Antonia Carver

In 2019, Art Jameel, a nonprofit organisation that supports arts, culture, and heritage in the Middle East is set to open Hayy: Creative Hub, a major complex for the creative industries in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. artBahrain’s contributing editor Glenna Aquino interviews Jameel Director, Antonia Carver about this upcoming centre which will undoubtedly become an essential part of a city’s identity.

Hayy derived from the Arabic word for neighbourhood – refers to the community-oriented nature of the complex. Will you have partners from the community sectors that can also help shape the artistic character of the hub?

Absolutely. Hayy: Creative Hub is envisaged to be a wholly community project. Art Jameel will run the main exhibition space, the theatre, the artists’ studios and other initiatives, but half the space in Hayy is given over to like-minded partners, all of whom bring their expertise, energy and unique programmes to the complex. And what’s so special is the breadth of creative endeavour that takes place at Hayy – everything from comedy to fine art, cinema to performance, entrepreneurship to theatre, and more.

What important global developments or changes in the international art market are affecting the region and will these developments redound to Hayy: Creative Hub’s programming?

There are of course so many challenges in the wider region and the violence in several countries, sadly, appears to continue. Yet the arts remain one area of growth and positivity; this creative energy has of course been bubbling in cities like Dubai, Beirut, Amman, Cairo for many years – and now we see an ever-greater awareness of the talent prevalent across Saudi and the dynamism of artists, writers, performers and filmmakers in the Kingdom.

With your vast experience as a long term advocate for Contemporary Middle East Art what can you say about the art in the Middle East today and what challenges do you think it will face in the coming years.

It’s very hard to generalise about the Middle East, given the vast differences that exist across this slice of the world. Just to take the Gulf, we could say that there was a period of international outreach, and that audiences from abroad have begun to grasp what was happening here. To some extent, some artists responded to that, and their work began to live up to the somewhat constructed and constricted expectations of international audiences. Nowadays, we see a swell in young people coming into the arts, along with the more established generation who now have the space to make work that reflects their own realities and that is true to their experience. This is exciting.

What can locals and tourists expect to see? Will there be free admission for the public?

There will be free admission at both centres: the Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai – a contemporary arts institution opening later this year – and at Hayy: Creative Hub in Jeddah opening in mid 2019. We’re reaching out to a broad spectrum of the public, including both residents and tourists, and we’re also developing specific programmes for schools and youth. We’re aiming for the two centres to be critically aware and put on the kinds of exhibitions that dialogue with our international counterparts, while appealing to a wide public. In the UAE, that public is fantastically diverse and generally interested in discursive work that raises debate.

What aspect of your position as Art Jameel Director do you think will pose a challenge to you when Hayy: Creative Hub becomes fully operational? Will Hayy: Creative Hub have guest curators from other countries? if so, what considerations will be taken into account for the selection process?

Art Jameel boasts a fantastic – and growing – team located in both Jeddah and Dubai, and the challenges are for us all to tackle together, and with our partners, supporters and friends. After all, the arts scene is a community, and this is a community endeavour. We’re all in it together! Yes, we will work with both in-house and guest curators for Hayy, as we are for the Dubai centre as well.

Are you planning on doing collaborative work with businesses? Can you name some of the partner organisations that will be included in your programmes?

We’re set to announce the partners over the coming months, so this is a case of ‘watch this space’!

What considerations were taken regarding the choice of location for Hayy as a creative hub? Why was it specifically built there?

The area – Mohamadeyah in North Jeddah – is a fast-growing, accessible part of the city that has the just the right kind of energy for this kind of project.