Interview with Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Developer of Alserkal Avenue & Patron of the Arts
The Emirate of Dubai has long established its reputation for dedicating considerable resources to the arts and culture scene. With a number of governmental initiatives realised, scores more on the horizon and hubs of culture growing all over, Dubai is now home to an impressive collection of contemporary Middle Eastern and international art galleries. Founded in 2007, Alserkal Avenue is one of the UAE’s most prominent art community projects. Behind it stands the Alserkal family, one of the country’s foremost family businesses. Alserkal Avenue is based in Al Quoz, an industrial area central to Dubai, home to over forty creative and industrial businesses. The Avenue serves as a platform for galleries and art organisations whilst simultaneously acting as a support system for artists in residence via workshops, seminars, and community events.
Famed for their family-owned conglomerate, the Alserkal Group, the Alserkal family’s efforts have been a key driver to the success of Alserkal Avenue. Born in Dubai, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal is a third generation family business member, developer of Alserkal Avenue and noted patron of the arts. After graduating university in the United States, he began his career with the family business, focusing on real estate and other developments in the UAE. In 2007 he developed the vision for Alserkal Avenue, which today houses some of the region’s foremost contemporary art spaces. Dramatic expansion plans are underway for new facilities expected in 2014. For their cultural contributions to the city, in 2012 and 2013, the Alserkal family was awarded the Patron of the Arts award by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. Tharawat magazine met with Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal and discovered the vision that built the avenue.
How did Alserkal Avenue grow to its size in just a few years time?
Alserkal Avenue grew organically, and has taken on a life of its own, always changing and evolving. It was not a planned initiative, so there is no date of establishment per se. Over the past five years it simply formed itself and developed a unique energy of its own. Alserkal Avenue has become an arts community, an eclectic coexistence of different businesses within an industrial area of Dubai. The integrity of the district is assured by the synergy amongst the galleries and organisations that are part of the initiative: From contemporary art galleries with international acclaim to the car shops and factories; the atmosphere that is created is conducive to innovation and to pushing the boundaries of what we know. To go back to the beginning of Alerskal Avenue is to think of the first gallery that moved into the avenue. Ayyam established itself in 2008 and other galleries followed, as well as creative and community spaces contributing to the growth of the arts scene and developing their own infrastructure.
Has your family influenced your decision to enter the art scene?
My father, Eisa Bin Nasser Alserkal, has always been an inspiration to us. He speaks six languages, is a world traveller and one of the most educated and cultured people I know. His continuous support of the arts and appreciation of talent has been a driving force within our home to support and appreciate architecture, arts and design and foster creativity within our projects and endeavours. It was not a matter of ‘entering’ the arts scene; it’s just always been a part of our lifestyle. And we hope for this passion to continue with the future generations of our family.
To add to this, I am very proud to call Dubai my home and to have been a part of the growth that the city has experienced through the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Being surrounded by an active environment full of opportunities, one always wants to be a part of that force of creation. This dynamic ecosystem is what enabled the growth of Alserkal Avenue and what feeds our plans for its expansion.
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Has branding the project with the family name created advantages or limitations?
Just like the district itself, its name was a natural result and wasn’t an intention that we harboured from the beginning. But I believe the name has been a positive attribute, as generally many initiatives across the world are named after the founding family. It encourages the idea of continuation; for generations to come to carry on the legacy.
From a corporate strategy perspective, would you say that the Alserkal Avenue project is a part of your family’s CSR aims?
The Alserkal Avenue was never part of the family business as such but has always carried its own identity, which thanks to all the gallerists, artists and the community at large has developed into a cultural destination regionally and internationally. However, looking at it from a social responsibility perspective, its focus has always been to contribute to the growth of the arts scene in Dubai and at all times to benefit our community. We have become a platform for cultural exchange, ideas and various projects that invite the arts community to discover and build a relationship with contemporary art. It is important to keep up with the change and growth around us. We are expanding, diversifying, welcoming new projects, new concepts and ideas. The dynamic arts scene of Dubai has encouraged us to grow as a hub and create more space for creativity. We are building additional spaces for 2014 and are doubling in size to welcome more cultural engineers. Our primary focus has always been to welcome, support and engage the leaders in the arts.
You have received a great deal of international attention for Alserkal Avenue’s continued triumph. Has this influenced other areas of your family business?
Alserkal Avenue is a multi-cultural effort within the arts and is dedicated to the community. I always emphasise that the recognition solely goes to the organisations that became a part of Alserkal Avenue; those that believed in a joint effort. It is they who made the initiative into what it is today. Art brings people together; it encourages understanding and plays an important role in overall education. Through this project, art has become an even bigger part of our family. We are happy to see this development especially within the new generations, who will manage various parts of the Alserkal Group in the future.
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 20, 2013