Arts institute plans intensify

Yale may open an arts institute in Abu Dhabi as soon as September 2008, administrators said, bringing its world-renowned faculty to a desert island that may become the world’s next artistic hot spot.

The institute, which would be run through Yale’s schools of architecture, art, drama and music, would form part of Abu Dhabi’s developing cultural district on Saadiyat Island. If Yale follows through with its plans, it will join a host of other cultural organizations already planning to work in the United Arab Emirates. The Guggenheim will open its largest museum on the island, and the Louvre signed a $1.3 billion deal in the spring to open a branch in 2012.

Two representatives from Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company visited Yale in July to discuss plans for the institute, Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor said. Dean of the Art School Robert Storr and other University representatives will next visit the city — capital of the United Arab Emirates — in October.

Following the last arts faculty visit to Abu Dhabi in March, administrators began to develop plans for the programs they might launch abroad.

Shailor said Yale and Abu Dhabi officials are especially interested in starting professional programs in architecture and sustainability as well as in arts and arts management. Ideally, Shailor said, UAE students would be able to receive degrees in such programs.

The first phase of a program in Abu Dhabi would see Yale working on projects that do not require a physical venue, Shailor said. The arts schools might start other programs once Yale has a physical space on the island, she said.

Storr said he hopes the Art School will organize master classes for local artists in Abu Dhabi based around “hybrid art forms” such as performance- or installation-oriented art. He said he envisions building a facility that would allow practicing artists access to carpentry, photography and other services.

Administrators said the institute in Abu Dhabi would not act as a satellite campus for Yale students but might serve as a base for occasional student or faculty exploration abroad.

“The focus is to do something in Abu Dhabi for people who would gravitate there,” Storr said. “I think it might be a situation where some of our graduates and the people who teach here would go there to do work or work with students.”

Robert Blocker, the dean of the Yale School of Music, said he too hopes to utilize faculty and students to reach out to musicians in the UAE. The music school has designed a three-phase program which would serve young musicians in the area, he said.

“The initial phase will be a full season of concerts, master classes and outreach programs in the Abu Dhabi schools,” Blocker said in an e-mail. “A cadre of artists drawn from the YSM faculty, students, alumni and YSM international partners will work with a small YSM staff in Abu Dhabi to establish this program.”

Reem Al-Hashimy, deputy chief of mission at the UAE embassy in the U.S., said the UAE is partnering with international institutions because it currently lacks any high-powered arts and educational programs of its own.

“We don’t have the know-how when it comes to putting together an arts institution, for example,” Al-Hashimy said. “So we know our deficiencies, and we look for the best and try to learn from them.”

Al-Hashimy visited Yale on Tuesday as part of the embassy’s public diplomacy program. She herself earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees at Tufts and Harvard universities, and said many UAE citizens also study abroad in the U.S.

Yale may not be Abu Dhabi’s only educational partner in the coming years. According to an unnamed source in the Aug. 31 issue of the New York Times, New York University plans to open a satellite campus in Abu Dhabi under the leadership of Mariet Westermann, the current director of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts.

An NYU spokesman contacted by the News declined to comment on the reported deal.

The UAE government is excited to welcome international institutions to its developing cultural districts, Al-Hashimy said.

“We want to bring the best to the UAE, and we want to have that flourish in the Emirates so that we can be introduced to a society with a different kind of culture altogether,” Al-Hashimy said. “This is not about bringing five professors here and setting up. This is about bringing an institution with its own entire system.”

Storr said a partnership with Abu Dhabi could be just as helpful for Yale. Storr, who just returned from a semester leave to direct the Venice Biennale’s art exhibition, said he has begun raising money to partner with other arts institutions throughout the world.

The Art School and America as a whole, he said, could only benefit from an increased international outlook.

“I think it’s time to actively go out to look for visiting artists, to recruit new students, to look for the energy of other art centers,” Storr said. “The art world is not centralized in New York or London. It’s polycentric and it has been for a long time, but we haven’t recognized this fact very successfully yet.”

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