A 'proper artist studio' in Musaffah

Multimillion dirham project in industrial zone will be first of several 'art hubs' planned, with Corniche and Saadiyat sites envisioned.

ABU DHABI // A Dh6.5 million (US$1.8m) project to build an "art hub" in the Musaffah industrial zone that will provide artists with affordable studio space has attracted attention from the capital's Urban Planning Council. But the plan has lost the support of Tini Meyer, the local artist who helped develop the concept.

Billed by its developers as a potential solution to the scarcity of low-rent workspace for painters, sculptors and other artists, Art Hub is scheduled to open early this year. Groundwork on the approximately 3,000-square metre site is 30 per cent complete, according to Ahmed al Yafei, the owner and head of Osan Properties. The Urban Planning Council, which ensures all new developments in the emirate fall in line with Abu Dhabi's urban structure framework, confirmed that a member of its policy team met several weeks ago with Ms Meyer.

The council declined to discuss details of the talks because the proposal was still under review. But Ms Meyer said the discussions were about how to develop the proposal. Ms Meyer is no longer working on Art Hub because of disagreements over the creative direction of the project. She said, however, that she still believed in the concept of "setting up a proper artist studio centre". Each of the 16 work studios at Art Hub will be 36 square metres and include sinks and running water, Mr al Yafei said. He said rents would be affordable, but he would not reveal the rent structure.

Mr al Yafei characterised the Musaffah site as a pilot project for a franchise of Art Hubs. He envisioned branches on the Corniche and on Saaidyat Island. "The UPC is working on the Corniche development and they are interested to see if they can give us a branch on the Corniche," he said. Mr al Yafei has already submitted a proposal for an Dh89m Art Hub on Lulu Island that will offer 42 art studios on a 21,600 square metre area. A warehouse connected to the main building would serve as an art gallery and exhibition space. He said he had also had interest in his proposal from the Tourism Development & Investment Company.

With the success and interest around the recent Art Abu Dhabi fair, Ms Meyer said she believed there was demand for studio space, and that workspace was a recurring topic among artists in the UAE. "There are so many people in Abu Dhabi who are proper artists or have a passion for creating art, but they don't have a proper workspace," she said. The Art Hub concept came about through Ms Meyer's challenges finding space to paint. Sculptors resort to working in their kitchens or clearing space in their bedrooms. Her first art installation, to premiere this month at a women's exhibition in Sharjah, involves hundreds of real fish eyeballs contained in glass jars.

"Can you imagine being in a home with fish eyeballs and glass containers everywhere? The space is really important to provide for the studio," she said. Johanna Klein, a sculptor from the Netherlands, is familiar with the problem of finding affordable studio space for artists in the capital. Sculpting from clay or soft stone at home was "impossible", she said, due to the dust and stone chips, the noise from carving machines, and the absence of a kiln.

"I just had to give up the idea of sculpting in Abu Dhabi and started painting instead, which is easier to do at home," she said. Mrs Klein would welcome a creative arts centre, whether it be Art Hub or another venture. "I've joined a group of artists in Abu Dhabi all struggling with the same problem: Rent is too expensive to afford studio space," she said. "And they all juggle around in bedrooms converted to some kind of workspace, with problems of ventilation."

Artists thrive on social interaction and are often inspired by having other artists nearby, even if they work with other media, she said. Bringing that kind of buzz to Abu Dhabi would be exciting. "Like Paris in the beginning of the 20th century, or New York from the 1950s on, a living artist community can add to the character of a place," Mrs Klein said. "It's hard to exactly name it, but it's a certain something in the air. Something of flamboyance and fire that inspires and makes a city become truly alive."