From 10-15 January, 2022, the Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC) hosted museum and cultural leaders from institutions across the United States as part of an immersive cultural delegation to Qatar. Over the course of five days, the delegates had the opportunity to visit various art, historical and culturally significant sites across Doha, meet with several high-level cultural leaders, and experience first-hand the rich heritage and traditions of the region, all in an effort to encourage future cross-cultural exchanges between the United States and Qatar.
The delegation was comprised of a diverse group of individuals whose unique interests in Qatar allowed for a more in-depth exploration of the nation’s artistic and cultural offerings. Many of these executives have participated in QAIC’s 2021 Museum Series program or are planning to join in this year’s program. The members included: Lina Ali, Deputy Executive Director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures (IMMC); Dr. Orianna Cacchione, Curator of Global Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; Mohannad Ghawanweh, Executive Director of Al-Bustan Seeds of Change; Kate Haw, Executive Officer for Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs at the National Gallery of Art; Michelle Yun Mapplethorpe, Vice President for Global Artistic Programs at Asia Society and Director of Asia Society Museum; Tibor Waldner, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery; and Dr. Manuela Well-Off-Man, Chief Curator at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
Among their meetings, the delegates met with H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, the Chairperson of Qatar Museums and member of QAIC’s Honorary Board of Trustees as well as Natalie A. Baker, the Deputy Chief of Mission and acting-Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Doha. Variety of topics were discussed such as the recently concluded Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture, an initiative of Qatar Museums, and upcoming opportunities for cultural exchange in celebration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Qatar.
The delegation received tours in various museums and institutions such as the National Museum of Qatar, Msheireb Museums’ Bin Jelmood House and Radwani House, the Christian Dior exhibition at M7, Jeff Koons’ “Lost in America” exhibition, the soon-to-open 321 Olympic & Sports Museum, and Virgil Abloh’s final exhibition, “Figures of Speech,” at Fire Station. Furthermore, the delegates visited Qatar Foundation headquarters located at Education City complex and its many organizations, including the Al Shaqab equestrian center, Qatar National Library, and the Minaretein building which houses both the highly modern Education City Mosque and the Qatar Faculty for Islamic Studies as part of the Hamad-Bin-Khalifa University. The group also visited the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, the newly opened M.F. Husain exhibition “Seeroo fi al ardh,” and lastly, the headquarters of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the organization responsible for the execution of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.
At the Katara Cultural Village, the group visited many cultural engagements available on the grounds, including the falconry center, planetarium, and its open-air amphitheater. The delegation concluded the day at the 31st Doha International Book Fair to peruse the assortment of books from around the world (including the U.S.) and to witness QAIC Executive Director, Fatima Al-Dosari, speak on a panel titled “Qatari-U.S. Relations: Cultural Exchange for Building a Strategic Alliance.” QAIC’s own 2021 A2Q Digest made a special appearance at this year’s book fair thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Qatar.
In addition to the numerous visits to the art and cultural institutions scattered throughout Doha, the delegates were able to embrace the more quotidian aspects of Qatari life, whether browsing the many merchant stalls at Doha’s Souq Waqif or sampling some of the deliciously decadent regional cuisines. With each delegate hailing from their own unique background and perspective, all were able to find aspects of the trip that were intriguing and inspiring to them on both a professional and personal level.
“I think the whole group has been very surprised at the sophistication of everything we have seen at the museums and cultural centers in Doha,” commented delegate Lina Ali. “The programming is incredibly immersive and very focused on […] accessibility and inclusion of everybody in the society.” For delegate Mohannad Ghawanweh who had last visited Doha ten years prior, “based on my own experience of Gulf societies, I was exceedingly impressed with the number of women … that are in positions of […] authority and cultural influence. It’s obvious to me … that women have taken lead roles in this society to chart cultural life in Qatar’s present and in its future.”
According to delegate Tibor Waldner, “one of the most intriguing parts of the trip for me personally was the architecture […] and experiencing just how passionate and proud the people of Qatar are featuring new technologies, developing their city, putting emphasis on cultural development, and providing access and education.”
Some of the delegates, like Dr. Manuela Well-Off-Man, were excited to apply some of the newly acquired observations from the trip to some of their future pursuits. “The Institute of American Indian Arts is about to develop a new research center,” commented Dr. Well-Off-Man, “and I will definitely share some of the ideas I saw at the Qatar National Library, for example, the innovation stations that really foster collaboration and engagement and creativity.”
“I am really excited that during our visit [to Mathaf] we learned that the museum has an online encyclopedia of modern and contemporary Arab artists so that I can continue my research when I am back in the States,” said delegate Dr. Orianna Cacchione.
Some of the delegates were very interested in how continued cultural exchange with Qatar will further impact and influence the arts. “What I think most excited me about possible collaborations with other institutions here in Qatar is having the ability to show the rich history and innovation of Qatar’s arts and contemporary artists to the greater world,” remarked delegate Michelle Yun Mapplethorpe. For delegate Kate Haw, “I am eager to see how Qatar will engage with the rest of the world as it broadens it platform […] and to learn more about the art of the Qatari people and see what opportunities may exist for exchange between the U.S. and Qatar in the arts.”
Following the conclusion of this delegation, QAIC’s focus is now turned to extending the momentum generated by these visits. In providing both the delegates and the visited institutions with the necessary connections and resources, QAIC hopes that these leaders will pursue their newfound interest and understanding of Qatar’s cultural and arts landscape to cultivate the next series of collaborations between the United States and Qatar.
This delegation program was made possible thanks to a generous gift from the Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) in 2019-2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, QAIC was only able to safely execute this program in 2022. QAIC also thanks Qatar Airways, the official airline of this trip to Doha, as well as the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC for their support of the Museum Series program. We look forward to introducing the next cohort of innovators and creators to the enriching experiences of Qatar, and to forging new lasting bonds between the U.S. and Qatar through the power of art and cultural exchange.