A Palestinian-American curator and collector of contemporary art, Dana Farouki is the Chair of the Guggenheim Middle East Council and a member of the Board of Trustees at MoMA PS1 and Creative Time. Based between Dubai and New York, Farouki also serves on the Board of Patrons of Art Dubai and is the Chair of the prestigious Abraaj Group Art Prize. artBahrain contributing editor Paul Laster recently caught up with the globetrotting curator and collector to learn more about her history and her passion for art.

When did you first become interested in art?

My family is really responsible for instilling in me the love of art. My parents are long-time patrons of the arts, and my mom even founded a foundation dedicated to Arab art and culture in the 1980s in Washington, DC called Alif Gallery. I became more serious about it all while studying the History of Art at Brown University.

What lead you to your internship at the Museum of Modern Art?

I learned about the fellowship while pursuing my master’s degree at The Courtauld Institute of Art and I was excited about the opportunity to work at one of the world’s great museums. It is a remarkable paid-fellowship program. Each week, we met with the leader of a different department in an effort to introduce us to how the museum really worked. The museum took us seriously and I was particularly lucky to work in the department that was responsible for structuring the relationship between MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art] and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.

How did you transition to your job on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi curatorial staff?

I wrote my Master’s Thesis at the Courtauld on the Global Guggenheim and the museum’s innovative efforts to build outposts around the world. I was intrigued by this unique response to the changing global art landscape and interested in the possibility of a satellite museum in the Middle East, as a way to include that part of the world in the global conversation. While working at MoMA, I began conversations with Tom Krens’ team at the Guggenheim. The Abu Dhabi project was in its infancy at that time and I was thrilled at the possibility of being involved! I first worked as a consultant and then when things moved forward, I became the first full-time hire by the Guggenheim Foundation to work on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project.

Did you work on any shows while you were an Assistant Curator there?

We worked on many ideas for shows for the museum and were constantly thinking about collection and programming strategies. We also then began to work on shows for the pre-opening program in Abu Dhabi, including Guggenheim collection shows that were eventually realized. It was exciting to dream about a program and think through the possibilities. There is a rarely an opportunity to imagine a program from scratch—it’s a real challenge and quite the responsibility.

Now you are the Chair of the Guggenheim Middle East Council. What’s does that position involve?

The Council’s mission is to support programming for Middle Eastern art at the museum in New York, as a way to reflect the major effort happening in Abu Dhabi. This is an important initiative that brings the Middle East to home base and works to grant opportunities to Middle Eastern artists on an important international stage.

You are also on the Board of Trustees of two avant-garde art institutions in New York, Creative Time and MoMA PS1. What do these organizations represent to you and how do you support their programs?

These two organizations always place artists at the centre of the conversation. MoMA PS1 is known for presenting the most exciting programming for young artists. It has also given many important artists their first museum presentations. I love that it remains a nimble “kunsthalle” that can mount a show in no time at all. It always feels current and relevant. Creative Time’s mission to realize artists’ dreams is a truly noble one! Creative Time has for years mounted an incredible public art projects in the most unexpected places. Artists are asked to dream big and in turn we are gifted these sublime moments that change us forever!

Outside of New York, we know that you have served on the Board of Patrons of Art Dubai since its inception. How did you first become involved and what impact do you think Art Dubai has had on the region’s art scene, both locally and internationally?

Art Dubai has really been at the cornerstone of the developing regional scene. It is so much more than an art fair. The collateral public programming, from the Global Art Forum to Campus Art Dubai, has helped to nurture an incredible growing audience. It has also helped to put the region on the map globally. It is a great opportunity for curators and practitioners around the world to come and learn about artists and initiatives. This year is especially exciting, as Art Dubai will coincide with the Sharjah Biennale, curated by Christine Tohme!

And you recently succeeded Savita Apte as the Chair of the Abraaj Group Art Prize. Why is this an important award and how do you see it advancing the art of the region?

The Abraaj Group Art Prize offers artists a meaningful opportunity to realize their most ambitious artworks. The commission always gives artists the chance to evolve their practice in new and exciting ways. I’m so thrilled to Chair this initiative, an important act of patronage that champions the remarkable talent from across the MENASA region.

Now that you’ve been living in Dubai for several years, how have you observed the art scene evolve?

So much has happened in Dubai over the last decade. There is a real scene to enjoy in Dubai. There are great exhibitions, engaging public programs and—most importantly—there is an audience for it all!

What impact is Alserkal Avenue arts hub having on the scene?

Alserkal is an incredible addition to the regional cultural landscape. Dubai’s very own Chelsea!! The spaces are phenomenal and give great opportunity for artists to participate in major exhibitions and experiment with their practice. It has also helped to build an audience and a community of patrons. It is a great place to see art and support the local galleries, who do so much to nurture the cultural infrastructure across the Middle East!

Do you collect from the galleries there? Do you have any favourites?

There are so many great galleries. I really love the art programming at Alserkal galleries. The Third Line is a real anchor, and Grey Noise puts on the most unexpected and sublime shows. I am also a big fan of Lawrie Shabibi, Green Art Gallery and Gallery Isabelle Van Eynde!

If you do not mind sharing, what artists do you collect?

There are so many great artists from the region—a few favourites include Walid Raad, Basim Magdy, Slavs & Tatars, Wael Shawky, Abbas Akhavan and Caline Aoun.

Why do you think it’s important to support contemporary art?

Artists’ voices are essential vehicles for expression and thought. They are particularly important in these challenging times!