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Velvet & Art Dubai: Antonia Carver

Antonia Carver is the Fair Director of Art Dubai. Based in the UAE since 2001, she has written extensively as a correspondent for The Art Newspaper and Screen International, among other publications, and edited books

Antonia Carver is the Fair Director of Art Dubai. Based in the UAE since 2001, she has written extensively as a correspondent for The Art Newspaper and Screen International, among other publications, and edited books and journals. She joined Bidoun as an editor in 2004 and later became the director of the Middle Eastern arts organisation’s projects division. Carver is on the Arab film programming committee for the Dubai International Film Festival and has programmed previously for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Before moving to Dubai, she was based in London and worked as an editor at Phaidon; in development and projects at the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva); and in publishing at G+B Arts International. We wanted to find out more about her work and Art Dubai in the wake of the fair this month.

What is your biggest achievement for Art Dubai since you joined in 2010?
It’s achieving a balancing act. First a balance between a world class event and a community fair, by being the destination in the Middle East/South Asia for arts professionals and at the same time being of total relevance to the UAE community-at-large, whether arts enthusiasts or not. Second for being an event that is commercially successful for our galleries and artists, while having the largest not-for-profit programme of any such fair, worldwide. For this is the result of the incredibly hardworking Art Dubai team, and the support for our lead sponsors who support the fair – The Abraaj Group, Emaar, Julius Baer, Jumeirah, Mashreq – and our educational partner, the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority.

Having lived in country for 14 years, how would you describe the art scene in Dubai?
Dubai’s art scene is quite unique: within the space of a decade, the number of galleries in the city has quadrupled (to around 40 nowadays) and it is now firmly established as the art market centre for the region – including the Arab world, Iran and increasingly, Pakistan. A not-for-profit sector of studios, educational initiatives, publishers and so on, is now springing up, too. Besides this year-round local activity, Dubai is also a hub – the story of the city’s meteoric rise as a centre for business, banking, travel and communications is of course super well-known, but Dubai’s growth as a cultural destination is less hackneyed. Of course, the solidity of the business sector, and the supremacy of the airport, have been instrumental in Dubai’s new status as a meeting point for the art world.

Over the past ten years, Dubai has grown to become a focal point for the arts scenes of a global South, alongside Hong Kong servicing the East, for example. There is a burgeoning interest within the art world for global centres outside Europe and America – and Dubai is perhaps the only truly global centre in this way. When Art Dubai 2015 opens on March 18, we’ll be hosting 91 galleries from 40 countries, making the fair the most global – this reflects the nature of the UAE – home to over 200 nationalities – and the nature of Dubai as a hub.

How has it changed?
It’s changed so radically. Of course, what’s happening today has its roots in a long cultural history with particular dominance in poetry and theatre, and of course the generation of artists that gathered around pioneers such as Hassan Sharif and Abdulqader Al Rais. The city is home to the market and galleries, and increasingly also to artists and not-for-profit initiatives. We’re blessed also with a fantastically dedicated and interested audience that’s home-grown. We see this in our year round talks and programmes, where every event is invariably packed, and the audience stays on to chat and debate long after the event has finished.

How do you think Art Dubai contributes to the cultural development of the country?
Art Dubai is reflective of the growth of the city as a cultural destination and also has acted – and does act – as a major catalyst. Each March, the art world descends en masse to the UAE – they use Art Dubai as their base, but also explore the galleries in Dubai, the Biennial and museums in Sharjah, and the coming museums and exhibitions in Abu Dhabi – and having come all this way, they think nothing of joining our programmes that tour guests to Doha, Kuwait, and even on to Baku and Kochi. We actively encourage this, and Art Dubai has a team that works year-round on pitching to museum boards and other VIP guests, and devising a comprehensive programme that includes all the art events going on, but also architecture, design, and takes guests to meet their counterparts – the cultural who’s-who of the UAE and the Gulf. Over the years, we’ve seen a ‘trickle-down effect’, as these visiting opinion-formers tell their colleagues and friends about Art Dubai and the UAE – this has been crucial in encouraging others to attend, and on a broader scale, promoting Dubai as a cultural, maturing city – and dispelling some of the myths out there about the Arab world in general.

What is the most challenging part about your work at Art Dubai? What are your hopes and goals for the future of Art Dubai?
To demystify the art world and provide accessibility to art to all people of all ages, art is a form of cultural communication to and for the public, and we want to be able to provide the tools and understanding to all who are interested.

One of the ways that we are going at realizing this goal and expand the audience number and knowledge of and around Art, is through educational and community initiatives, which aim at expanding the art and cultural areas around and beyond the fair. Also with the development of the Art ecology in the country we hope to see an increase in the culture of critic.

Campus Art Dubai is one of the year round activities that provide accessibility to everyone and anyone of any age to different people of the art community through talks and forums, and opportunities to interact with them face to face for free.

Not forgetting the children, who we want to familiarize with the fair and art, we have custom made tours for them available throughout the fair, where they get to interact with participating gallerists. Taking it a step further, the Sheikha Manal Little Artist programme, is dedicated for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 16 of artist-conceived projects, tailor made for them.

Art Dubai will run 18-21 March, 2015 at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE.

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