Arts flock to Abu Dhabi

“Winged Victory,” along with other masterpieces from the Louvre’s collection, may literally take flight in 2012, when the Louvre plans to open a branch of its galleries in Abu Dhabi. In return, Abu Dhabi’s government — which is also discussing plans for a possible collaboration with Yale — will send more than $1 billion to France.

Abu Dhabi’s agreement with the Louvre, finalized Wednesday, comes as Yale intensifies its talks with Abu Dhabi — one of the United Arab Emirates — about the possibility of opening an arts institute in the Emirate. But other universities have been wary of dealing with the UAE because of human rights concerns, including allegations that key government officials are anti-Semitic.

France’s Ministry of Culture has recently come under fire for what some critics see as a franchising of the Louvre name. The Louvre’s deal is a part of Abu Dhabi’s multibillion-dollar plan to create an arts mecca that may include branches of the Guggenheim, the Sorbonne and other famous educational and cultural institutions, along with Yale’s potential arts institute.

But University officials said the Louvre agreement will probably have no effect on Yale’s potential plans for a Yale arts institute on Saadiyat Island.

“We anticipated the [Louvre] announcement,” Architecture School Dean Robert Stern said. “I think Yale’s negotiations are independent of these, but aware of these institutional developments.”

Other arrangements between universities and Middle Eastern countries have typically included “management fees,” which are paid to the university running the program. The government hosting the program also foots the operating cost.

Burton Bollag, a correspondent with the Chronicle of Higher Education who has written about satellite campuses, said agreements typically give the universities full control over their institutions abroad, while the foreign governments cover all of the expenses.

Bollag cited the “Knowledge Village” in Qatar as a prime example of this type of arrangement. Participating institutions in the Knowledge Village include Georgetown University, Weill Cornell Medical College and the Virginia Commonwealth School of the Arts.

While outposts in the Middle East are a growing phenomenon among American universities, some have been less enthusiastic in their dealings with the countries in the region. Just last month, the University of Connecticut decided to shelve plans to open a satellite campus in Dubai, another of the Emirates, because of concern about the state’s policy of prohibiting entry to people holding Israeli passports. In 2005, the Harvard Divinity School returned a $2.5 million donation from the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, who was alleged to have connections with an openly anti-Semitic organization in that country.

Harry Etra ’09, the president of Yale Friends of Israel, said Yale should think carefully about its dealings with Abu Dhabi.

“I think it’s important when Yale considers opening a program, that all of its students and faculty, regardless of their country of origin, are eligible to participate,” Etra said.

But University President Richard Levin said Yale has made clear in its negotiations that any institute that carries Yale’s name would maintain the same non-discrimination policy as the University itself, and students from all around the world, regardless of nationality, would have access to the institute.

“If we offer an educational program, we are not going to discriminate on any of the grounds that we would consider inappropriate here,” Levin said. “This is still an exploration, and we need to be satisfied that any enterprise we start would have appropriate openness to students from all over the region.”

Not all of the arts components of the University would be involved in an Abu Dhabi program. Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds said Yale’s art galleries do not plan to take part in any sort of institute in Abu Dhabi.

“Neither the gallery nor the Yale Center for British Art has been approached whatsoever about this,” Reynolds said. “Even if invited right now I think our most important mission is to really get our act together here, which we are doing, but I want to have more alliances with other college and university museums around the country and abroad rather than going and starting something like that, brand new, there.”

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