‘Not all who wander are lost’, reads the display with the maps of the Alserkal Avenue located in Al Quoz neighbourhood in Dubai. Alserkal Avenue was an industrial area that has been converted in 2007 into a cultural district of contemporary art galleries, creative businesses and non-profit organizations spread across 500,000 square feet.
Here you can get lost in a vibrant community of visual and performing art organisations, designers, and artisanal spaces providing cultural experiences for a local and international audience in Dubai. It inspires the future citizens of this city.
Behind this space is The Alserkal Arts Foundation, which challenges convention by fostering artistic development in Dubai and by supporting collaborative, socially engaged and multi-disciplinary practices.
All of Alserkal Arts Foundation’s activities are supported by Alserkal, an Emirati family business spearheaded by Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal.
Everything at this space, from the mundane trash bins to the public benches and placemaking interventions in every corner, has a strong message. It sends a signal about challenging the status-quo of things, that we all experience in our urban lives. They can be done differently.
In a city where the local society is still driven by convention, Alserkal Avenue is an oasis for creativity, nurturing the next generation of citizens. Places like ‘Wisdom Warehouse’ aims at promoting creativity and critical thinking skills in children.
The amount of creative spaces to foster people’s encounters and intermingling of different cultures and backgrounds is overwhelming. These spaces want to set themselves apart from conventional facilities where people can explore new skills and think outside the box.
But most importantly, Alserkal Avenue brings contemporary art closer to citizens, who are looking for experiences outside of the shopping mall rush. It uses the power of art and culture to inspire and raise awareness about societal or environmental challenges by supporting the work of artists with an emphasis on socially engaged and research based practices.
Alserkal Avenue inspires a creative community in Dubai that can make a significant positive impact in the city, and society at large.
At this former industrial area renowned artists like the French street art artist el Seed has opened his studio in one of the warehouses. He is well known by his socially charged interventions at public spaces in cities. In the words of his website, he ‘uses Arabic calligraphy and a distinctive style to spread messages of peace, unity and to underline the commonalities of human existence’. El Seed has developed the art piece located in front of the opera in Dubai.
In between all the industrial warehouses stands Concrete, a multi-disciplinary space conceptualised and programmed by Alserkal. Concrete inaugurated in 2017 as the first building in the UAE to be completed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and founded by Pritzker Architecture Prize-Laureate, Rem Koolhaas. Concrete has been shortlisted for the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, marking the first time a project in Dubai has been shortlisted for this prestigious award.
With the presence of those first class artists and architects Alserkal Avenue has become an essential platform for the development of the creative industries in the United Arab Emirates as well.
In 2017 the headquarters of City Makers, a subsidiary of the General Secretariat of the Executive Council of Dubai, were inaugurated at Akserkal Avenue. City Makers is an official government entity aiming to improve joint government services in Dubai. They believe that everyone can be a city maker and can have an active and innovative role to improve the city; a city that also wants to be inclusive and to celebrate diversity.
The City Makers couldn’t have found a better home for its goals. All the inspiration they can get from the air breathed at the Alserkal Avenue will contribute to move the city of Dubai in the right direction. Engaged citizens will use the power of art and culture translated into creativity towards a more socially and environmentally conscious sustainable city.
After wandering around this former industrial area and taking the right directions, visitors are encouraged to return the map of Alserkal Avenue to its original place, instead of throwing it away, because something quite unusual is starting to happen in Dubai.