7 Ways to Pay It Forward, #2 Arts & Culture during COVID-19

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Welcome to ‘7 Ways To Pay It Forward’, 7 questions to individuals who are making a difference in the community. Each day we will feature a different initiative with details of how you too can get involved.

As always please do share with us any other initiatives you may know of and we can add them to our growing list which will be published on the seventh day.

Be safe, give back & stay connected!



Antonia Carver – Director at Art Jameel

The coronavirus pandemic has caused art galleries, museums and institutions to close their physical doors, yet art nonetheless, has been flourishing.

From online concerts by music industry favorites and virtual tours of the world’s best museums to digital platforms showing storytelling, films and theatre. During self-isolation we have been moved by countless social media posts of balcony performances from opera to modern dance. Art and Culture has proved its relevance and the important role it plays in society of connecting, inspiring, and transporting people to another place, away from their own.

That’s why we chose to highlight Jameel Art Centre in our next ‘7 ways to Pay It Forward’ feature.  Antonia Carver, Director at Art Jameel guides us through the ways they have been riding the storm and continuing to connect and support artists in spite of the challenges.

1. Please can you tell me about your background, your business, when you started and why? (About Jameel Art Centre).

Jameel Arts Centre is Dubai’s contemporary art museum – at the moment, our programmes are all online, on our website and social media, but our physical home is in Jaddaf Waterfront, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to the exhibitions, library, project spaces, shop and sculpture park soon! Jameel Arts Centre opened in November 2018, founded and primarily funded by Art Jameel, an organization that has been going since 2003, and supports artists and creative communities across the Middle East and beyond.

2. Why did you decide to start the initiative, what has the response been like so far?

Since the onslaught of COVID-19, at Art Jameel we’ve been debating how best we can support our local community — the artists and creatives we work with, and the audiences that frequent the Centre – by re-purposing our (leaner) budgets. We launched a “rapid response scheme” – doing an open call for practitioners across the Middle East, offering micro-grants to freelancers who have suffered cancellations and uncertainty at this time.

For the UAE community, we thought of our annual festival Jaddaf Aloud!, which takes place each November, and figured out that we could do an online version that showcases and brings UAE talent into your home. Please do check out our website for a whole roster of creative workshops for all ages, all led by UAE artists; original and live music by talented local musicians; a directory of artisans in the UAE, able to create and deliver gifts to you; and a fantastic guide to homegrown eateries in Dubai, all of whom can deliver to your door. It’s a kind of mini-festival in your living room!

Another project, among several others on our site, is a free, bilingual booklet on Corona for kids — written by scientists, illustrated by artists and designed by museum educators to provide children and young readers relatable and clearly communicated facts about the virus.

3. Please can you explain how it works i.e. give details about the mechanics, who can get involved, what you need, what is the aim of the initiative?

Jaddaf Aloud Online is for everyone. While of course we wish we could meet in person, the beauty of the online format is that you can dip in and out as you please; kids can do workshops alone or with family, during the school day as part of their learning, or for fun on weekends. By ordering from one of the eateries featured in the guide (a collaboration with the fantastic Frying Pan Adventures), you are supporting a local small business as well as getting a delicious meal. It’s all about raising awareness and hopefully boosting the local scene – and making sure we have one after this is all over. #supportlocal

4. What is the expected outcome, do you have a figure/goal/timeframe in mind?

Our online initiatives will run through Ramadan (and be accessible permanently on our website) – our goal is to nurture community spirit, and spread the word as far and wide as possible. Many have noted that during this crisis, everyone has turned to culture – we’re suddenly more reliant than ever on watching films and TV, listening to music, swapping book ideas and appreciation of artists’ work. Hopefully this awareness of a local creative scene being an essential part of life, rather than an optional add-on, will stay with us once we’ve through this crisis.

5. What has been the biggest challenge for you during this time, as a Director?

We’re blessed with an incredibly positive, hardworking and communicative team at Art Jameel, and everyone has taken care of each other while also thinking – and auctioning — dynamic new ideas. It’s been very challenging to try to “do more with less” as inevitably being closed has meant a dip in the enterprises that support the Jameel Arts Centre, such as our shop and room rentals (the Centre can be used as a location for film and photo shoots and special corporate events). Not-for-profits and SMEs everywhere are of course struggling … hence our focus on supporting local!

6. We talk about BC (life before COVID), what do you think life will be like AC (after COVID) personally and professionally?

We imagine that we will come out of this gradually, in a reverse of the way we went into it – and for some time, there may be social distancing and other measures in place. I feel that for many, this period has been one of reflection and focus on the things that matter – appreciating and supporting deep, quizzical talent; a slower and more sustained way of thinking and interacting; and sustainability — already in the creative sector, the need to produce sustainably, and to engage deeply with the climate crisis, was prevalent – now I feel we have no choice but to be even more focused on this and work together to find solutions.

7. Can you tell me about some of the things you do in your daily life that are sustainable, what more can you do and has COVID made you think more sustainably?

Oh, yes – I just touched on this, without realizing the next question! I’m vegetarian and recently we discovered Greenheart, who deliver a fantastic array of vegetables, all grown in the UAE. A tip is to go for the seasonal box, as you always get some wild card veg in there – challenging sometimes to even identify but worth the adventure.


Disclaimer: By promoting these initiatives Goumbook is not in any way profiting nor raising funds for any organisation, individual or company.


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As Director of Art Jameel since August 2016, Antonia Carver has overseen the expansion of Art Jameel as it builds new institutions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; grows its international partnerships; and initiates new exhibition, educational, and publishing projects.
The Jameel Arts Center opened in Dubai in 2018, with a program dedicated to research, education, and contemporary exhibition-making.
Antonia was previously Director of Art Dubai (2010–16), where she helped develop the annual fair into the leading international fair for the Middle East and South Asia. Carver, who has been based in the UAE since 2001, has written extensively on Middle Eastern art and film for international and regional publications and has also edited books and journals. In 2004, she joined the Middle Eastern arts organization Bidoun as an editor and later became the director of their projects division.