Chief curator and executive director of NYUAD, Maya Allison shares her thoughts with Abu Dhabi World.
What is the one thing you could point to as a big shift in the museum culture and your institution?
When we opened five years ago, our main arts neighbour here was Manarat – a great venue, showcasing Abu Dhabi Art, and projects of the museums to come.
Now, we have the Louvre Abu Dhabi across the road, as well as Warehouse421 in the nearby port area, and more to come.
All of these share a not-for-profit mission of showing art, and engaging in culture, for its own sake. This is founded in the belief that this is a fundamentally valuable and meaningful activity, a contribution to the overall well being of our city here.
Now our university also trains creatives of the next generation. Our Arts Center hosts highly innovative seasons of music and dance and theatre, while our Art Gallery mounts scholarly, ambitious exhibitions as the region’s only university gallery-museum. Audiences are growing and responding to these synergies – it’s an exciting time.
Describe where the Abu Dhabi and the UAE art scene is currently.
I feel that I’m watching something bloom in fast-motion. The deep, slow work of artistic experimentation has developed in the UAE for almost 50 years. Now, incredible artists are coming into maturity, thanks to many efforts. From the Sharjah Art Foundation to the Salama Emerging Artist Fellowship, to the Alserkal Avenue projects, Campus Art Dubai, and the increasing density of exhibition activity with the addition of Jameel Arts Centre — it is a time of bursting forth.
You have held many leadership roles, what is your advice for being a great female leader?
Thank you for the compliment. My advice to anyone reading this is to do something you believe is worth being a part of, and hire for that exact quality, and the team you grow will be incredible. The vision has to be there for anything else to work. Don’t wait for the vision to show up, create it.
What advice would you give to museum professionals entering the sector today?
Get as much experience as possible inside museums. This is ultimately an apprenticeship career. There are many roles in museums – not only curators – that are crucial, exciting, and satisfying. But you will also want art historical training; so don’t skip that stage either.
Which project that you have worked on (here or elsewhere) has been the most memorable for you?
I can’t choose – all of them have been phenomenal. I get deeply invested in the artists, the work, the story we are telling, and what our audience takes away from it. But recently, my work on the art history of the UAE has captivated me, and I hope you will read our boo: But We Cannot See Them, Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008 – it tells the story of the avant-garde art community that has been active in the UAE since the 1980s. Now, we have an exhibition of a rising generation of UAE artists, doing incredible, thought-provoking and delightful work.
Find out more about the NYUAD Art Gallery, visit: nyuad-artgallery.org/