Philanthropy will help a growing art scene flourish

Art Dubai marks a packed month that shows just how far the scene has come
Women read through pamphlets in front of Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi's 2016-2017 work "Three Obelisks" at Art Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Art Dubai is marking its 13th edition with an exhibition running March 20 through March 23. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

As any visitor to Dubai in March will know, the city comes alive with art. From the longstanding Art Dubai fair packed with gallerists, to the Sikka art fair, filling the streets of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood with sculptures and pop-ups, and art nights in Alserkal Avenue, there is an infectious buzz about the city that has reverberations well beyond its boundaries, and the region.

Since it first began in 2007, Art Dubai has flourished into one of the most established and respected platforms for Middle Eastern art worldwide. This weekend it will feature more than 90 galleries from 40-plus countries, with a particular focus on non-western art from Africa, Asia and Latin America. It shows how far the art scene has come from its original incarnation as the Gulf Art Fair in 2006, when the fair primarily featured western gallerists bring artwork from western or Orientalist artists. Since then, it has evolved into a showcase of art produced from the region, about the region, with museums and institutions from around the globe flocking to see the best it has to offer.

But no art scene can thrive on commerce alone. Creativity needs its patrons and the announcement this week from philanthropist Abdelmonem Alserkal unveiling the launch of his eponymous arts foundation, which will run residencies and education programmes and offer research grants to up-and-coming artists, is a sign of the maturity of that scene. "This is a natural progress and the latest in a series of milestones," he says, true to the principle that guided the Medicis in the 15th century and other great sponsors of the arts since.

Then there are the artists, who have had their passion fostered and nurtured in philanthropic, privately funded and government projects across the UAE. From Dubai's Tashkeel studio founded by Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum to Abu Dhabi's UAE Unlimited, set up by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, to the Sharjah Biennial, Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi and the Barjeel Foundation, they have shaped and inspired the artistic landscape of the country.

Philanthropic partnerships go hand-in-hand with large-scale public projects. The arrival of Louvre Abu Dhabi is expected to be followed by more venues showcasing modern and contemporary art across the nation. There is still some way to go, but as an art-filled month unfolds, it is a reminder of a burgeoning cultural hub, where new artists are finding a voice, and being heard.