Qatar announces new artist residence centre amid booming cultural infrastructure

A new artist-in-residence programme for Qatari and regional artists is the latest project in the country’s flourishing art scene.

The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) announced on 5 March 2014 that the former Civil Defence headquarters will soon re-open, housing a residence programme for artists and an exhibition centre. Christened “Fire Station: Artists in Residence”, the programme will provide learning and networking opportunities to regional artists.

Qatar Museum Authority tweets about the new artist in residence programme.

Qatar Museum Authority tweets about the new artist in residence programme. Image taken by Art Radar.

The redesigned and renovated fire station is due to open to the public in November 2014, and will consist of 24 studios as well as a 700-square-metre garage that will serve as a gallery space. A second phase of the project, which will include a café, restaurant, bookshop and cinema, will open in 2015.

Artists in residence

“Fire Station: Artists in Residence” is planned as a rolling nine-month long residence programme for Qatari and Gulf artists, as well as international artists based in Qatar. The Art Newspaper says that the artists will have access to special exhibitions, lectures and expert curators from abroad, and quotes QMA’s assistant curator Noor Abuissa as saying:

The gallery space will support local artists whether in residence or not. It will allow for cultural dialogue and exchange between artists living in Qatar and the rest of the world.

According to Doha News, approximately 20 art residencies will be available and there will also be a slot for a curatorial residency. The applicants will be selected through an independent jury. Initially, the programme is open to Qatari artists and residents of Qatar, and will later be expanded to invite artists from the Gulf region.

The selected artists’ work will be displayed in an exhibition each year in June. The artist-in-residence programme will be managed by QMA’s Head of Artists-in-Residence Programme, Hala al-Khalifa.

Re-purposing infrastructure

The venue for the artist residency programme is a former fire station, built in 1982 as a civil defence building and used by the fire brigade until late 2012, when it was passed on to the QMA for preservation. In accordance with Qatar’s emphasis on preserving old architecture, the building is being redesigned by renowned Qatari architect Ibrahim Al Jaidah and will retain most of its original structure. Hala al Khalifa was quoted in The Peninsula Qatar as saying:

The Doha Fire Station is a building of great importance to the community; it has served the community [for] the past 30 years and will continue to do so through the arts with a new identity as Fire Station: Artists in Residence. Our goal is to support artists living in Qatar and provide a platform for creative exchange.

In addition to the studios and Garage Gallery, the existing tower of the fire station will be covered in LED lighting in a stainless steel mesh and used as a rotating display of artworks, projections and installations.

Mathaf Museum, Qatar. Image courtesy the museum.

Mathaf Museum, Qatar. Image courtesy the museum.

Qatar’s flourishing artscape

The Gulf nation’s art scene has been thriving for several years. In 2011, Qatar was declared the world’s biggest spender on contemporary art by The Art Newspaper, and its cultural infrastructure is the focus of many renovation projects. Among these are the National Museum of Qatar, scheduled to re-open in 2014 and the QMA has planned several new museums under the Qatar National Vision 2030 project. According to Doha News, schools in Mushereib have agreed to close for renovation for art and heritage programmes similar to the Fire Station residency, also planned by the QMA.

Hala al Khalifa stressed that the Fire Station project is not another museum and that the building is important “beyond the art scene.” According to the Gulf Times,

Al-Khalifa said the building is undergoing a sort of “recycling” to continue serving the community through the Artists in Residence Programme, complementing existing projects and activities in the artistic arena in Qatar.

Speaking to Art Radar in 2013, Heather Alnuweiri of Al Markhiya Gallery said that the Qatari art scene was different from those of its Gulf neighbours due to its huge investment “in organic, locally developed institutions such as the Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf.” She added that to further support Qatar’s artists,

a multinational “artists community” should be developed where there are low rent studios, exhibition spaces for rent, well-stocked art supply stores, and meeting places to facilitate the exchange of ideas, practices and cultural understanding.

“The Fire Station: Artists in Residence” programme seems to be a step in that direction.

Kriti Bajaj


Related Topics: art spaces, Qatari art and artists, residencies, venues in Qatar

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