A new breed of young art patrons and influencers say the UAE needs more formal art institutions to sustain the industry
Enticing notoriously flighty millennials to spend their time and money supporting galleries and museums has proved a difficult task for many established arts organisations, with developing the next generation of patrons becoming a key focus for many institutions. While many Western museums have long-standing young art patron groups, Middle Eastern arts organisations have been slow to embrace this approach, leading a new wave of engaged young patrons to emerge from the Middle East arts scene who are making sure the voices of younger people are heard.
Princess Alia Al-Senussi is one of the most influential young art patrons and plays a prominent role in the contemporary art world. The 33-year-old focuses on young patronage and arts in the Middle East. Washington DC-born Al-Senussi believes both art organisations and patrons stand to gain from the creation of young patron groups. “It really is a two way conversation,” says Al-Senussi. “Young patrons need to be active in communicating their thoughts. You need to be confident enough to speak up and say the things you think are important to you, as there are conversations that need to be had but sometimes younger people can be too timid to have them. Arts institutions created these groups to listen to the needs of younger generations, so they do want to engage in a dialogue.”
As a long-time supporter of the arts in UAE, and a patron of Art Dubai, Al-Senussi has helped improve Dubai’s presence in the art world, with her role as a founding member of the Tate’s Acquisitions Committee for the Middle East and North Africa and a member of the Middle East Circle of the Guggenheim, allowing her to shed light on aspects of art in the region that are often overlooked. Al-Senussi’s Libyan father and American mother first piqued her interest in the art world. “Working in the arts is something I do professionally and personally, although I don’t have an art history background. But, of course, art was something my parents always valued and has been a part of my life since I was a child.”
Young art enthusiasts in the region can get involved with countless unique experiences through their relationship with arts organisations, from VIP exhibition previews to complimentary tickets to exclusive performances, talks and other events. “There are regular visits to galleries, collections and museums. Obviously people can visit museums whenever they want, but can they go on a curator-led tour?” asks Al-Senussi. “No, they can’t, you have to be a patron to experience this. Can you go to a beautiful private collector’s home for a tour? No, but you can as a patron. These visits are not so you can be a voyeur and see a collector’s lovely home, but rather to experience these art works in the company of collectors who are very passionate about the arts and have a lot of knowledge to share.”
These initiatives not only inspire young professionals to become fans of the arts, but also, perhaps more importantly for these institutions, become a rich breeding ground for future donors and board members. As major donations to arts organisations have long come from elderly donors, new fundraising avenues are beginning to be investigated. Well-connected young philanthropists may soon pave the way for a sustainable financial future at historic institutions, with this new set of art patrons coming from all walks of life. From young art professionals and collectors to gallerists and bankers, each wants to create their own art networks and meet new, like-minded people.
Most of these art patrons, like Muna Al Gurg, balance highly successful careers with an appreciation for the arts. Al Gurg, who is the director of retail for the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group and an active supporter of the arts in Dubai, believes that as well as the more traditional institutions it’s important for young people to explore alternative art venues, in particular, the burgeoning street art scene in Dubai. While she feels the cultural landscape of the UAE has been transformed over the past decade, she cites the lack of educational establishments with a focus on the arts as a major barrier to the growth of the UAE art sector. “There is a lack of educational institutions within the UAE, and elsewhere in the region, that can encourage young people to get into the scene. Arts institutions do have a responsibly in this area, as currently there are not many options and those interested in making a career in the arts usually have to study abroad to progress in the industry. If this issue were to be resolved we would see a lot more artists emerging from the region,” says Al Gurg.
35-year-old Palestinian-American patron Dana Farouki agrees. The contemporary art collector and chairperson of the Abraaj Group Art Prize, considers supporting arts organisations that preserve culture and provide opportunities to living artists “tremendously important”. “I will forever feel a sense of pride in visiting an institution that I have supported; you can feel the significance of your engagement by watching audiences enjoy a space or savour an artist’s project. It is important that we all recognise how the artists can impact society; they make statements that spark progress and shape society. Real engagement with art organisations can be extremely meaningful and fulfilling. The possibilities and power of art are limitless,” concludes Farouki.