A display in Sharjah Maritime Museum.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Director of Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA) Manal Ataya, recently took part as a panelist in the discussion titled Cultivating the Creative Skills of Tomorrow at the Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN) conference.
The event took place in Montreal, Canada, on May 23, and the panel focused on the vital role cultural districts and organisations can play in nurturing creativity by exposing audiences to a multitude of art forms and perspectives. The discussion also highlighted how providing local artists with resources and support helps them thrive in an ever-changing landscape, contributing to the development of creative skills for the future. Ataya spoke of how the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad AlQasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has fostered a flourishing arts and culture scene in the emirate of Sharjah.
“Over the past three decades, his numerous initiatives in arts and dedicated efforts in developing museums, including those under the Authority, have propelled the emirate into the international spotlight, solidifying its reputation as a globally recognised destination for arts and culture,” she said.
She added that the holistic cultural strategy designed by His Highness is creating a sustainable ecosystem for people to work in the cultural sector and creative industries, driving economic diversification and fostering a stronger, more resilient community. Ataya also highlighted how events and initiatives by SMA and other cultural and educational establishments in the emirate contribute to a vibrant ecosystem by nurturing talent, encouraging research, and promoting dialogue.
“At the heart of our establishment lies a steadfast commitment to nurturing creativity and fostering artistic growth,” she said, noting that by providing innovative platforms for emerging talents spanning diverse artistic disciplines, SMA strives to unlock the full potential of the next generation of creatives.
“Our initiatives and carefully curated programmes and events are designed to serve this purpose, promoting collaboration, experimentation and self-expression, while also cultivating a supportive community that embraces diverse perspectives,” she said. She emphasised that with its comprehensive approach, SMA aims to empower artists and enthusiasts alike, ensuring that the vibrant world of art continues to flourish and inspire.
Other prominent figures from the global cultural scene participating in the discussion included Teesa Bahana, Director of 32º East|Ugandan Arts Trust, and Tetia Lee, CEO of Tippecanoe Arts Federation. The moderator was Angelita Teo, Director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage. SMA is a government agency in Sharjah, established by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad AlQasimi in 2006. The Authority’s objective is to promote the emirate’s legacy of arts, heritage and culture. It is a part of GCDN. SMA oversees a number of museums and heritage sites in the emirate of Sharjah. Bahana supports the development and execution of projects such as KLA ART Labs for research and critical thinking through public practice and Kampala’s public art festival and international residency exchanges. She is overseeing 32° East’s capital project, raising funds for the first purpose-built art centre in Uganda.
During her tenure with the Tippecanoe Arts Federation, Lee has provided leadership for a regional cultural plan and its implementation, development of nationally recognised programmes, and increasing the quality and quantity of public art within north central Indiana. She is a Joyce Fellow for Americans for the Arts.
A key priority on Teo’s agenda is to explore ways to evolve the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage to contribute to some of the IOC agendas, among which is attracting a younger audience. To this end, the organisation has created a new department to drive digital engagement. GCDN is a federation of global centres of arts and culture. Its 50+ members represent cities, cultural districts, cultural institutions, non-profits, foundations and private initiatives from around the world including Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, Dubai, China and Singapore. The network’s formation was stimulated by a series of conversations among cultural leaders, who were aware that though forums for cultural institutions to meet and discuss common issues did exist, there were none for those responsible for cultural districts. GCDN is committed to improving the quality of urban life through the contribution of the arts, culture and creative industries. The network fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing among those responsible for creative and cultural districts, quarters and clusters in widely diverse contexts, providing opportunities for cross fertilisation and exchange.
Districts with concentrations of cultural activity — for example theatre districts — have existed for hundreds of years. In recent years, billions of dollars have been invested by governments from Beijing to Bogota in creating new ones. Meanwhile, from Berlin to Brooklyn, many dense cultural clusters have grown spontaneously in response to changing patterns of urban life and the needs of artists. GCDN was created to strengthen the links between the people responsible for managing and planning cultural districts, quarters or clusters around the world, so they can learn from one another, identify common agendas and develop partnerships. GCDN annual meetings have been held in Barcelona, Brooklyn, Dallas, Dubai, London, Montreal, Singapore, and Providence.
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