After Art Dubai, a major revenue driver for galleries in the region, canceled its in-person events and moved the fair online, the United Arab Emirates announced that it purchased more than $400,000 worth of art produced by emerging and established Emirati artists for the UAE’s embassies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Public and Cultural promoted the acquisition campaign as one of a number of new programs designed to shore up the local arts ecosystem.

“With the cancelation of the many art events that were scheduled to take place this season, we wanted to send a message of solidarity to our artists,” Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh told The National. “It is a message that demonstrates our deep appreciation and support for the local arts, and acknowledging that they are a critical part of the national identity.” Nusseibeh, who is spearheading the initiative, said that the works will be placed within the UAE’s embassies.

The March 24 announcement drew a mixed response from Emirati cultural figures. The Art Newspaper spoke to a number of gallerists who criticized the ministry for promoting the Art in Embassies program as a relief effort for the nation’s cultural sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic when it was actually established in 2018. Dealer Umer Butt, the founder of Grey Noise, also took issue with the program since it only helps galleries that represent Emirati artists.

Nusseibeh said that the timing in expanding the program and its promotion—it partnered with Art Dubai last year—was not meant to be misleading. “We chose to announce this scheme now because I believe we have a duty in these trying circumstances to support and encourage our artists,” Nusseibeh told Artforum. “In the same way the UAE government launched a number of fiscal and monetary initiatives to help distressed enterprises and individuals, we have an obligation both as government and art patrons to do the same for our artists.”

A committee made up of art historians, curators, and arts experts was set up to advise the Artists in Embassies program, which was organized in collaboration with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, on which works best represent the diverse artistic traditions of the UAE. The ministry also consulted with diplomats to better understand the artistic landscape and cultural sensibilities of the countries where the art would be displayed.

“We want to lend our support to everyone who is part of the country’s rich artistic ecosystem,” said Nusseibeh, who expressed hope that the ministry’s support of the arts would motivate those with the means to do the same. The works acquired for Artists in Embassies program will be announced soon and will be on view in Alserkal Avenue’s virtual viewing rooms next month. 

[Update: April 3, 11:45 AM] This article, which was originally published on March 27, has been updated to include a quote that Zaki Nusseibeh provided to Artforum as well as information from a report published by the Art Newspaper on April 3.

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