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Art : The Helmsman of Art


You may wonder how Michel Schindhelm, Director of Culture, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (DCAA), carries off his huge responsibilities, with a brief to develop a whole new art and culture scenario for Dubai.

But this could be because you did not know his background, which has obviously prepared him for his task. A cultural consultant, writer, dramaturge and theatre expert, he brings with him 18 years of experience managing some of Europe's most respected theatre companies, including a stint as CEO of the world's largest opera group, Stiftung Oper, in Berlin from 2005 to 2007.

He was also CEO of Theater Basel for 10 years, overseeing co-productions and tours throughout the world. During his tenure, the Theater was awarded the Bavarian theatre prize twice and also named Theater of the year for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He is also a trained chemist and published author with numerous articles and fiction and non-fiction works to his credit.

From Europe to Asia is not only a jump from one continent to another but also from one culture to another, sometimes as different as chalk and cheese. But that has not fazed Schindhelm one little bit. He outlined his decision to move to the Middle East thus: "It is thrilling to work in an artistic and cultural environment that is developing dynamically and at the same time organically," he said. "I am eager to apply what I have learned throughout my career, as well as to push my own boundaries of what I know about arts strategy and administration in an emerging market. The Culture and Arts Authority is going to set the standard for this new sector in Dubai, which is both an incredible responsibility for me as a Director of Culture and an honour."

Currently batting for the angels of art from his office in the East Building, The Gate, Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), Schindhelm gives his views on the problems, perils, pressures and pleasures of his work.

People now look upon art and culture mainly as financial investment. How will you change this local perception?

From what I have seen here, there is an appetite for arts not just from the investment side. The attendance numbers at the Dubai International Film Festival, for instance, are evidence that an appreciation and a hunger for arts -- a basic human hunger -- are alive and well in Dubai. I am convinced that the people of Dubai want to see their city more from a cultural prospect. There is high demand in the city to present art and culture for the different nationalities represented in town.

Artists and cultural workers are known for their sometimes bohemian lifestyles. Isn't there an inbuilt intolerance for this in the region? Won't there be a backlash?

There are already many artists of repute in the region, and have been for centuries -- poets, calligraphers, singers, musicians, and painters. They have only whetted the public appetite for more. There will always be disagreements about lifestyle, not just between artists and other people, but within various economic sectors, neighbourhoods, and even families. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

People live in vestibules in Dubai (Europeans -Jumeirah; Asians - Sonapur labour camps; Africans - Naif Road, Hor Al Anz). How will you break down these walls and get a cultural dialogue going?

I'm not sure that those distinctions are as clear-cut as you seem to suggest. There is a blending of cultures that occurs on a daily basis, not just in neighbourhoods where people live, but in the workplace, in public places like Safa or Zabeel parks, and in the performances that already take place here. But we have to reinforce communication tools between different nationalities and neighbourhoods. Culture should become the language of the city, crossing boundaries between communities and satisfying our curiosity about each other.

There is a great hunger for cultural knowledge in Dubai, and we see our role as providing spaces and infrastructure for the cultural dialogue that already exists here. We want to encourage it to go further to realise Dubai's potential as a truly dynamic international city.

The East has made Western culture its own (from painting to MTV). But the West has not done this in the same manner. Can Dubai change this Western habit?

In fact, the tendency has already begun, and we feel that Dubai can formalise it. There is a curiosity about Bollywood, for instance, or about Middle Eastern Art and Islam. We can push this further by introducing artists from our region onto the international stage, by providing world-standard areas in Dubai where visitors can experience other cultures, and generally by making other cultures accessible abroad through participation in art fairs, exhibitions and other means.

Also, Dubai will change the understanding of urban culture in the 21st century. It is already a cultural phenomenon on its own. The West will see that a new chapter of social and cultural development is going to open in the region and in other parts of the world. There is no such thing as a "leading world culture" any more.

Will Dubai's cultural dominance, as you plan it, take away the shine from regional countries?

On the contrary, as we showcase art from the region, we will bring more recognition and attention to the art scene in the region as a whole. Moreover, we see our region of focus as extending to incorporate the origins of most of Dubai's population -- the subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa. Our goal is to bring attention to those areas. And we need to find ways how to divide the work among the countries in the region. Regional competition could also have the effect of stimulating growth in the field of art.

Source: Gulf Today
Posted: 08/06/2008

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