Museums, Art and Culture in Qatar
Qatar's burgeoning cultural heritage industry is rapidly emerging as one of the Middle East's most important. Indeed, significant investments in the cultural sector in the last two decades are helping to establish the nation's capital, Doha, as a hub for Arab and Islamic art and culture. But, for a relatively new nation born of pearl divers and nomadic shepherds (Bedouins), where has this desire to stand as a centrepiece for Middle Eastern arts stem from?
Balancing The Old and The New
Obviously, museums, art galleries, and sites of heritage and cultural significance have a considerable draw for visitors, and capturing the tourism market is prudent and profitable. In addition, for visitors to Qatar, the state's investment in their cultural heritage provides an opportunity to understand the Arab and Islamic world better.
However, the state is also responding to the inevitable changes to its culture in a time of rapid development. In other words, in order not to lose its identity under the onslaught of modernisation, Qatar is taking massive strides to protect and preserve their cultural and traditional values. One way to achieve this is by creating cultural institutions that promote culture and heritage, providing an opportunity for locals to reconnect with their national identity, and understand where their values and traditions began.
So important is the concept of preserving and conserving the nation's tradition and heritage, the country's development goals in their National Vision 2030 and subsequent Development Strategies outline the specific need for cultural institutions to achieve that end.
Qatar's desire to preserve their traditions and long-standing way of life does not, however, come at a cost to modern arts and culture. Indeed, the state is also driven to promote, support and inspire new generations of Arab/Islamic creatives. Many of the cultural institutions born of this desire are designed to expand creative horizons, as well as to maintain traditional beliefs and customs.
Supporting The Arts
Two of the country's major cultural institutions established in the last few decades are the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and Qatar Museums (previously Qatar National Museums Authority):
- Qatar Foundation, founded in 1995, is a not for profit organisation initiated to develop education, science and research, and cultural development in Qatar. The institute's social development programmes, in part, aim to preserve Qatari culture alongside a progressive society. Some of their most prominent ventures have included the opening of the Qatar National Library, which encompasses a Heritage Library containing rare texts and manuscripts. And, the Msheireb Museums comprising four historic heritage houses that reveal unique aspects of Qatar's cultural and social development.
- Qatar Museums was created in 2005 to bring all of the public museums, art and cultural heritage establishments in Qatar together under one organisational umbrella to develop, promote and sustain the cultural sector - both traditional and modern. To that end, numerous museums, art galleries and spaces, exhibitions, programmes for aspiring artists, public art installations, heritage management initiatives, festivals and events have been opened, organised and established.
The ruling family of Qatar are equally involved in protecting and promoting their culture, old and new:
- Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the mother of the current Emir of Qatar, is well known for her pivotal role in preserving and revitalising Qatari culture and history. As the Chair of the Qatar Foundation, Sheikha Moza has been instrumental in initiating numerous programmes that participate in restoring, exhibiting and promoting Qatari heritage and culture.
- Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, daughter of Sheikha Moza and sister of the Emir, is equally prominent for her role developing and cultivating Qatar's cultural growth alongside national traditions. As the chairperson of Qatar Museums and the Doha Film Institute, she has overseen the opening of several new museums dedicated to Arab and Islamic art, history and culture, and the history of Qatar. She has also supported the installation of modern, international public art, the development of programmes and initiatives for promoting and fostering regional and local contemporary artists, and the organisation of cultural festivals, film festivals and international partnerships for film, art and culture.
- Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, a distant relative of the ruling Qatari family, is also regarded as one of the original instigators of promoting the heritage and culture of Qatar. In an effort to revive Qatari culture and boost local appreciation of the nation's heritage, he opened his own museum, Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum, in 1988. The museum houses traditional Qatari artefacts and artworks as well as other regional, Arab and Islamic exhibitions.
The Arts Capital of the Middle East
As a result of such financial and human investment, Qatar now has a vast array of museums, art and cultural establishments. It is quickly establishing itself as the arts capital of the Middle East. Its museums offer a glimpse into the nation's past, present and future, and an understanding of Middle Eastern and Arab culture and the Islamic world. Its art galleries and spaces showcase modern Arab art, as well as local and regional talent. They also provide space for creative networking and inspiration. Its public art installations provide current perspectives of Arab culture and links to the international art community. And, its cultural venues, festivals and events bring the nation's traditions and customs, and modern arts to life.
To find out what museums are located in Qatar and what they have to offer, review our article on Museums of Qatar.
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