Art served us in our hour of need. Now we must support it

During the pandemic, culture and entertainment have become some of the few pastimes in which we can seek refuge

Artists Amna Basheer and Reem Al Mazrouei work on their commission for Dubai Culture. They are painting a “Hope mural” to celebrate the UAE Mars mission in Dubai’s Al Fahidi district. (Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Powered by automated translation

Arts patronage can be about so much more than collecting and investing in art. In today’s context, why should we aspire to support art and creativity? Why does it matter? How is arts patronage a two-way street that benefits society as much as the artist?

Art plays a critical role in our global community. It can benefit society by means of identification, of telling our own personal stories. Be it through heritage, history and traditions that have been passed down from generations and helped define our personal traits, to providing a new way of shaping our identity – for example, by identifying with the vibrant multicultural hub that is Dubai through the breadth of contemporary art that populates the city’s streets and galleries.

You do not need to collect art to appreciate and help promote it

Over the past year, we have all had to live with the global pandemic, and culture and entertainment have become one of the few pastimes in which we could seek refuge. From films and series to moving cultural experiences such as museum and gallery visits online, creativity and the arts became key elements that bolstered our mental well-being in a way that few other things have. One of the most meaningful examples of this is a project Dubai Culture commissioned in December last year, when we asked a group of local artists to decorate the corridors and walls of Al Jalila Children’s Speciality Hospital with the aim of easing the fear and anxiety experienced by hospitalised children.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - APRIL 24: A man takes a picture of art work by David Hockney  during the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's 100 Million Meals Campaign at Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah  on April 24, 2021 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Works by artists including Picasso, Hockney, Miro and Matisse will be auctioned at a private event to raise money in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's 100 Million Meals Campaign to end hunger during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
A man takes a picture of works by David Hockney during a charity auction for the UAE's 100 Million Meals Campaign. Getty

The notion of patronage is, of course, not new. The benefaction of arts and culture has defined art history since the beginning of time. Just think of the Italian Renaissance, which would read quite different without the Medicis’ commissions to masters such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Botticelli. And it was the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who commissioned the Taj Mahal, which has become one of the symbols of architecture globally.

In our day and age, I believe everyone should take a proactive interest in supporting the arts and our cultural ecosystem. All of us can support institutions by attending exhibitions, sharing interesting content on social media, or making introductions to people who can help further an artist’s career.

Beyond that, collecting art or supporting the creative ecosystem as a patron can also be an investment that benefits the patron as much as the artist. Artists put passion, time and effort into their work and often focus on developing their skills and careers over years to create exceptional works, adding more beauty to the world. Their efforts should not go unnoticed, and our support is instrumental to their careers and livelihoods, as well as to the benefit of society as a whole, so they may contribute to building bridges between cultures and peoples, spreading tolerance and furthering cultural diplomacy efforts.

But it is this understanding of the importance of art for individuals, businesses and society as a whole that prompted us to launch the Dubai Collection. At its core, the initiative aims to be a platform to source and manage the emirate’s own art collection. Public and private entities, as well as individuals, are invited to contribute to the Dubai Collection, either by acquiring artworks to lend to the collection or sharing artworks from their own collections to be displayed publicly.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - APRIL 30: A general view of the Dubai Skyline on April 30, 2021 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Muslim men and women across the world observe Ramadan, a month long celebration of self-purification and restraint. During Ramadan, the Muslim community fast, abstaining from food, drink, smoking and sex between sunrise and sunset, breaking their fast with an Iftar meal after sunset.  (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Dubai is a leading centre of multicultural artistry in the Middle East. Getty

Through this project, we turn collectors into patrons, who maintain full ownership of their loaned artworks as these are displayed throughout the city, contribute to transform the emirate into a city-wide museum and bring the community closer to art and artists. The initiative aims to support the growth of Dubai’s creative sector by stimulating the art industry and encouraging creative talent.

In so doing, we develop a new generation of patrons, while making art accessible for everyone, and across the city. From schools, parks, exhibition centres and malls, we are trying to break down the metaphorical walls of a museum or gallery to create an artistically rich urban environment. At the same time, we aim to educate people about what patronage is, and how it can benefit them.

But what does this mean for people who do not have a collection of works to share? I do not believe it matters whether people contribute by providing a work to Dubai Collection – they can support by simply visiting the works on show throughout the emirate. Dubai Collection aims to be an inspiration, rather than a model for arts patronage. You do not need to collect art to appreciate and help promote it. What is more, by making art accessible to the public – not in a traditional exhibition setting, but in an everyday context – we allow people to learn about and better understand art. We produce, if you will, the art critics of tomorrow, for any thriving art scene is dependent on critical engagement and discourse.

Whichever way we look at art, it is a crucial part of life, be it through its power to affect social change, uncover inequalities, define similarities across cultures or help us shape our own history. And for that precise reason all of us can – and should – be patrons of art.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum is chairperson of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority