Day in the Life: Abu Dhabi Art project head tackles the busiest time of year

Alanood Al Hammadi juggles managing the region's largest cultural gathering with finding time for her family

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A Day in the Life allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life

Abu Dhabi Art project head Alanood Al Hammadi juggles operations for one of the region’s largest cultural gatherings with being a mother.

In the run-up to the international art fair’s 15th anniversary edition, running from November 22 to 26, her days are busier and longer than usual at the venue, Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Ms Al Hammadi, 36, who has a bachelor’s degree in art and design and a master’s in museum studies, joined the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi 13 years ago.

She takes The National through her day, which can range from brand development to the pandemic-created virtual art fair, which still draws long-distance art lovers.

6.15am: Children into action

As a mother of girls aged eight and three, and a one-year-old boy, mornings are busy.

“We get my eldest daughter ready for school. I have a bus pick her up, my other daughter I take to nursery some days,” says Ms Al Hammadi, who lives 20 minutes from the Saadiyat venue office and is expecting her fourth child in January.

7.30am: Calm before colleagues

Ms Al Hammadi arrives before her staff at Manarat Al Saadiyat, but sometimes she heads to DCT head office at Nation Towers.

“Usually my day gets crazier the minute it hits 9am, so it’s my quiet time to have my sandwich breakfast, check emails and review content. Sometimes I have to deliver a report in terms of media coverage, visitor numbers, or major updates on partners or logistics.”

Planning for the art fair begins well in advance and includes educational and other programmes in the run-up.

“Obviously my day three weeks before is different to ones throughout the year,” she says.

As a parent, Ms Al Hammadi recognises the need to cater to families.

“People can drop their children at the art studio,” she says. “We all know how attached they are to their technology, so it’s good to engage kids with art and hands-on activities.”

9am: Team time

Ms Al Hammadi joined the Abu Dhabi Art team in 2011, taking her current role six years ago.

She started in exhibitor relations, working closely with participating galleries. This year more than 90 galleries from 31 countries, including Latin America and Hong Kong, are attending, with sustainability and female Arab artists as areas of focus.

“It’s the most diverse fair we’ve had.”

Three team members report to Ms Al Hammadi, handling exhibitor relations, community partners, and digital projects, websites and apps.

“Ideally, this is the time we sit together, check if they have concerns or need direction,” she says.

Ms Al Hammadi’s gallery and project unit works closely with the event programme unit, and patrons and collectors staff who handle VIPs and invitations detailing available artworks.

11.30am: Making an entrance

Some visitors still require a physical ticket so Ms Al Hammadi tests ticketing hardware for the free-entry event.

“We switched to digital tickets but we have the print option for those not tech savvy, or who want the traditional way.”

She also work with procurement staff, ensuring teams, such as suppliers and contractors building booths, are hired in time.

Thousands of visitors attend the fair, from wealthy collectors to residents looking to enhance a wall.

It is a chance for emerging artists to shine and international galleries to exhibit alongside a global programme of talks and performances.

“One of the objectives of Abu Dhabi Art is educational,” she says. “Before any museum opened on Saadiyat, we were that platform for people and schools to visit to be introduced to modern contemporary art.”

Ms Al Hammadi also casts an eye over the Art+Tech programme led by acclaimed Emirati artist Nujoom Alghanem.

“A lot of people see art as niche, maybe not for them. With these educational programmes we say: ‘Everyone is welcome. It’s OK not to understand all art …' I still don’t understand some.”

12pm: Desk dining

With time precious, the project head has a “healthy salad” at her desk while pondering community project announcements.

Among them is the winner of the Pavilion Prize, a design competition for architecture students.

“We build that at the fair as a welcome area for our visitors.”

Ms Hammadi is hands-on with many operational aspects, including traffic management and organising staff passes for 2,000 people working across the event.

“We’re introducing a new entrance, also a new parking location to accommodate more visitors, as last year our numbers were really high.”

1pm: Canvas opinions

Ms Al Hammadi consults with colleagues, examining anything from signage details to visitor flow.

“There is always room for improvement,” she says. “I put myself in the shoes of visitors.

“We realise the biggest communication comes through word of mouth or social media, so we make sure we are putting enough information out there.”

In the Year of Sustainability with Cop28 around the corner, the fair includes sustainable art projects.

“Art is evolving. Every year I get surprised by the latest trend.”

2pm: Content catch-up

Time to review videography plans for the opening day with the social media agency.

“We want to make sure we’re shooting behind the scenes [and] interviews with some artists because many creators and galleries aren’t based in the UAE, so that’s our opportunity.

“We make sure we have a schedule, all interviews are blocked and locked, to capture as much content as possible.”

That could include the next big collectable or works from 30-plus UAE artists, including citizens and residents.

Ms Al Hammadi says the show does not just feature “multimillion-dollar art”, insisting: “There is a different price point for everyone.

“If you’re buying for the first time, we’re happy to give an introduction: how to buy art, where to start.”

4pm: A brush with budgets

Final meetings include one discussing budget and team updates on attending artists and galleries.

“I always need to be on top of these – there can be slight changes so I need to make sure this is reflected everywhere.”

That includes any unusual installations – the 2013 highlight comprised a tower of chairs.

“We never say no, even to the most bizarre,” she says. “One year we had giant cockroaches. At the end of the day, it is a form of expression … not everything has to be pretty.”

5pm – Ship shape

Most art has already been shipped by air or sea from as far as Chile and is in art handler storage space.

“We give a deadline – they need to make sure it’s all shipped before the end of October so it arrives on time, ready to bring and start installing.” says Ms Al Hammadi.

“We had some incidents before, artworks shipped into the wrong location or not here on time. We support as much as possible.”

Galleries have submitted lists of works they’re bringing and their booth plan.

Once contractors begin building the exhibition spaces, checks ensure reality reflects the sketches.

Ms Al Hammadi also inspects the progress of a new area to accommodate more galleries.

“We are building a nice fancy tent this year in the garden space,” she explains.

7-7.30pm: Late finish

Ms Al Hammadi normally leaves the office at 3.30pm for a kangoo jump workout or horse riding before heading home to the children.

But with the event approaching, paperwork and more emails demand extra hours after most colleagues have left.

“I have a work-life balance as much as possible the rest of the year,” she says. “I have some snacks until I arrive home for dinner with my family.”

Updated: November 16, 2023, 7:30 AM