A source of joy and beauty: the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation reopens (2022)

Across the high-ceilinged entrance hall of Abu Dhabi's Cultural Foundation, the sound of a grand piano rings out. It comes from Julia Podsekaeva, who used to play from the first-storey balcony at the Foundation throughout the day, so there would be music to be heard.

Podsekaeva and the piano moved to the National Theatre during the interval when the Foundation was closed, but now, they are back, and so too – to the joy of many in Abu Dhabi – is the Cultural Foundation.

From its establishment in 1981to its closing in 2008, the Cultural Foundation was the heart of Abu Dhabi.

'It was whatever you wanted it to be'

It was a social site as well as the main – if not the only – venue in town for arts, theatre, and literature. In all the stories I've reported, I've encountered few subjects that have sparked such passion. One woman, Muhra Al Muhairi, came to meet me with a scrapbook from her exhibition there that she had saved for 20 years.

People have told me stories of the gargantuan book fair, held in the garden under a tent, with stalls creeping up the stairways in the building; school graduations held in the 600-person theatre space; screenings of Emirati short films; spoken word poetry nights; Syrian and Palestinian theatre groups; piano and art lessons; poetry and cinema magazines; and discussions, discussions, discussions in the cafe and informal majlis.

“It was whatever you wanted it to be, that was the best part of it,” says Bana Kattan, who grew up in Abu Dhabi and is currently a curatorial fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. “It felt like an artists-run community space. It was so accessible and approachable.”

The site, located on the Qasr Al Hosn block, had two main components: the National Library on one side, and on the other, a hall that was used for theatre and dance performances, film screenings, and literary discussions. The main entry plaza was used for exhibitions, such that people would walk through the shows to get to the other areas of the building and parking was easy.

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The Cultural Foundation also served a social role. Many recall simply going there each weekend, regardless of what was on there, or organising their schedule around its offerings. “Arabic music Thursdays was on the last Thursday of the month,” recalls Kinda Suleiman, whose father, the Syrian writer Nabil Suleiman, would give lectures at the Foundation.

“It would bring all of these amazing Arabic singers like Wardah and Sabah Fakhri – all for free. Everyone knew it was the last Thursday of the month so you would plan your month around it.”

It was also, by all accounts, a place of demographic openness. “It felt intuitively Arabic, but the Foundation supported the general community,” says Kattan. “It was just dependent on who was activating it.”

Suleiman concurs: “It was everybody: Hindi, Pakistani, Emirati, non-Emiratis, Europeans.”

As the only theatre in Abu Dhabi, it played host to high culture as well as more homegrown needs, such as school graduation ceremonies and end-of-term gymnastics productions. Kattan recalls being part of a dance team made up of a group of friends. “We were so unprofessional, we used to practice in a children’s nursery after hours – and yet we were given access to the main performance hall for our final show.”

The Foundation hosted dignitaries when they came to Abu Dhabi, with cultural activities planned to accompany them. When Omar Al Bashir, the president of Sudan, visited, the Cultural Foundation mounted the archaeological exhibition Treasures of Sudan. Around 4,000 Sudanese people turned up to see it on opening day, nearly overwhelming the organisers. The ambassadors’ wives would also host an international day every year, where each community would band together to make and sell food and crafts from their country in order to raise money for charity.

The key figures in its programming

Mohamed Al Mazrouei, who is now one of the best-known Emirati artists, was tapped by the Cultural Foundation’s first director, Mohammed Ahmed KhalifaAl-Suweidi, to be a cultural animator, planning activities with cinemas, theatre, literature, publishing and exhibitions.

He recalls being so excited about the work they were doing that he would sleep in the office.“So as not to waste time,” he says. “The Cultural Foundation represents the lung and the escape to many intellectuals, students and members. In one moment, there was more than one opening ceremony of exhibitions, cinemas, theatre, and functions. It wore out many employees who did not bond with culture; however, for most of us, it was a source of joy and beauty.”

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Another key figure in the programming was Huda Khamis Kanoo, who founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, and who would work with the community to put up different projects. Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, known as Abu Khalaf, became director of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage when it was established in 2006. He helped to step up cultural events around the city in line with the new Abu Dhabi 2030 vision, bringing in Abu Dhabi Classics and the Middle Eastern Film Festival. ADACH had its offices in the building and ran events around the city, particularly at the then-new Emirates Palace.

The Foundation closed 10 years ago for renovations that were repeatedly stalled. Reportedly, it was at one point slated for demolition, but Sheikha Maryam bint Mohammed bin Zayed, daughter of the Crown Prince, personally interceded. Of all the elements of the new Qasr Al Hosn, it is closest to the original, with its fountain, high arches, and wooden latticework ceiling feeling authentically Abu Dhabi of a certain era. Though 1981might not feel like ancient times, in Abu Dhabi, the detail that Sheikh Zayed himself ordered the tiles from Moroccofeels positively historic. If you look carefully, I was told, they each have a small hole in them that has enabled them to stay up in the heat; otherwise, their size would shift too much.

'More than learning, it gave you opportunities'

The opening art show looks back to this past. Maya Allison, director of the NYUAD Art Gallery, together with artist and curator Alia Zaal Lootah, explores the work exhibited and produced by visual artists. "The Cultural Foundation was the main meeting points for artists when they travelled to Abu Dhabi," she says. "And it was where all Abu Dhabi artists would have had their first exhibition."

It was also a key site for community artists, particularly through Al Marsam Al Hor, the workshops in which painting and photography, pottery and calligraphy were taught. Al Muhairi, who took photography there in her teens, has saved the news clippings about the final show of work by the students and teachers. Now a mother of four, she proudly reports that Al Suwaidi, the Cultural Foundation head, as well as a poet, chose one of her photographs for a book cover. “That’s what the Cultural Foundation gave you,” she says. “More than learning, it gave you opportunities. You could be in an exhibition, in a competition. You felt like someone was adopting you.”



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There are changes to the new Cultural Foundation, though. It will play more of a role for tourism, and its programming will be entirely directed by the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), rather than the more community-ledapproach it had before – Manarat Al Saadiyat is now positioning itself as a community centre, though it does not have the advantage of being in the centre of town. There is also more space given over to the visual arts in the new Cultural Foundation. That field’s profile has increased while that of theatre – a mainstay of the previous Cultural Foundation – has declined. The raised, enclosed booths that used to house translators in the lecture halls are now, for example, repurposed as intimate viewing rooms in which to look at works on paper in Allison and Lootah’s exhibition.

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DCT has plans to activate the space for the community: it will host the Marsam Al Hor workshops again, as well as the children’s library, residencies, and a literary discussion group dedicated, in the first year, to the novels that have been listed for the Arabic Booker or the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

But for many in Abu Dhabi, the sheer fact of its opening is cause enough for celebration. “I wish for my daughters the Cultural Foundation,” says Al Muhairi. “It was a place of belonging.”

The Cultural Foundation, in the Qasr Al Hosn block on Abu Dhabi island, is open 10am-8pm Saturdays to Thursdays, and 12pm-10pm on Fridays

As it’s almost summer time here in Malaysia, this Mega Fam was planned in conjunction with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and Adventure Travel Conference & Mart (ATCM) 2020 – Sabah.. First Day of our Mega Fam trip started with our arrival on 11 th February 2020 at Kota Kinabalu International Airports.. We also tried our hand at swimming and then we also fed the fishes.. After a Mari Mari experience, we were to head to Marriott Hotel in Kota Kinabalu, where a dinner reception hosted by Tourism Malaysia was waiting for us.. After a very adventurous trip we headed back to our hotel to get some rest and get ready for the final reception of our trip.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited the spectacular Sheikh Zaved Grand Mosque to promote religious tolerance.. Charles and Camilla first visited the mosque, in Abu Dhabi, in 2007 when it was still being built.. The Duchess of Cornwall removed her shoes while her husband kepy on his black loafers on a visit to the Sheikh Zaved Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. 'Prince Charles said he had visited Abu Dhabi before but the last time he was at the mosque it was a construction site.. Camilla Duchess of Cornwall attended a religious tolerance event at the Sheikh Zaved Grand Mosque, her first engagement on the Abu Dhabi leg of her royal tour of the Middle East. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall talks to children during a book reading outside Dar Al Atta Bookshop on the third day of a Royal tour of Oman. At the library, she examined students' work and helped young people complete jigsaws.. A young boy gives a reading for the royal visitor during her visit to Oman's first Children's public library. Young students proudly show off their work for Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. Camilla learns more about literacy initiatives at the Dar Al Atta Bookshop on the third day of a Royal tour of Oman

Q: Up until the reform of the Roman Curia in 1967, the position of Prefect of the Congregation was reserved to the Pope, reflecting the importance attributed to the care of the Oriental Churches.. Q: What is involved in assisting the local realities of the Churches outside of the places in which they originated?. A: It is a feature of the care for the Oriental Churches expressed by the Popes who, however, no longer exercized the role as Prefect of the Congregation, continue to exercise their special care for the Eastern faithful through the Dicastery.. The very fact that in predominantly Latin territories - as for example in Europe and the United States - Popes have chosen to institute eparchies or exarchates for the care of the Eastern Catholic faithful speaks of the importance and profound respect for their identity and tradition.. Pope Francis's attention to the reality of migration is also made concrete through our Dicastery through the pastoral care of these faithful who are migrants wherever they have come in the past, as well as today and wherever they will go in the future.. A: Look at the millions of internally displaced persons in Syria and the millions of displaced persons outside Syria, in neighboring Lebanon, in Jordan, but then also in Europe or the United States.... Q: In what way does your Dicastery offer a concrete contribution to help face the tragedy of displaced persons, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic?. Safeguarding the competencies of international cooperation and those of the Roman Curia itself (organizations such as Caritas Internationalis or the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development), the Congregation has decided to establish an emergency fund for the Eastern Catholic Churches after having informed the Holy Father and receiving his approval.. Q: The presence of Eastern Christians in countries with a Muslim majority raises the question of a common commitment against fundamentalism, as affirmed a year ago in the "Abu Dhabi Declaration.". In this sense, the Oriental Churches and the Dicastery became aware of the Holy Father's desire that the message be known and shared.. Let me mention just a few numbers: Israel received support for 37 projects totaling almost €2 million; Cyprus 2 projects with €250,000; Palestine 31 projects with almost €1,700,000; Jordan 12 projects with close to €700,000; Egypt six projects with approximately €500,000; Lebanon 33 projects with €1.8 million; Syria 18 projects with €1.5 million; Ukraine 23 projects with €1.2 million; India 78 projects totaling €2 million; Ethiopia 11 projects with over €1 million; Turkey three projects totaling €500,000, and so forth.. These are funds provided via projects explicitly presented to ROACO.. It is a special reality in which the Dicastery invests more than one million dollars a year.. But let's also think about the subsidies for schools, those managed by the Secretariat of Solidarity in Jerusalem and those managed by the Latin Patriarchate: often these schools are truly places for growth and formation for peaceful coexistence.


1. Culture Summit 2018 | “Case Study: The Transformative Role of Art and Culture in the Gulf Region”
(Abu Dhabi Culture)
2. Culture Made in Arabia - Keynote public lectures with Franck Mermier
(Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi)
3. Yoga of Devotion: Lifes Fabric TV Show - Health,Wellness,Spirituality in DUBAI
4. Fostering Synergy between Artists, Galleries, Art Institution and Private Sectors
5. Tashkeel Lecture: Festivals & Biennales – The Selection Process with Sumantro Ghose
6. Case studies 2 | Museums and Empathy: towards new forms of engagement
(Reframing Museums)

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