Posted on February 23, 2020

The role of public art in “creating destinations”, connecting people, and opening minds has been explored by experts from Qatar and around the world on the final day of a forum at Qatar Foundation.

Outside the Box: Public Art in Qatar – organized under the patronage of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums – opened up new perspectives on topics ranging from the social, economic, and cultural impact of art, to the future of public art in Qatar. Commissioned by the British Council in partnership with Qatar Museums and Qatar Foundation (QF), the forum has aimed to start a conversation about how the use of art in the public realm can be redefined and rethought. Its second day was held at Qatar National Library, in Education City, where local and international participants spoke about how the meaning of art has evolved over the decades, in Qatar and around the world.

“In the beginning, art was more a confirmation of political power, fostering national identity and the beautification of the city,” said Layla Ibrahim Bacha, Senior Art Specialist, QF, in a keynote speech. “It is now about creating a destination, fostering social connections, and encouraging openness. “We have noticed that artworks are now more about the temporary than the permanent. I think this makes a piece of art more attractive, because people think they can see it now or never.”

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Over its two days – the first of which was held at the National Museum of Qatar – Outside the Box: Public Art in Qatar has featured panel discussions, presentations from artists, debates, and interactive sessions designed to explore art’s role outside what are seen as its traditional or conventional settings, how it helps people experience cities, and its ability to create dialogue and broaden perceptions. With thought-leaders and practitioners sharing insights and best practices about public art events and collaborations, it has examined case studies from Qatar and the MENA region, as well as from the UK and Europe.

In a discussion on the theme of The Art of Making Places, Dr. Georgios Papaioannou, Associate Professor of Museum Studies at London-based university UCL, said public art had, over the past 20 years, become “more about physical participation”. “I have seen many people take pictures of public art, which means it has become socially important,” he told the audience.

“I think art is a battle – the battle of space. Design is important, but there has to be a space for art, and getting the space is even more important than the art itself. Once your space is there, at any time, you can change the art. The focus should be not only on public art, but also public art spaces, and in Qatar, with the 2022 World Cup approaching, many countries might want to exhibit their art in those spaces.”

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The second day of the forum – curated by Future Everything and supported by QF partner university UCL Qatar - also spotlighted the views of experts from organizations including the UK’s Imperial War Museum's and University of Central Lancashire, leading auction house Christie’s Middle East, Qatar Museums, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, and Msheireb Properties. Discussions centered around ways of commissioning and financing art in the public realm, and designing a “collective toolkit” for how public art can reach and engage people in Qatar.

“Art is universal – it is all around us, in many forms and on many platforms,” said Hisham E. Nourin, Executive Director of Strategy, Administration and Projects, QF Community Development, in a welcoming address to participants. “It fosters cross-cultural understanding and encourages us to explore its messages and what it means to our lives in the world today.”