Trying to Catch Up with the Emirates Foundation

The National this Sunday chases down Salwa Mikdadi, head of the Emirates’ Foundation’s arts and culture wing. While Mikdadi has a museum background, she heads up a wide array of cultural programs at the Foundation, including literary and film initiatives.

According to The National, since its inception in 2007, the Foundation has sponsored “48 films, 28 books, 11 exhibitions and 12 visual arts projects as well as the [“Arabic Booker”] literature prize.”

Mikdadi is now at her one-year anniversary on the culture-head job. She told The National:

It’s amazing here and the changes are happening so fast that it’s hard to catch up. It’s like a meteorite fell down and there are all these splatters everywhere and I’m trying to grasp them.

The latest program is the new Young Emirati Artists Grant Awards (YAGA, for short), which was just announced this weekend. These new grants will target emerging Emirati artists, filmmakers, musicians and writers under the age of 35. According to an Emirates Foundation press release, the YAGA application deadline is September 30, 2010. The Emirates Foundation website has more details on how to apply. (They promise access to an online form by next week.)

One thing Mikdadi said she definitely wants to introduce in the UAE is more cross-genre conversation. She told The National: “What interested me a great deal in Palestine was the relationship between the poets and the writers and artists. I don’t see that now unfortunately.”

She continued:

The world of art has changed. New teaching in the UK and US has changed. There needs to be more integration in the study of the visual arts. There is a need to learn about conceptual art, theories and literature. This is really lacking here in the UAE. What they have to understand is that literature must not be separated from other art forms. We need to go into the interdisciplinary studies and not just painting separately to sculpture or ceramics.

The Emirates Foundation, (founded just three short years ago!), has clearly had an impact on the Arab literary scene. But despite a number of successes—this summer, the Emirates Foundation sponsored Khalid Albudoor, Khulood al Mu’alla and Nujoom al Ghanem‘s involvement in the London Lit Fest—Mikdadi admits to still being overwhelmed:

Without research and data how can I come up with a plan? What are the priorities and how do you strategise and figure out benchmarks? I can’t find any studies on art in the Emirates or film production or literature. I love Arabic literature but it’s not my field so I’m always looking for specialists in different areas. If someone says a film is going to cost so much, I have no idea if that’s the case.

Nonetheless, I’m sure Mikdadi’s work will continue to have an impact.