• The Impact Talks

Alserkal Avenue | Pay It Forward Programme

Alserkal Avenue has shaped, for over a decade, Dubai’s renowned buzzing arts district, which became home to numerous creators and brought together art enthusiasts from all over the world. To support this beautiful community during these challenging times, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, the Founder of Alserkal Avenue and Alserkal Arts Foundation has launched Alserkal Pay It Forward Programme, an initiative through which the rental fees for the art galleries and businesses have been waived for three months.

As “pay it forward” means to cascade the act of kindness further by aiding others as a response to the support received, this initiative trickled down to numerous other initiatives led by the Alserkal Avenue community to support those in need, affected by the pandemic. We spoke with Vilma Jurkute, the Director of Alserkal Avenue, who shared with us more about these inspirational initiatives.

Q: In order to support the arts community during this difficult time, when March would have been one of the busiest months, Alserkal Avenue opened its doors virtually, by launching Tell us more about the platform.

A: It is through the collective strength of our galleries, our community members, and the Alserkal team that we were able to respond to the COVID-19 situation, by launching in the span of 10 days, to bring 360°-views of new exhibitions to audiences’ homes. The new platform received immense support, and we will continue to grow through collective programming dedicated to alternative music, film, theatre, discussions with meaning, and a digital space for artists and practitioners to produce content responding to the current situation as a means of documenting the present, the now. In parallel, we will continue to build an e-commerce platform, offering products and experiences from across the Avenue, that will allow our greater community the opportunity to support local talent and independents, with a percentage of sales being used to create a fund to support those in need.

Q: Besides this virtual exhibition space, Pay It Forward was also launched, through which the rent for Alserkal Avenue’s tenants was waived for a period of 3 months. Pay it forward means to cascade the act of kindness further by aiding others as a response to the support you received. How was this embraced by the arts community, what other initiatives did it lead to?

A: Alserkal Avenue’s grassroots evolution was spearheaded by risk-takers driven by tenacity and creative ambition in a city that has always embodied potential. While we might only be just over 10 years old, we, individually and collectively, have contributed to the cultural ecosystem of the UAE and beyond, reflecting our polyphonic identities, artistic commitment, and diverse knowledge paradigms that enable us to forge together and lean into each other. As a collective of creatives, cultural thinkers and makers, we have always been driven by challenging the conventional and seeing boundless possibilities through the work we do. In this unprecedented moment, it is more important than ever that we come together, as we always have, erasing boundaries through shared compassion. With this in mind, the Alserkal family has created the ‘Alserkal Pay It Forward Programme’.

It’s only been a few weeks since and it has already garnered a life of its own. For example, INKED’s transformation into a community kitchen is providing over 9,000 meals in May for those in need and front-liners. The community has rallied together to support this initiative. A number of Alserkal Avenue galleries and their artists [Green Art Gallery, Lawrie Shabibi, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Ayyam

Gallery and El Marsa] have supported this, by selling artworks and prints, and using the proceeds to purchase meals. Furthermore, other neighbours in Alserkal, such as concept retail spaces, are also supporting, including KAVE, who are taking a percentage of proceeds to purchase meals, and manufacturing soap and masks to create kits for those in need, and The Good Life, who purchase one meal for every pair of sneakers sold. A group of makers in Alserkal Avenue are also coming together to design and manufacture reusable masks for those in need. New educational programmes are also being developed with galleries and artists participating to conduct virtual tours and seminars for schools and universities.

Q: There have been numerous incredible responses of both organizations and individuals across the globe in order to reduce the negative impacts of the virus outbreak. Which is a story that inspired you?

A: In the face of this current situation, we cannot act like nothing has happened; everything has changed. We will change. We will come back different. Our cities will be different. And Alserkal will be different. It is imperative we have a space to comprehend the urgencies that concern us all and allow ourselves the time to reflect as we begin to recalibrate and recast new patterns through experimentation, ultimately shaping our new discourse. This historic moment posits us with the opportunity to rethink our role as a community, and the new possibilities for generating value today and in the future.

I was inspired by the civic response by some of our partners from Global Cultural Districts Network, such as a collaboration between the Navy Pier in Chicago and The Red Cross to facilitate blood donations during CoVID-19 crisis. Times like this reflect that responsibility is not arbitrary and the role of culture permeates beyond itself to support communities around us.

The resilient nature of our founders in Alserkal is giving us collective strength to adapt and reimagine our future. All local, homegrown and small organisations are in great need of support more than ever before. Buying locally will enable our creative communities and industries to remain part of Dubai’s landscape. The doors of Alserkal Avenue have reopened, and we are already witnessing a gradual return of our audiences, who are seeking inspiration and meaning through arts and culture.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal Avenue

“Community is the bedrock of society—this has always been the defining principle of Alserkal Avenue, but also the core philosophy underpinning the vision for Dubai and the UAE. Now, more than ever, confronted with these unique challenges, we must stand together and lift each other up. I am touched by the strength and resilience of our creative community, and the formidable force you, individually and

collectively, have demonstrated in the face of this unprecedented challenge. I hope that the Alserkal Pay It Forward Programme, in keeping with other public initiatives, will enable us all to rise together, to thrive, and most importantly, to be stronger together through this time.”

Provision: United for Impact is not a fundraising campaign and neither of its affiliates or organizations leading the project have any financial benefits.

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