Emiratis offered chance to train in museums abroad

With a number of major museum projects about to come on stream, there is a huge demand for people to staff them.

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Abu Dhabi // With a number of major museum projects about to come on stream, there is a huge demand for people to staff them. Emiratis keen to be part of the UAE's burgeoning cultural industry are being offered the chance to work in museums in the UK and US through an internship programme. The Emirates Foundation scheme aims to provide a taste of museum work to students, who will then go on to study for master's degrees that will give them the specialist skills the field requires.

It comes as the country prepares to open a series of museums, including branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim as well as the Zayed National Museum. "We're helping to place these professionals because we feel there's a critical need and time is running short," said Salwa Mikdadi, the head of the Emirates Foundation's art and culture programme. The overseas fellowships will last from one to three months and will be open to students who perform well in a foundation course in museum studies running from February to June.

The course will include two five-day workshops taught by museum studies professors from the University of California, Berkeley, and the John F Kennedy University, also in California. About a dozen Emiratis are expected to take part in the foundation programme. Applications are still being accepted. Ms Mikdadi said the workshops would provide a "broad, global overview" of museums and the opportunities to work in them in the UAE.

She said, however, that there was no substitute for spending time in a museum to understand what working in one was like. "Some students may talk about curation, but they may not be familiar with what it involves," she said. The foundation hopes that after completing their internships, students will begin working towards master's degrees in the UK or US, in areas such as museum studies, museum education and historic preservation and curatorial studies.

In October, the organisation announced it would provide scholarships for Emiratis covering some or all costs of tuition, air fares and books, plus a personal allowance, for the master's courses. The degree courses are likely to last two years and will include further work placement. Ms Mikdadi said it was vital that more Emiratis were given the skills to help plan and work in the existing and new museums.

"It is important to have Emiratis in the concept development and exhibition planning so they can better represent their culture," she said, adding that there were not enough UAE national museum studies graduates to staff even the current museums. She estimated that the coming years would see dozens of jobs created for Emiratis trained in museum management, curation, exhibition design and conservation.

Sharjah Museums Department looks after 17 museums, and Ms Mikdadi said new or expanded museums planned across the UAE would increase demand for graduates. As part of the drive to ensure there are enough Emiratis with skills to work in museums, the American University of Sharjah announced earlier this month it was creating a graduate certificate in museum and heritage studies. The year-long course is scheduled to start in autumn 2010.