or the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation and the Islamic Art Festival at Sharjah Art Museum; the newly-opened Khorfakkan museum or the 10,000 Years of Luxury exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi; Qasr Al Hosn or the Etihad Museum, plan a trip to these places as a cultural challenge to yourself.

Over the next couple of weekends and months, when we are lucky to have good weather, there will be ample time to discover the rich cultural tapestry that the seven emirates of the UAE have created since the unification of the country in 1972.

In May 2017, this newspaper ran a story that informed its readers of how more than 40 museums came to be established in the UAE, half of them in Sharjah alone. The article highlighted the importance of museums in safeguarding heritage and promoting a sense of community and identity.

Picking up on that theme, I wish to encourage everyone that calls the UAE home to learn about the country – not only for themselves but for their children who are likely to follow their parents’ example. This would enable a generation having grown up being interested in culture and continuing to learn about it as adults.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors look at the dome hall design of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, December 25, 2018. Picture taken December 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

Setting aside the obvious advantages of gaining knowledge and insight, going to museums as a family – where conversations take place about what you have seen or what you made together in a workshop – strengthens bonds and creates memories. And it is vital for a society to thrive that young people of all nationalities appreciate the several fascinating aspects of Arab heritage, tradition, artistic practice and the history that surrounds them.

Hisn Khor Fakkan, a new archaeological museum, is located in a renovated fort. Courtesy Sharjah Museums

There is no doubt that museums open up a limitless world of exploration and learning. Children find these visits memorable and benefit from them perhaps more significantly over time. The first exhibition I went to when I was a child was about dinosaurs and it remained with me, even resulting in my choosing a career as a museum professional. So I ask families in the UAE to research all the remarkable cultural offerings of this country. Museums across the UAE have excellent resources online that can help one plan a visit. I do believe continuing to incorporate activities of learning and spending quality family time has a positive effect on our lives.

The Sharjah Art Museum

There is no doubt that starting young is ideal to appreciate the diversity of Arab culture and its place in a globalised world. And regular trips to museums develop imaginations and the capacity for creative and critical thinking. These cultural visits instill in young people a sense of curiosity, which then leads to an interest in topics that broaden their knowledge of themselves and the world.

Manal Ataya is the director general of Sharjah Museums Authority