To the untrained eye, it was an art class like any other. A teacher stood at the front directing the students on how to cut and create a collage.
However, in these recent classes, hosted by Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority (TCA), the students were, in fact, the teachers.
As part of its ongoing education initiative, TCA collaborated with Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) to create a professional development week for all art teachers from government schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the western region.
The classes, delivered by leading Emirati artists, took place last month with the goal of giving the teachers new techniques and skills to pass onto their students, as well as passing on inspiration from their own artistic journeys.
“For me it is a privilege,” says Noor Al Suwaidi, one of the six artists chosen for the programme. “These teachers have the future artists of the UAE in their hands, and if there are any extraordinary pupils, they should be encouraged and supported.”
The workshops form part of a wider initiative by Adec to redesign the art curriculum, from kindergarten to grade 9. Al Suwaidi says this is essential – she went to a government school and says if it hadn’t have been for her father, who spotted her skill and enrolled her in art classes at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, she might never have had the start she needed to build her successful career.
“I didn’t have an art background or the chance to travel, like some of my friends, which made me work harder and push myself, but if I didn’t have support at home, I wouldn’t have made it,” she says.
“Art needs a lot of support,” says Aisha Juma, another artist involved in the workshops, “because it is not something that is accepted or is at the front of the choices parents make for their children”.
After graduating in 1991 from the Faculty of Fine Art in Cairo with a fine-arts degree, majoring in monumental sculpture, Juma says there were no career options for her in the UAE, other than to become an art teacher.
Having spent her career moving between teaching and pursuing her own practice, Juma says a programme such as the TCA and Adec collaboration is crucial.
“We need to look at art education not as a shallow practice but something that gives the children a base to understand life, aesthetics and how to question everything, such as the concepts of beauty, goodness and usefulness,” she says. “We do that though art very easily.”
Fatima Omar, the senior programmes manager at TCA, selected the artists for the programme based on their skills in conceptual art as well as their inspiring stories. She explains that the project is about making art accessible to all.
“We wanted the teachers to feel inspired by the experience and then help the students to explore beyond their usual boundaries,” she says. “Not every child will go on to be an artist, but the larger message of art is to learn different ways of thinking.”
Ranya Nasser, the head of education programmes and initiatives at TCA, explains that they work with teachers all year, educating them about the growing collection that will go into the museums on Saadiyat and around the emirate, as well as developing teaching resources.
But the most recent project, she says, was about helping to develop teachers’ skills and harnessing creativity in the classroom.
“We also want to make sure that these museums are not elitist establishments,” she says. “In the end, art is for everyone and should be integrated in daily life.”
The teachers welcomed the initiative and agreed it was necessary to educate children about arty, especially given the impact Saadiyat Cultural District will have on the young generation.
“We have to be part of it,” says Asma Al Hosani, who teaches at Hunain School in Abu Dhabi Gate City. “These new museums will be a huge part of their future, so we all must engage with them and the art that will be inside them.”
Wafa Al Maeeni, a teacher at Fatima bint Mubarak School, says that though art was not readily accepted when her parents were young, things have changed.
“Art was a new subject for our parents, but now art is everywhere and the new generation needs to be inspired as much as possible,” she says.
Source: art & life