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Monday, April 19, 2021

Citing loss of funding, Katara Art Center announces closure

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Katara Art Center

After three years of working with the local art community, the Katara Art Center (KAC) will close at the end of this month, management has announced.

In an email sent to supporters over the weekend, KAC’s artistic director and curator Mayssa Fattouh cited “lack of financial support and reallocation of space” as reasons for the abrupt move.

The half dozen staff members were told of the closure last week by their founder and managing director, prominent businessman Tariq Al Jaidah, and have been given until June 30 to vacate the space.

Since 2011, KAC provided a platform for contemporary art in Qatar, and aimed to promote young and emerging local artists. It providing a space for workshops, talks and programs and has so far worked with over 60 regional and local artists.

But in 2012, the center rebranded itself from a commercial to a social enterprise. Because they were not generating revenue, the investor working with Al Jaidah has now decided to pull its funding, center employees explained. They added that the investor could not be named because of a confidentiality clause in their agreement.

Shock decision

For many working at KAC, news of the closure came as a shock.

Speaking to Doha News, Fattouh said:

“We’re still baffled. We still can’t understand how something like this could happen when there is so much money spent on other things. There is a need for spaces like this to exist in Qatar. Everyone is extremely saddened….it feels very disenchanting.”

Karim Sultan, communications coordinator at KAC, echoed the sentiment, saying:

“We’re quite devastated. It was the beginning of a new chapter. We had two years of experimenting, and just as we had found our fitting and put together a team that gelled together, it’s now over.”

According to Fattouh, KAC’s annual budget is QR1 million. But the center has also been operating rent-free at Katara since its inception. “We were registered as a commercial entity and weren’t financially viable anymore. It has been intimated that we were asked to relocate to make way for a more commercial project,” she said.

The big picture

In recent months, art and culture have taken a bit of a hit in Qatar. The state-backed Qatar Museums Authority recently told employees to expect “a review of duplication,” prompting fears of significant job losses at the organization.

The news comes months after the Doha Film Institute, which also falls under the patronage of QMA chairperson Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani, laid off nearly one-third of its staff.

However, before this recent turn of events, Qatar had been ramping up its art spending over the last few years. Critics charge that most of the funding has been directed toward courting international artists, rather than local ones.

hirst6

According to the New York Times, the recently unveiled Damien Hirst “Miraculous Journey” installation outside the under-construction Sidra Medical & Research Center, featuring bronze fetuses in various stages of gestation, cost over US $20 million.

And in 2011, Qatar paid the highest price ever recorded for a work of art – $250 million for Cézanne’s The Card Players, following Qatar’s $142 million procurement of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud.

The country has also hosted renowned international artists like Richard Serra, Damien Hirst, Cai Gio-Qiang, and Takashi Murakami. Supporters argue that bringing in big name artists spurs cultural conversations – and indeed, last year’s controversial Hirst exhibition received over 60,000 visitors in its opening month alone.

Speaking about Qatar’s art scene in 2012, the NYT concluded:

“Qatar’s royal family is making Doha, the country’s capital, into an international art hub for renowned artists from all over the world as it sets the stage for the World Cup in 2022, but local artists are being weeded out in the process…

(But the art scene is an empty golden shell”…“It glitters from the outside, but from the inside, it is empty.”

Meanwhile, local artists say they continue to struggle. According to Fattouh:

“There is a lack of groundwork. There is an extremely large vision that speaks globally, but doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the ground, and neglects local talent. It’s taken for granted. We were taken for granted.”

What’s next?

Anticipating a budget cut, KAC had been working with an independent company to secure the necessary funds to keep the center running.

However, the center had been relying on being able to continue operating rent-free out of Katara, which is now no longer an option.

Finding a new space and new source of funding is proving tough. According to Sultan, companies prefer to partner with major corporations with greater visibility, rather than with grassroots social enterprises desperately in need of money.

KAC will hold a final community event on June 15 before determining its next steps.

“It’s a question mark as to what happens next. It all depends on the community. If they will support a space like this, then we can make it. If not, then I have no idea,” Fattouh said.

Thoughts?

42 COMMENTS

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Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago

Out of the Damian Hirst exhibition alone they could fund the centre for 60 years! Reality check needed methinks!

At some point though it does need to begin to generate it’s own funding. Do they sell the art through the centre? Maybe charge a brokerage fee to the artist based on the sale value of the art sold?

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

True and one western CEO salary can feed a thousand African family for a whole year…

Huzz
Huzz
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Why a western one? It disturbs me that all of us are very quick to use the western or Qatari classification. Sometimes it sounds like children in a classroom.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Huzz

You’re right.. Allow me to specify .. One American CEO

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

What about a Qatari CEO?

osamaalassiry
osamaalassiry
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

What about him/her? It would be completely normal…

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago
Reply to  osamaalassiry

Think you missed the point

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

The American was only ever “Acting CEO”. The previous CEO was a Qatari. And so was the one before him. Etc. Etc.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

I think you missed the sarcastic point I was making. But lovely to know the center had an American CEO running it!!

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

Don’t feed the trolls, makes em come back for seconds….

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

Fully agree.. Bloody trolls

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Me thinks Saffa is talking to you.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

Lol too easy

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

Heed my advice 🙂

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Back under your bridge, sir! 🙂

Greeker
Greeker
6 years ago

If there’s any way I can help them, in whatever little way I can, I’m all for it.
This initiative needs to go on. The faster the powers-be know it, the better.
I really hope you guys don’t fold.

MrJames
MrJames
6 years ago

Principally. KAC need to quantify what they’ve achieved over the preceding 3 years, how their QR3m has been spent and what it has achieved. What were visitor numbers like? Were there any successes in promoting local artists onto greater things?

If it looks like they’ve done well, they may attract more funding.
If they haven’t done well, they won’t.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

Sounds to me the funding is not an issue but poor management. Why do you need six full time paid staff? Rent free plus one million riyals a year and you still couldn’t stay open? Is it the govt problem they have to baby sit and spoon feed each and every little project ?? Or is there an implicit understanding that just because the govt is wealthy they will find all and any idea

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

So does one or two people work everyday, all day? Do you not think they might have different jobs, talents, skills to fit the different jobs, talents, skills needed? Again Qatar is not interested in developing ANYTHING. Just buy it already made. Qatar, the prefabbed nation.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
6 years ago
Reply to  desertCard

you’re so right.

There are no efforts really and passion about
something. Art is dedication to something. That’s why art comes from
within, not something you just buy.

The description of the NYT is so perfect: an empty shell.

A_19
A_19
6 years ago

I have regularly visited KAC and enjoyed their staff and program. I guess spaces like this should not be set up as a business and instead an art policy should support such entities. For the size of the place and the amount of events they have done with the imoact it had for the art communities i am surprised they were only 6 people!

Pete
Pete
6 years ago

Given the stage of development and wealth of Qatar, grassroots artists need to be given a subsidy for the long term. If everything is to judged commercially Katara will soon be another mall and KFC, Starbucks, Jumbo Electronics etc. will soon be the attraction. Starve the arts at your peril.

Michael Fryer
Michael Fryer
6 years ago
Reply to  Pete

Why has so much money been spent on foreign artists, in particular western artists, and their outlandish “Public Art”? Why couldn’t even half of this money have been diverted to Qatari artists? Call me old fashioned, but I would have thought that the first goal of Qatar Museums Authority would be to support and nurture Qatari artists, not Americans (Serra) and Brits (Hirst) Tunisian (eL Seed) Algerian (Abdessemed) Italian (Vezzoli) Japanese (Murakami) etc. Doubtless there has been some money spent on local, Qatari artists, but barely a fraction of the money that’s be thrown at foreigners.

disqus_TMLyDgHCfw
disqus_TMLyDgHCfw
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Fryer

I’d like to see more invested into artists living locally no matter what nationality – not just Qatari. If we continue to promote Qatari this and Qatari that there’ll continue to be a divide. We need to make people living locally feel part of the community, and welcomed by it.

Still not satisfied
Still not satisfied
6 years ago

It’s not just local artists (Qatari and expat) who need support, it’s the very idea of art and its role in a community that needs to be nurtured in Doha. People need places to come together to view, discuss and participate in the creation of art at a community level. KAC was doing a good job of fostering this sort of community. What a pity that there isn’t enough financial support (vision?) to keep something like this going and growing, not as a commercial venture, but as a non-profit art center. Katara is the perfect location for something like this, visited equally by Qataris, residents and visitors/tourists.

If the QMA wants to “create and support the next generation of cultural audiences” and “generate a national spirit of participation” it needs to support the creation of more spaces like this throughout Doha to complement the big-name-artist exhibitions and acquisitions.

wee_johnnie
wee_johnnie
6 years ago

Having recently visited the wonderful Sheikh Faisal Museum at Shahaniyah, I think the QMA could do with taking a few lessons from him. Makes the MIA seem sterile and cold. Maybe he could find space for the artists?

Guest
Guest
6 years ago

As a local artist, this is why I relocated to Dubai. Theres simply no support here. in Dubai, its booming.

DavidRSS8
DavidRSS8
6 years ago

Of all the things to cut back this makes the least sense. Qatar rightly desires to foster local talent and interest and this center seems to be doing just that. Given Qatar’s wealth, these are exactly the sorts of non-profit centers they should be funding.

almstqtri
almstqtri
6 years ago

As far as community art centres go, KAC did not perform well, so i’m not surprised to hear it is closing down.

It always felt clinical, pretentious and elitist. The office staff was always looking worried or too busy – even when there were no costumers, which was 99% of the time – and the salespeople knew nothing about the works on display. It never felt welcoming or engaging. Perhaps if you’re a high end art collector or boutique hipster the “curators” would give you some attention, but the majority of us “mere mortals” felt like we were trespassing. On any given weekend you can see Qatari and some Saudi tourist families visiting Katara’s other exhibition spaces (which don’t even have staff present other than security guards) and engaging with the art, while KAC was empty.

Some commenters are mixing things up and thinking KAC was part of QMA. From what i understood, source of funding was private investor, so why hate on QMA when they have nothing to do with KAC?

Still not satisfied
Still not satisfied
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

I’ve got nothing against the QMA. Quite the contrary. Can you imagine Doha without the museums? It’s clear the source in this case is an unnamed private investor.

Just saying that there’s a need for non-profit community art centers — more grass roots, community based art venues — in Doha to support the QMA’s broader mission of creating an audience for art, appreciation for art, interaction with art. Damien Hirst (the art and the man) isn’t as accessible as an artist a venue like KAC would exhibit, for example. Maybe KAC wasn’t getting it entirely right, but this is a new thing for Doha and it takes time to get things right. The fire station might help fill the void but it would be wonderful to see other venues not necessarily tied to the QMA, but encouraged or advocated for by the QMA to support the creation of genuine local art scene.

Also, isn’t Katara supposed to be a cultural village promoting the arts? Every month we hear about a new mall opening or under construction. The mind boggles trying to figure out how they can all possibly succeed as commercial ventures, there are so many of them for a city with such a small population. Yet the plug is pulled on an art center with, in the context of Doha budgets, a tiny budget to make way for another commercial venture. Sad!

almstqtri
almstqtri
6 years ago

Katara still has plenty of community oriented art spaces, including galleries, art studios and workshop spaces. It’s not like KAC was the only place of its kind…what about Anima Gallery at the Pearl? Al Markhyia gallery at Souq Waqif? The Youth Creative Art Centre? And still in Katara…The Visual Arts Centre? The Qatar Fine Arts Society? The Qatar Photographic Society? Katara Art Studios?
One investor decided to pull funding from one venue which basically catered to the needs of a handful of expatriates …boo-hoo…there are still many non-profit community art centres which have been nurturing local talent for over a decade and will continue to do so.

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

Katara Art Studios? That place is a joke and pretty much all of the rest too!

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

Katara Art Studios? That
place is a joke and pretty much all of the rest of them too!

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

Almstqtri you are completely wrong and your comments are totally false! How can you say that KAC wasn’t performing well seeing that it was the only independent Art Center in Qatar! We should stop thinking that we should only cater for Saudi tourists! Just shows you how closed minded you are and your knowledge about art and the art world specifically in Doha is the equivalent to a grain of rice! KAC was the only engaging art space in Qatar that managed to foster a community for both locals and Qatari’s and managed to maintain a high standard. We shouldn’t blame QMA nor hate it but let’s be honest! It surely could have managed to support it a lot more!

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

Almstqtri you are completely wrong and your comments are totally false! How can you say
that KAC wasn’t performing well seeing that it was the only independent Art
Center in Qatar! We should stop thinking that we should only cater for Saudi
tourists! Just shows you how closed minded you are and your knowledge about art
and the art world specifically in Doha is the equivalent to a grain of rice!
KAC was the only engaging art space in Qatar that managed to foster a community
for both locals and Qatari’s and managed to maintain a high standard. We
shouldn’t blame QMA nor hate it but let’s be honest! It surely could have
managed to support it a lot more!

almstqtri
almstqtri
6 years ago
Reply to  Abdullah

YES, let’s be honest.
If KAC was performing so well, how come investor decided to no longer invest? How come no other investor decided to jump on board and save it?
If KAC is the only independent Art Center in Qatar, how come it doesn’t live up to that independence and support itself – or get the community it catered to, to support it?
I don’t see dozens of people complaining that there’s no other place in Doha to see exhibitions, no other place to attend workshops and lectures, no art students crying that there’s no place for them to intern or get entry level jobs in the arts sector, no artists upset because they will not have low cost ( or free) temporary studio spaces.
Can you please expand on your statement about KAC being the only engaging art space in Qatar? Can you please elaborate and compare its high standards to the standards of the other art spaces in Katara, so i can understand what you mean? Can you tell us how you think QMA could have managed to support KAC “a lot more”?

My grain-of-rice knowledge about art and the art world specifically in Doha is very limiting, so please enlighten me, Abdullah.

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

If you don’t see dozens of people complaining that means you aren’t connected to the art world in Doha!?!?! With temporary art spaces you mean Katara Art Studios? That place is so mismanaged and empty pretending to foster artists yet fails to do so in every sense! When I mean high standards I mean a standard where the international art community will actually acknowledge the work of that institution or artist, which KAC actually did manage to do! I wouldn’t bother enlightening you on any other aspects as Im just wasting my time!

almstqtri
almstqtri
6 years ago
Reply to  Abdullah

“a standard where the international art community will actually acknowledge the work of that institution or artist, which KAC actually did manage to do!”
oooh…you mean like, when you’re lucky to have a friend who just started working at this brand new online magazine and their first article is your swan song of a press release with your picture because you don’t have enough of a track record to matter in this industry after your job is gone?
i see what you mean.
yet i still hope that the culture of making inexperienced and unpublished “curators” into instant “directors” of any art institution comes to an end soon in this country.
Success is not measured by how many press connections you have. It is measured by how long you can keep the mission and vision of the institution you work for alive.

Abdullah
Abdullah
6 years ago
Reply to  almstqtri

Damm dude! You sure have some issues on your chest! I recommend you go see a phycologist!

almstqtri
almstqtri
6 years ago
Reply to  Abdullah

an algae specialist?

Khar99
Khar99
6 years ago

This is shameful. If ever there was a place that could afford to fund the arts it is Qatar. If ever there was a place that needed more arts it is Qatar.

Charlotte Grey
Charlotte Grey
6 years ago

Yeah let’s replace it with a nice profitable restaurant!!! Too sad really…:-(

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